The dream of democracy in Egypt was just that - a dream - in 2010, when filmmaker Lillie Paquette interviewed dozens of Egyptian youth activists, labor leaders and opposition members.
Paquette screened the resulting documentary, “We Are Egypt - Voices Leading to Revolution,” at a Peace and Conflict Studies event, part of a series to launch the new program. After the film, a panel of experts on the Middle East commented and led a discussion.
‘None of Us Would Have Predicted This’
The uprising across North Africa and the Middle East in the spring of 2011 took everyone by surprise, despite a history of opposition to despotic regimes in the region.
“None of us are prophets, none of us would have predicted this a year ago,” said Political Science Prof. Paula Rayman, director of the Middle East Center for Peace, Development and Culture, in opening the panel discussion. “We need to ask, what is the meaning of these courageous actions, these street-level movements toward new forms of freedom and democracy? And, what are the challenges that people face?”
The panel included Rayman; Political Science Asst. Prof. Deina Abdelkader, who has lived in Egypt and is the author of a book about Middle East democracy movements; Greg Aftandilian, former foreign policy adviser to Sen. Edward Kennedy and an associate at the Center for Middle East Peace, Development and Culture; Political Science Assoc. Prof. Vickie Langohr of Holy Cross, where she directs the peace and conflict studies concentration; and Paquette. Paquette is a specialist in international affairs with a master’s degree in Global Studies from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
In free elections, Islamist parties are likely to do well, several panelists said. This may cause consternation in the West, but advanced democracies also exhibit religious disagreements.
This led to discussion of why Islamic women would choose to veil themselves. A well-known activist featured in the film “may veil as a political statement,” said Paquette. Abdelkader pointed to veiling as an expression of faith that is then politicized by both sides.
“In the push for democracy, veiled women are full participants,” she said. “How this will play out over time is unknown.”
Wadia Khabazeh, graduate student in Peace and Conflict Studies, challenged the panelists: “What do you mean by democracy in the Middle East? Is it taking the veil from women?”
After the discussion, Khabazeh, originally from Syria, said, “There is no right answer. I am not optimistic about democracy in the Middle East, and why should America always jump in the middle?”