Today we met with the Secretary General of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political branch of the Muslim Brotherhood. The current president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi, is a member of this party, and this party holds the majority of seats in the Egyptian Parliament. It was definitely an interesting and educational experience, but at the same time it was difficult to reconcile the things the Secretary was saying and things I had heard from my Egyptian friends. I understand speaking diplomatically or being political, but this was more than that. For example:
The percentage of unemployment in Egypt is currently a staggering 13.2 percent. To put that in context, the USA currently has a percentage of 7.5, and our highest percentage during the recession was 9.1. This means that more than 1 out of every 10 citizens of eligible working age in Egypt are without a job. When a member of my group asked the Secretary General what his party planned to do to combat this unemployment problem, a problem which lead to the January 25th revolution, he denied the existence of a problem, saying that jobs were available, but that people were too picky and couldn’t imagine themselves in the existing job opportunities or even too lazy. I have met many young Egyptian college graduates who are looking for jobs and cannot find them. I have seen dozens of people on the streets because they cannot find a job. According to these people, there are no jobs, period. They don’t care where they work or how much as long as they have money to pay the rent and feed themselves and their families.
Egypt is unique in that it has an indigenous population of Christians, the Copts. I worked with several Coptic Christians last summer when I participated in the DukeEngage Program. Last summer was also the time of the elections, and many Copts were very scared about their futures in Egypt. As our professor pointed out in class yesterday: although the Copts are now a minority, they were the original inhabitants of this country, and it must be strange to have another religion, culture, and race come in and take over your land. We asked the Secretary General of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party what provisions were going to be put in place in the new government to ensure the rights and freedoms of the Coptic community as well as minority sects of Islam. His answer: there is no problem. There is no sectarian tension in Egypt, no religious tension between the Copts and Muslims, and no racial tensions.
The questions went on in a similar fashion for about an hour. In Egypt there is the saying “Mafish Mushkila” which essentially means no problem, or there is no problem. While it can sometimes be used as happy go lucky, no worries outlook on life, it can also be used to deny the existence of a problem. It was frustrating to hear that same phrase used in this situation when talking about the needs and concerns of the Egyptian people, the people we have spent a lot of time talking to and interviewing for our class. In this case saying Mafish Mushkila just won’t cut it. Egypt had another president who denied the problems about which the people complained, and he got overthrown a few years ago.