Egypt's protesters want their slice of the future

  • February 8, 2011
OTTAWA - Egyptian protesters are mostly males aged 25-34 who are highly educated, plugged into the world’s social media and networks but frustrated because they can’t find work, said Carl Hétu, national secretary of CNEWA Canada (Catholic Near East Welfare Association).

“They are now asking for their share,” he said, noting the plight of young people is similar in countries all over the Middle East.

The issue in Egypt is whether the Muslim Brotherhood, a radical Islamist group, will try to appropriate the movement, he said. But the Muslim Brotherhood is not the only player, he added, noting that the elite of Egypt “will not let go” and will be faithful to President Hosni Mubarak.

Like their offshoot Hamas and the radical Iran-backed Islamist group Hezbollah, the Muslim Brotherhood does a great deal to care for people socially through various programs to help the poor, Hétu said. The failure of countries like Egypt, Tunisia and Yemen to care for their people  has allowed these movements to grow.

So far in the latest uprisings, Christians have not been targeted, though there was an explosion Feb. 5 at an empty church in Rafah, near Egypt’s border with Gaza. In early January, extremists bombed a Coptic Church in Alexandria, killing nearly two dozen people and injuring many more.

Christians have not felt protected under Mubarak and have faced discrimination, Hétu said.

Most Christian intellectuals are afraid to speak out because it is difficult for Christians to be on one side or the other. The biggest fear is that Egypt will turn into another Iraq, where the ancient Christian community has been persecuted so badly that tens of thousands have fled the country.

Hétu compared the situation in Egypt to the past struggle in Latin America to depose dictatorships.

Many people found strength in Catholic social movements as they mobilized against harsh regimes. Similarly, many Egypt protesters are turning to Islam to find the freedom they seek.

The Egyptian Army is a key player that will allow the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in negotiations as long as the Islamist group is not allowed to take control of the country, Hétu said.

“Right now, for things to move forward, you need a peaceful environment,” he said.

The army needs to help keep a measure of peace so a new kind of national unity can be negotiated.

The youth behind the present uprising “are not necessarily behind the Brotherhood,” Hétu said.

“They don’t want to replace one oppressive regime with another.”

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