Rather than focusing on their country’s upcoming presidential elections, Egyptians should create a political system that distributes authority instead of concentrating it in one individual, said Mona Mowafi, a graduate student in the Harvard School of Public Health, at an event held at MIT last night.
“I personally believe that making the presidential debate a primary focus at this time, while sexier, brings about the false hope that one individual will be elected and bring in reforms and be the savior of the Egyptian people,” Mowafi said. “While I do agree that having an inspirational and transformational leader will be crucial in building a new stage for a new Egypt, the reality of the democratic transformation will require mass involvement by the people in order to come to fruition.”
Mowafi spoke alongside Wael Ghonim, an Egyptian activist who helped organize protests in Cairo during the revolution.
Ghonim was the recipient of the 2011 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award for his efforts in this spring’s revolution in Egypt that overthrew the government of former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.
Instead of focusing on political leaders, Ghonim said that ordinary Egyptians, both in Egypt and abroad, must take responsibility for the fate of their country.
“We are all in the drivers seat,” Ghonim said. “It’s up to us to decide, ‘Do we want [the revolution] to go forward?”
But Ghonim warned that creating a democratic political system will not be easy and that Egyptians must be patient during the process.
“People will have to make choices,” Ghonim said. “Sometimes these choices will be wrong ones and they’re going to learn and go through the experiences. Four years from now they will be more empowered and more able to make better decisions.”
While Egypt is currently going through a period of intense transition, Ghonim challenged the audience to take up the cause of the Egyptian people and try to make a tangible difference in the development of the revolution, even if they are thousands of miles away.
“You need to go out of this room now and before you sleep decide what you want to do and just start doing it,” Ghonim said.
Event attendees said that they thought that Ghonim’s perspective was critical for people evaluating the situation in Egypt and the role that they can play.
“Being worlds away, you get bits and pieces, but it’s totally different to hear the perspective of someone who’s been there on the ground,” said Suzan El-Rayess, a graduate student at Columbia University.
El-Rayess added that the current unrest in the Arab world provides an opportunity for students to more directly learn about the evolution of political systems.
“You can throw the IR books out the window and become a student of the world,” she said.
—Staff writer Monica M. Dodge can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.