Egypt Today (Part 1): Security in a New Era of Democracy

15 Sep

In the new era of democracy the single biggest issue for the Egyptian government is that of security. Egypt is facing a turbulent future where the fragile stability, that has been created following the revolution and the overthrowing of former President Hosni Mubarak, could and has been broken by incidences of violence. I witnessed first hand how easily stability and security in the country can snap when the anti-American protests engulfed the city centre this week.

(Above: A building, overlooking the Cairo Museum, attacked in the 2011 Revolution)

I first heard of the growing protests from family in England, when they told me what had occurred in the Libyan city of Benghazi and the subsequent protests taking place outside the American embassy in Cairo, in response to an anti-Islamic video posted in America. By the next day I saw first hand what was occurring in the streets surrounding the embassy.

Coming back from Islamic Cairo, in the Eastern part of the city, the taxi driver and I got caught in heavy traffic near Central Cairo. First believing this was part of the normal Cairo commute, we continued on, but it soon became apparent that this was part of something bigger and within minutes we discovered the roads to the American embassy had been closed forcing both people and cars to go through Tahrir Square, the heart of the 2011 Revolution, situated nearby. Upon arrival in the square the volume of people and presence of major news stations (some reporters standing on vans to get better views of the unfolding events) showed clearly that security in central Cairo was under threat

and further along the road this crumbling security was apparent. At an intersection, up which the police line protecting the US embassy was clearly visible, protestors were running towards us, into the main road and away from tear gas canisters that had been thrown by police in an effort to disperse the crowd.

Realising that taking any further photos may welcome more attention than I desired I simply watched. I watched the smoke spread out across the road, causing people walking in the streets to cover their mouths and noses; I watched as a man lay on the road clearly injured (although by what I cannot be sure) and watched as he was carried by fellow protestors to the central reservation, all of whom were crying from the affects of the tear gas.

As my taxi continued on driving across the bridge into the island district of Gezira I reflected on what I had just witnessed. The events surrounding Tahrir Square had shown the fragility of security in this country. The positive outlook and apparent peace I had witnessed walking round the city in the days preceding the attacks suggested that a gloss had been painted over society and that underneath society was deeply wounded, struggling to pull itself together after the dramatic events that had ripped it apart in the past year.

(Above: Anti-American protests in Cairo)

It also made me reflect on my own decisions and perceptions of Egypt today. I had originally been destined for Beirut, Lebanon and had made the decision that with the situation in Syria this would be too dangerous a location to visit. With this decision made, my destination was changed to Cairo, Egypt, a place that I perceived as ‘secure’, arguing that they had their revolution and that now Egypt was mending itself. Clearly I had underestimated the grassroots progress made in Egyptian society. Although my trip could have passed without incident, I was surprised by now quickly life in the city had reverted back to the chaos that had occurred since the revolution started.

Security in a new era of democracy is clearly the biggest issue that faces the new government of President Mursi and it must be the focus of this government if it truly wants to achieve the level of international prestige and power that it had experienced under the military strongmen.

Egypt has made huge leaps towards security. This time last year, no Westerner would have walked freely throughout Tahrir square and certainly not on their own, yet I was able to do just this without feeling threatened. Even whilst the anti-American protests were occurring, much of Cairo was continuing on as if nothing were amiss. My hotel, on an island in the Nile, just across from Tahrir Square, felt a million miles away from the protests that had shut down much of Central Cairo. Tourists continued to travel out the Pyramids and there were no attempts to challenge Westerners at the airport.

(Above: Protests build in Tahrir Square)

President Mursi is also keen to move Egypt forward, but many claim that this hasn’t made Egypt more secure. Tour guides told me of the growing rise of petty and violent crime. Tuk-tuks, which are not permitted on major Egyptian roads are rife in parts of the city, operating as unofficial taxis resulting in a rise in violence, inflicted both against drivers and passengers. The police and military presence on the street has been significantly reduced in an effort to show to the people, that Egypt has entered a new era in which there is less reliance on the military, but this has lead to a rise in crime and social problems, such as Cairo’s transport network, have developed greatly.

Behind the apparent calm of Egypt post-Revolution there is still great unrest. For the first time in many years people are allowed to feel and express their views on politics and society and they have taken this to heart, standing up for their deeply held principles, including their staunch religious convictions that have motivated the anti-American attacks. Critically, the government is allowing the people to feel; to express themselves. Although President Mursi condemned the attacks on the US embassy, claiming the government has a duty to protect the international territory of other nations, he also condemned the anti-Islamic video that motivates the protestors. By condemning this he added official support to the feelings and views of the protestors, supporting their move to protect Islam, which forms the bedrock for many in the country.

The country clearly has a long way to go to prove that it is not going to become, like so many other countries that experience great political change, an unstable country where national security can so easily disintegrate and society can so quickly degenerate to violence. One tour guide, Mohamed Besheer, claimed that “we need to give the government time…the corruption of Mubarak was like a virus and this is not easy to change”, and this summarizes the Egypt of today; seeking to move forward from their recent history.

Once Egypt starts to build on the first steps it has made under the new democracy that the stability, that many do experience in Egypt today, will be cemented into society and incidences, such as the anti-American protests, will become rare events.

By Peter Banham

See Also:

Egypt Today (Part 2): The Problem For Minorities in New Islamic Politics

Egypt Today (Part 3): Can Egypt Rebuild its Tourist Industry?

A Coptic Student and a Taxi Driver (Egyptian Streets)

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3 Responses to “Egypt Today (Part 1): Security in a New Era of Democracy”

  1. alquiler chalets oliva September 16, 2012 at 18:56 #

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Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. Egypt Today (Part 3): Can Egypt Rebuild its Tourist Industry? « A Little View of the World - September 19, 2012

    […] is certainly not a country without tourist attractions and for the Egyptian government it is the security of the region, rather than promoting the sites, that will be key to moving forward in the future; […]

  2. Egypt Today (Part 2): The Problems for Minorities in New Islamic Politics | A Little View of the World - May 18, 2013

    […] Egypt Today (Part 1): Security in a New Era of Democracy […]

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