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Interview with Sam Khalifa: Turmoil in Egypt

On January 25, 2011, the world watched as Egyptians demanded the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in Tahrir Square. On June 30, 2012, the first democratically elected Egyptian head of state, Mohamed Morsi, was sworn into office.

As Morsi granted himself sweeping political powers and no longer seemed to be a symbol of democracy, the people again demanded change. A month after the one-year anniversary of Morsi’s swearing- in, the military staged a military coup and established an interim government.

New presidential elections will take place in 2014, but until then, the internal turmoil in Egypt will continue.

Sam Khalifa ’14 has seen firsthand much of the change that has swept across Egypt. Now he offers the Deerfield community his reflections on the last three turbulent years in Egyptian history, and on where Egypt is headed from here.

Scroll: What was your reaction to President Mubarak’s being forced down?

SK: When we threw down President Mubarak, we thought it was all over, that this would never happen again, that the next president would see what happened to Mubarak and learn from his mistakes. Which is why we were surprised by President Morsi’s actions. He imposed his views on the people and tried to change things too quickly. He stopped the Constitution and cancelled the Supreme Court. Our electricity would go out two, three times a day, even at school. We had a gas problem because Morsi was giving gas to Hamas [Palestinian Islamic organization] to support them. He was taking resources away from his people to support Hamas. What Egypt needs right now. I believe Sisi is trying to push Egypt towards a democratic state.

Scroll: What do you think about President Obama’s foreign policy towards Egypt?

SK: President Obama has stopped the military aid he has been giving (around $1.3 billion a year) to Egypt. I believe this is because Obama was offended that Morsi was forced to step down—Morsi was technically a democratically elected president. But the fact is that the American government does not understand what is happening in Egypt, because what is happening in Egypt could never happen here. Americans cannot see how a democratically elected president could be forced to step down, and I understand their confusion. The events going on— it’s pretty crazy, and hard to understand. But again, Egypt is a nation where you cannot apply the same standards as you do in America. We currently lack things that Americans consider to be basic facts of life, like separation of church and state. Egypt and America are two different worlds.

Scroll: How can Sisi be glorified when he has been using force—such as tear gas—against his own people?

SK: What you have to understand is that the situation is completely different from the one in Syria, where Assad is using chemical weapons against his own people. Sisi used tear gas after Morsi was forced to step down, when members of the Muslim Brotherhood were rioting on the streets, burning churches and governmental buildings, killing Christians…What they were doing was terrorism. When this is happening, it’s natural that force be used. When one side does not keep the rules, the

norms start breaking down.

Scroll: What do you think about the role of religion in Egyptian politics? About the imposition of Shariah law in the Constitution?

SK: Well, part of the reason why people hated Morsi was that, before Morsi, religion had never governed Egypt. Morsi was the first president to impose his religious views on the Egyptian population. I’m completely against religion becoming mixed in politics. You need separation of church and state. And Morsi was trying to make Egypt more like Saudi Arabia, where it’s mixed.

Scroll: What has your personal experience been?

SK: I originally lived in Tahrir Square, unfortunately. My first ugly personal experience was in 2011, on the 15th of January, during the first protest demanding that Mubarak step down. After the first revolution, we had to move, because our house was taken; it exploded, and there were bullet holes in my laptop, all over the door. Everyone around us was affected. Now I live an hour and a half away from Tahrir Square. It’s a different area from Tahrir Square; there is not much happening in my current neighborhood— there are many foreigners living there.

Scroll: What do you see in Egypt’s future?

SK: I don’t see Egypt settling down anytime soon. Change will take many, many years. There will be elections in 2014, and a new president will come, but we have no idea what’s going to happen. The problem now is that whenever people don’t like something, they go into the streets and protest. Throwing down Morsi, although necessary, has set a dangerous precedent.

Scroll: In your opinion, was the military entitled to take control of Egypt for six months after Mubarak stepped down?

SK: It is true that it is not the military’s role to govern. But at that moment, it was a necessary evil. It was a transitional period of time.

Scroll: Do you think it was fair that people forced Morsi to step down, although he was democratically elected?

SK: This is a hard question to answer. First of all, when Morsi was elected, he won by a very, very narrow margin. The Muslim Brotherhood bought Egyptian voters. Morsi would go to poor neighborhoods and give them food and oil—basically bribed them. And the truth is that it’s hard to talk about “fairness” when a revolution is taking place. At the time of Morsi’s election, there was no democracy established, because there was no constitution. There was no basis to say what was legal, what was not. My definition of democracy is that politicians should be transparent. But even today, we do not know where the Muslim Brotherhood is getting its funding from. Also, this summer, there were more than 14 million in the streets calling for Morsi to step down. This couldn’t happen in any other country. I think that Morsi’s being forced down was a democratic change.

Scroll: What do you think about Sisi, the current head of the Egyptian military? Is there a fear he might take political control of Egypt?

SK: Sisi is a hero in Egypt. His picture is everywhere. There are songs written in his honor, and movies are being made about him. What is important is that Sisi has no political ambition whatsoever. He promised this in one of his speeches. He doesn’t want to be President. He is just

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