I’ve been traveling in and out of the Middle East for the last two decades now. I’ve seen economic prosperity, religious plurality, and a many countries with a culture of hospitality that rivals that of my own Southern American upbringing. Even in the face of the harshest critics, I’ve actually walked the road to learn and understand as best as you can one trip at a time. As one of my long time mentors once told me, “You learn with your feet” and I’ve spent hundreds of miles in the shoes of another.
My first trip to Cairo was in May 2018 during the time of President Al-Sisi’s re-election and my tenure of Middle East travel was shaken to its core.
The world I once thought was clearly understood between right and wrong became increasingly grey. Through the tremendous traffic jams, and the crowded streets, I heard stories of religious persecution, human rights violations, and a military complex that ran the country almost like an oppressive blanket laying over the 100 million people.
I heard the stories of extremists willing to shoot up a church, a car bomber who believed an afterlife owed to him through some kind of religious mandate, and a various social activist NGO’s banned from the country for advocating democratic principles.
All of the sudden the complexity of the Egyptian narrative began to muddle my once certain naivety for a region rich in historical relevance.
Unlike many of my peers, instead of running in chaos shaking my head in the face of uncertainty, I chose to investigate and get involved.
I read story after story of the human rights violations.
I talked to countless Egyptians about life in and out of Cairo.
I read about the Arab Spring, Tahrir Square, and the uprisings of 2011 and 2013
I even traveled two hours outside of Cairo to talk with local farmers living the “simple life.”
And what I found was fascinating.
I found a country working diligently to re-build itself from the brink of collapse.
I found a people group not willing to be labeled by Christian or Muslim, but rather; embrace a healthy nationalism willing to point to their neighbors as fellow Egyptians.
I learned the real fear of people in the marketplace wondering if they would return home from a day at the grocery store because of threats from nefarious actors.
I learned of an economy once thought to be spiraling into a failed state, to one that is marching consistently forward to be the #1 investment pick in the Middle East today by Credit Suisse in a recent article.
And, I learned of a Muslim President willing to be seen in a Christian Cathedral, and a Coptic Pope willing to stand in solidarity with his Muslim neighbors at the largest Mosque in Egypt.
I found a unique place in the Middle East, vibrant with people, smells, foods and culture I didn’t even know existed. I found a place where I could walk down the road, and in no time at all, I would be a dinner guest at a total stranger’s home. I found an Egypt, I was proud to begin a relationship with, and learn to know.
That’s why in the face of this week’s visit by President Al-Sisi of Egypt brought great hope, but was followed by great disappointment.
I don’t know if you followed the story, but the drip of today’s modern media complex had no relative backdrop to anything going on in Egypt. The framework was set, “Trump the Dictator, meets with Sisi the Dictator.” There is no mention of Egypt’s importance to the Middle East, no mention of the stable relationship with our ally Israel for the last 40 years, no mention of the absolute despot hopeless government projections that happened in 2011 or 2013. Just a continuous story about human rights abuses, government referendums , and security threats in the Eastern Part of the country.
The people of Egypt deserve better.
Of course there are issues to talk about on Capitol Hill and in the White House. The Egyptian government needs to answer for the large sum of money afforded each year for military assistance. ($1.3 Billion, which actually is a part of the Camp David Accords signed by President Sadat and Prime Minister Begin, brokered by President Carter in 1979.)
There are questions about Russian atomic power plants being built on a $25B loan from Moscow, and now a new deal for military jets being purchased from Russian for another $2B. (and on a quick review a new needed note that America wouldn’t sell them.)
There are issues with people being detained in Egypt with a seeming lack of juris prudence, and of course we should ask for answers when it comes to human dignity and the rights of Americans abroad.
Of course we should all be the adults in the room that demand for the rights of the human be elevated in a place where human dignity can prevail.
But to reduce this current Presidential Summit to human rights without taking into account a dangerous neighborhood where the threats of a potential failed Libya to the West, a cantankerous Sudan to the south, the Sinai Peninsula where terrorists training camps hide in plain site, not to mention the border of Gaza to the North East; are disingenuous to say the least. The media today has missed the point.
Egypt has a prominent role to play in a new economy, a new Middle East plan being proposed by world leaders, and a threat of stability at every angle, and all that is reported is some nuanced made up world where every country in the Middle East need adopt the same way of doing culture as America.
Just because we live in a world we know and feel comfortable in doesn’t mean the rest of the world need adopt our premise for government, economy, or religious pluralism. It’s almost like we invited the leader of a foreign nation to our home and then said, “Now go back and live like us, or else…”
Ok, Egypt has issues, let’s not be naive, and to be clear; every Egyptian official I’ve spoken with in the last three years agrees with this premise. But President Sisi, members of Egypt’s Parliament, and the leaders of the military are working tirelessly to create an environment whereby Egypt can restore its once known prominence to a region wrought with turbulence.
I’ve never seen a more calculated offensive by the media to try and derail a state visit. Just Google Egypt and tell me what you see. Imagine for a minute being an Egyptian delegation and the entire time you were visiting America you only read all the negative press without seeing any, NOT ONE, single article giving a different point of view.
Do you think that would encourage you to be in the conversation about change?
I would argue the world leaders need to take a wait and see approach. Let’s wait and see.
Let’s wait and see if Egypt’s new gas pipeline in partnership with Cyprus can produce a new energy hub in the Middle East.
Let’s wait and see if Egypt and Israel can continue a relationship to push back on terror at the boarders.
Let’s wait and see if Egypt has the wherewithal to create a market known for prosperity and hope after a near collapse.
Let’s wait and see if the people of Egypt will stand up and take back their heritage as the leaders in the region.
Let’s wait and see if the efforts to create a place of religious freedom can take root and the human dignity afforded to all people will once and for all be a right where Egyptians can once again be proud to show the world that Christians and Muslims and Jews can occupy the same neighborhoods without violence.
But most probably, this advocacy will fall on deaf ears.
In the age where perfection gets in the way of the good, there’s never enough advocates willing to push and encourage Egypt towards prosperity. Arm Chair quarterbacks, with no skin in the game, will sit with their wine glasses swirling and their fancy DC dinners talking about how “autocratic” the current government of Egypt is.
And to those detractors I just hope they understand how important it is for Egypt to rise up and lead. Because without Egypt, the neighborhood in the Middle East becomes a black hole with fewer friends to reach out for help who have a common bond of friendship forged in the longest running diplomatic relationship in America’s history.