Turmoil in Egypt
George Taylor/times news Dr. Amir Ghali of Lehighton is closely following events in Egypt, from which he emigrated in 1975 and which remains home to a number of his relatives.
The current upheaval in Egypt, which threatens the stability of the entire Middle East, holds great interest to Dr. Amir Ghali, a Lehighton dentist who still has family living in the beleaguered country.
Due to the discrimination against Christians in his native land, Ghali came to America 36 years ago, just one of a number of Egyptians who took advantage of the open door of opportunity. That opportunity no longer exists for the estimated 79 million Egyptians who have seen their country torn apart by two weeks of demonstrations.
A country in turmoil
Ghali saw signs that the government of President Hosni Mubarak, an ally of the United States, was in trouble.
"For the last six months I kept telling my friends that an explosion (of hostilities) was imminent in Egypt and it will happen any time," Ghali said. "There is much confusion and a faulty interpretation of the events in Egypt as we speak."
Since American journalists do not have access to the districts outside of Tahrir Square in Cairo, Ghali said a great deal of misleading information has been reported.
"Don't be deceived by what you see on TV or read in the news. Entire districts and neighborhoods have been looted," said Ghali, whose family lives in Alexandria, the country's second largest city.
One of the most misleading scenes that came out in the last week showed a number of people riding camels amid the demonstrators in Cairo. Later reports stated that these were supporters of President Hosni Mubarak, but Ghali feels that was untrue.
"An organized faction wouldn't attack with camels," Ghali said. "These were people in the tourism business who were frustrated that the demonstrators were destroying their livelihoods. You can see by the style of their clothes and the camel's outfits that they worked in tourism. They were telling the protesters that they can't feed their families ... that there's no food to put on the table."
Ghali feels the commentary on the demonstrations seen in American cities has also been misleading.
"Those are Islamic fanatics who have an ax to grind," he said. "Corruption, discrimination, poverty and catastrophic wars are deeply woven into Egypt's history. It is still a sovereign country so critics should back off."
Ghali isn't defending Mubarak for the corruption in government that people are reacting to. Mubarak's personal wealth is estimated at about $70 million, and he's also thought to be suffering with cancer.
But Mubarak has been a good friend of America in trying to keep the country stable for the last three decades. Ghali feels Mubarak's greatest achievements were to stabilize the Suez Canal to maintain the flow of oil exports, and open communications such as the Internet. He's also kept peace with Israel, which is enormously important in the region.
And during the recent upheaval, Mubarak has also had the best interest of the country in mind by abolishing his government and allowing a new government to form, removing his son as a possible successor to power, and restraining the army, which has not taken sides and actually acted as a buffer.
Egyptians were surprised by Mubarak's 2005 announcement to reform the country's presidential election law and for the first time in half a century the Egyptian people had an apparent chance to vote for a leader from a list of different candidates. However, there were restrictions which paved the way for an easy re-election for Mubarak.
Less than 25 percent of the country's 32 million registered voters turned out for the 2005 elections. Because of the amount of fraud and vote-rigging in those 2005 presidential elections, many in the West questioned Egypt's commitment to democracy freedom and rule of law.
Before the recent demonstrations, Egypt's economy was one of the most developed and diversified in the Middle East but that has been crippled during the last two weeks. Costs of the upheaval have been catastrophic, with damage estimates ranging from $70 million to $320 million daily.
The U.S., which provides Egypt with $1.8 billion in military assistance, must walk a fine line with the Mubarak regime. Although the U.S. administration has failed to take sides, President Barack Obama has asked for a quick and orderly exit by Mubarak's government.
No ability to govern
Ghali said the fact that the army has been restrained amid the demonstrations is a sign that Mubarak is still in charge. However, it's unknown what the army will do if Mubarak leaves before the end of his term.
He said the college-age young people may have been responsible for starting the protests, but they are not equipped or have the ability to govern.
"The students are short-sighted and immature when it comes to leading a government, because they have not accounted for the consequences of Mubarak leaving," Ghali said.
Ghali feels Mubarak, who has said he would step down in the fall, appears to have the best interest of the country in mind, despite the government corruption.
"Mubarak refused in the past to drag Egypt into war when Israeli-Palestinian conflicts escalated several times," Ghali recalls. "He realizes that Israel has the fourth strongest army in the world, plus they have the nuclear weapons to destroy the Middle East 100 times over. He is wise to not listen to fanatics and avoid war at all costs."
A government to fear
The group receiving the most attention for control of Egypt and one to be feared, according to Ghali is the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, which makes up an estimated 20 percent of the Egyptian population, and has about a 25 percent representation in the Egyptian parliament.
Its front man now appears to be Mohamed ElBaredai, who until 2009 was Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency. Ghali feels ElBaredai gives the group some legitimacy on the world stage, but if Egypt falls to the Brotherhood, it will be catastrophic.
"It is true some of the demonstrators are pro-democracy but the great majority are thugs and looters," Ghali said. "When you see signs portraying Mubarak as a traitor or an agent for America and Israel, make no mistake those are Muslim Brotherhood whose real objective is to create another fanatic Muslim government equivalent to Iran."
Ghali said the black-bearded protesters we see holding the Koran are likely pro-Brotherhood sympathizers who are anti-American and anti-Israel.
"It's deceptive when you hear of them doing good things, such as building hospitals and establishing social agencies to help the poor, but their agenda is anything but good for Egypt. They are wolves in sheep's clothes," he said.
Ghali feels the Muslim fanatics refuse to admit to the chaos, destruction and bloodshed they caused in other Mideast countries like Iran, Iraq and Sudan.
"If they have integrity they would espouse truth and fairness but they don't, and that's tragic for the peace of the region," he said.
Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country about 90 percent identify themselves as Muslim with Islam as its state religion. Islam plays a central role in the lives of most Egyptian Muslims, which is evident in the daily photos we see of the masses kneeling and bowing in prayer.
The Adhan (Islamic call to prayer) is heard five times a day. During events of the past two weeks, that has been the only stable scene coming out of the land of the pharaohs.
Ghali feels that history is the best teacher when it comes to revolts and uprisings. The French and Russian revolutions proved that widespread chaos sends a nation not forward, but backward.
"There will be more terrorism if the Brotherhood is in charge," he said. "It will be a rough road, but hopefully, Egypt will get through and have democracy."