Looking for a third way in Egypt

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Egyptian friends gather in the Ramy cafe in Imbaba. (TRUDY RUBIN / Staff)

    Sitting in the popular Ramy café in the dense Cairo working class district of Imbaba, a group of eight engineers have gathered for a night out smoking sheesha (flavored tobacco) through long-stemmed water pipes.

     Sipping sweet tea or thick Arab coffee, and eating syrupy white pudding flavored with raisins and nuts, the group is discussing why they all supported the army’s July ouster of elected president and Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohammed Morsi.  (Only one of them had voted for Morsi- because he thought a religious man would make a more honest leader).

     The engineers refuse to call the ouster a coup.  “I thought they [leaders from the Brotherhood] would follow good rules of Islam,” says Mohamed Nagy, “but I found out they weren’t to be trusted.” He, like most of the men, got frustrated by the clannishness of the Brotherhood politicians, who sought to control every lever of power,  along with their failure to fix the economy. And like all the other older engineers, he was eager to see General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi the army commander, now turned defense minister, who led the (non) coup, run for president.  Were he to do so, Sisi is expected to get voted in in a landslide.

     Two things fascinated me about the conversation.  First, the older engineers saw no contradiction between turning to a hero-general-savior only three years after the Tahrir Square revolt brought down President Hosni Mubarak, who was backed by the military. 

     But the younger engineers, while cheering Morsi’s fall, were skittish about having a general become president, even if he took off his uniform.  “I am an ex-military man,” said aeronautical engineer Hatem Sultan, “but I don’t like the military to take over.”

      Like many younger Egyptians,  initially excited by the Tahrir revolt, Sultan was eager for political leadership that was neither Islamist like Morsi or military – a third way, if you will.  Unfortunately, he sighed, “There isn’t a good civilian candidate until now.  We don’t have a third option.”  If Egyptians saw a good third option who was a well-educated civilian, he said, “he would be the popular choice.”   It may take some time for young Egyptians to find their third way.

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