During the course of my three-week stay in Egypt, I met a lot of Egyptians who became really good friends. We went out for lunches and dinners with them and had a lot of opportunity to talk to them about their country and politics. There seemed to be two kinds of people basically: those who supported the Morsi regime and those who didn’t. No one loved the Morsi government because it had failed to deliver what it had promised but the pro-Morsi people wanted to give him his chance, since this was a fundamental principle of democracy.
Our professor wanted us to interview someone we hadn’t met prior to interviewing them to get a fresh perspective from a local Egyptian. On the second-last day of the program, I interviewed Ahmed, a receptionist at an organization. His English was decent so communication wasn’t that difficult. As it turned out, he was a Coptic Christian so the conversation became even more interesting. Our interview session was almost three hours long and I learnt a lot about him and Egypt in general.
Below is the excerpt from the interview. This interview was recorded so the answers are the original words of the interviewee. Only grammatical errors were fixed.
K: Did you participate in the revolution?
A: Yes, of course I did. I wasn’t there on everyday day but I was there on Feb 11, when Mubarak resigned. Everyone was really happy.
K: What did you think about the revolution?
A: It was one of the best revolutions in the world. You know that everyone in Egypt participated in it. There were old people, women and the youth. But now we think that it was a mistake to give the government to the Muslim brotherhood.
A: Because there are so many problems. We don’t have electricity and water. During Mubarak we used to have these basic things all the time. Things are worse now then they were in his time. We are going backwards.
K: What do you think about the Morsi government?
A: I think that he has failed to do anything for us. Things seemed to be better in the first five days but then nothing happened. I don’t like Morsi because of that reason. I’m not part of the brotherhood but I don’t like him because I thought he would make Egypt better. Nothing has changed after the Mubarak regime. The State Security force has been renamed to National Security force. Morsi is doing the same things as Mubarak. The brotherhood made a secret deal with the NDP in 2010 elections so they are just like Mubarak.
K: Did you vote for him?
A: No, I did not. I didn’t vote for anyone because I knew both were bad choices for us.
K: Have you signed the “Tamarud” (rebellion) paper?
A: Yes, I have. I will participate in another revolution if it takes place.
K: What do you think about the education system?
A: The education system in the country is really bad. And Mubarak is one of the reasons. Mubarak, Gamal Abdul Nasser and Anwar Saddat had there good things and bad things. But education was not given importance that it deserves by anyone of them. There has been no improvement in scientific education at all. I studied science, social studies and mathematics. And now 20 years later, my nephew is studying those subjects from the same books.
K: I have heard a lot of bad things about the education system, specifically universities from other Egyptians. Like professors don’t teach in the class, most of the times they just read the pages from the books. They don’t check the exam papers and assign grades randomly. How true is that?
A: That’s true. That’s what happened in my college in north Egypt. The professor didn’t teach anything. He just read from the book. That’s it.
K: Do you think that minorities, like the Copts, are persecuted in the Egypt? (I asked this question when I did not know that Ahmed was a Coptic Christian. One can’t really distinguish between them since they look the same as Egyptian Muslims and have the same names)
A: My answer is both yes and no. It depends on the situation. Sometimes some people will oppress the minorities but most of the times it doesn’t happen. When people had jobs and had enough money to feed their families, no one cared if someone was a Copt or a Muslim or a Jew. When things started to get bad, persecution increased. But now, when everyone is busy hating the regime and planning another revolution against Morsi no one cares. The Copts also participated in the revolution and since they represent a large proportion of the population, they are very important to the revolutionaries.
K: Some people say that the Muslim brotherhood hijacked the revolution, do you agree with that?
A: Yes, I do. The revolution had no leadership at all. And once Mubarak was overthrown, all of a sudden these brotherhood people appeared to be leading the revolutionaries from out of nowhere. We were surprised to see that but we had no option but to trust them and give them a chance. That’s why people voted for Morsi. He was lesser of the two evils. There was also this Salafi threat and people did not want them to come to power, as they were worse than the Brotherhood.
While drinking coffee, he mentioned that he was a Coptic Christian. I was really surprised because of the way he had answered the question about Copts. So I asked him again about the problems that he as a Copt faces.
K: Do you face any problems because you’re a Copt?
A: Mostly no, I don’t face any oppression. I work in this organization with many other people. I am the only Copt here but no one really cares about it. Everyone knows that I am a Copt but they don’t oppress me in any way. We eat together and drink tea together. But outside some people can oppress me but I think it goes both ways. For example, if I apply for a job and the boss is a Copt, he is more likely to hire me than a Muslim. It is not always true but it does happen most of the times. The same is true if I apply for a job and the boss is a Muslim, he is more likely to hire a Muslim. But whether they treat you differently depends on the situation. Most of the times it doesn’t matter whether you believe in god or not. Most people care about your behavior not belief in god.
K: What about problems on a larger scale for Copts? I heard that you have to get permission from the government to build a church, is that true?
A: Yes, you have to get permission from the government to build a church. It is very difficult to get that unless you know people high up in the government. Also, it is hard for a Copt to get a good position in the government. We only have one Copt minister in the government right now. There have been some incidents like the Alexandria one in which many Copts were killed. There have been rumors that it was carried out by the ministry of interior.
K: You said that you’re from Northern Egypt. How is that different from Cairo?
A: It’s very different. There are a lot of traditions which people still follow. There is no modern technology and no factories. There is higher illiteracy rate and there is a lot of poverty there. Egypt feels like a heaven when you come from up there!
*All names have been changed to protect the identity of the real person.