On John Kerry’s Visit: A Perspective From the Ground

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There is no denying that the political situation in Egypt is very complicated. Many of those who formerly supported President Mohamed Morsi and his party have since joined the ranks of the opposition, after seeing him ignore or break outright the promises he made on a number of issues. 

Morsi and his party have maintained their stubborn insistence on ratifying the constitution, and pushing for parliamentary elections to be held under the banner of a flawed electoral law. This in turn has only intensified the struggle, and increased the frustration of large groups of young people who have yet to see any of the revolution’s demands realized. Each day that passes makes matters more complicated, and widens the gap between the government and opposition. This has led to increased tension, along with protests, clashes, and violence, which in turn have led to a near-collapse of the economy, public safety, and trust.

The true crisis is the lack of trust between the presidency and the opposition. The President and the Brotherhood, despite their inability to run the country, are concerned only with the loss of power, and with the failure of their political project. The opposition can no longer trust any promises made by the President, or any statement made by the Brotherhood, due to a long history of lies, deception, and broken promises. 

Given the increased frustration and violence, efforts must be made to begin a real process of dialogue, addressing the polarizing issues facing the country. These include the formation of a government, the drafting of a new election law, amending the constitution, and the replacement of the prosecutor general. However, a general lack of trust, as well as the stubbornness of the President and the Brotherhood, thwart every effort at genuine mediation and dialogue.

The media recently informed us of newly-appointed Secretary of State John Kerry’s visit to the region, which included a stop in Egypt to meet various Egyptian parties and participate in consensus building. Some parties greeted the news with great optimism, for perhaps Kerry would indeed be able to achieve this consensus and solve the Egyptian crisis. Others ridiculed the idea, given that Kerry has no power over the Egyptian opposition, while others noted the clear support that America has provided to whatever power is ruling Egypt, from Mubarak, to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and now to Morsi. Finally, there were some who totally condemned the visit, refusing any American interference in Egypt’s internal affairs. They stated that since America supports dictators, and seeks only its own benefit, the visit should not be welcomed. Many parties and symbolic figures refused to meet with Kerry on principle, and made announcements to this effect.

The real problem, however, lay in the organization of Kerry’s visit. The way in which the visit and meetings were organized, as well as the invitation of key political figures, did not suggest any serious attempt at mutual acquaintance, deliberation, or mediation.

The main purpose of the visit to Egypt was to meet with businessmen, the president, and the defense minister, made clear by the schedule announced by the American State Department and the US embassy in Cairo. As for the opposition, they way in which they were invited was inappropriate and heedless of the ideological differences separating them. It was also done in a way that caused the most prominent figures of the National Salvation Front, including Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahy, to withdraw, saying they would not be pressured into participating in the parliamentary elections.

What remained of the opposition was invited to an extremely short meeting – no longer than 45 minutes – bringing together an amalgamation of fledgling and established parties. Some of the invitees were known and others unknown; some had actual power on the street and some did not; some had participated in the revolution while others had stood against it, and were seen in revolutionary terms as enemies. And finally, there were representatives of the youth.

Groups were invited regardless of their orientation, because what mattered most was that the opposition be publicly shown to have met with John Kerry. With such a large number of people, of such varied ideological positions, in such limited time, was the goal meaningful discussion or was it simply a photo opportunity?

For this reason, I did not attend the meeting, which was in my opinion neither serious nor fruitful. Had I gone, I would have spoken of the American support we are now seeing for the Brotherhood regime, the same support that America gave both to the army after the revolution, and to Mubarak before it.

Had I gone, I would not have been able to speak to Kerry in a friendly manner. I would have been too burdened with the anger of a number of groups of revolutionary young people, directed at the American administration for its support of Morsi, as well as for the recently-confirmed delivery of 140,000 American tear-gas canisters used against Egyptian protesters. The American administration is the principal supporter of this new autocratic regime, responsible for the deaths of its people. The anger I feel towards this administration increases day by day, due to its support of the Mubarak regime, followed by the military regime, followed by Morsi, all for the preservation of none but American interests. 

Ahmed Maher is a prominent youth activist, the founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, and a Nobel Peace Prize Nominee. 

Photo: US Dept. of State

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