Do we go it alone or do we ask for help from the United States? It’s a question some Egyptian activists are asking themselves now that recent uprisings have successfully ended the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak.
For an Egyptian, asking for help from the U.S. for help is tricky. On one hand, the U.S. supported Mubarak for three decades and turned a blind eye to the regime’s authoritarian approach. On the other, America has the resources, leverage and democratic ideals to help ensure that the people’s demands for real democracy are met.
Ahmed Saleh is one of the original organizers of the April 6 movement and also one of the original planners of Egypt’s Day of Rage. He is quick to point out he is not a leader. He says it is the people themselves -- truck drivers, grocers, students, factory workers — who brought down a regime that some thought would never fall. It is these people, he says, who should be the ones to decide what comes next in Egypt.
Saleh was among the thousands of protesters who flooded Tahrir Square that first day. He was arrested and held in jail for three days, which earned him a broken nose. He sat down with us on a park bench just across from the White House. The right side of his nose was still swollen. But he came to Washington with a message.
“I realized that this was a very important time for us to try to communicate clearly with the United States, because no one can deny the United States is a principle player in the affairs of Egypt, and we would like that the role that the United States is actually on the right side, not to ruin people’s work and struggle, which had been full of sacrifices,” Saleh explained.
In a schedule that only lasted a few days, Saleh met with VIPs at the White House, the State Department, think tanks, government agencies and NGOs. At each stop, he relayed his vision for the future of Egypt. And he is calling on Washington to help Egyptians achieve it.
Specifically, said Saleh, Egypt’s Military Council needs to step outside of politics and return to the important job of leading the army and protecting the revolution.
“I think the military should go back to their barracks. I think that a transitional government that meets people’s demands should be out there deciding what to do," he said. "Then they should decide best how long is the period we need for transition, whether it’s one year, whether it’s two or three. I personally believe it should be between two to three years, but it’s not my decision to make.”
Saleh believes it should be a transitional government - not the military council - that decides on a timetable for reforms. Reforms would include a new constitution - not just an amended one - an independent judiciary, dates for parliamentary and presidential elections and many other changes.
He says the United States is in a position to enforce that timetable and impose consequences if the transitional government fails to abide by it, alluding to the 1.3 billion dollars in military aid that the US gives Egypt each year.
Saleh says he has found a receptive audience in Washington. He just hopes the Obama Administration will decide to take advantage of the opportunity to help Egyptians achieve the democracy it has always wanted.