A lot of Egyptians, especially liberal well-educated youths, feel a sense of relief with President Mohammed Morsi’s ouster. They also foresee problems down the road, so many are seeking work abroad.
It has been more than a week since the coup d’état, but naturally for Egyptians, it is still the talk of the town. The time for celebrating, however, is over. The temporary government has been installed, and the Muslim Brotherhood is organizing protests with the potential to devolve into bloody events, like the attack near the Republican Guard's headquarters on July 8.
Youth activist groups supported the appointments of Hazem el-Biblawi as prime minister and Mohamed ElBaradei as vice president of foreign affairs, but they remain suspicious of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. One young Egyptian, Mohammad, a 27-year-old musician, does not understand why his compatriots think the army is the institution that saved them from the Muslim Brotherhood.
“All of a sudden they seem to forget that they shot revolutionaries, right after [President Hosni] Mubarak’s ouster. People praise them, even though they killed people who protested peacefully,” he said to Al-Monitor. “We [youths] are really good at starting revolutions, but when it comes to actual political power, we are being ignored by the ‘big names.’”
When Morsi became president, a popular sentiment among young Egyptians was to learn from the Muslim Brotherhood how to steal a revolution, alienate the judiciary and split the country. Mohammad and his friends are afraid that this will happen again when elections are held and that Islamists or leftovers from the Mubarak regime will take over the country.
Mohammad thinks that politics and religion should not be mixed. When the first revolution took hold, and the Muslim Brotherhood won the elections, a lot of his friends left the country. Because they went to good universities and came from well-to-do families, they had the option of taking that path. Now he sees the same thing happening again.
The Muslim Brotherhood cannot be blamed for all the problems in Egypt, Mohammad declared, adding, “Mubarak left us with a lot of problems. Corruption is one of them, and Morsi did a lot to change that. Unfortunately you cannot resolve a system that has lasted for 30 years in one year. You have to build it up again. This takes time and you need young politicians to do that.”
Despite such rationality, Mohammad was nevertheless anxious, telling Al-Monitor, “I’m worried. What will happen in the next couple of years? We cannot keep removing a president whenever we feel like it. The problem with Egyptians is that the majority don't know what they want, but they know exactly what they don't want — and that is Islamists ruling and an army that will drags us into an old system, like the one we had when Mubarak was ruling this country.”
He and his friends all went to Tahrir Square to protest against Morsi, and two years before, they had done the same with Mubarak. They are all young liberal Muslims between the ages of 20 and 29. According to the Central Agency for Public Mobilization and Statistics, 24.3% of Egyptians is between the ages of 18 and 29, and 24.9% of this group is unemployed. The movements that forced Mubarak and Morsi from office were driven primarily by groups like the April 6 Youth Movement.
The day after the goodbye party for one of her closest friends, Zeina went to a private pool in one of Cairo's suburbs. Zeina is a young activist returning to the United States in August, after living in Egypt for years, because she can no longer deal with the instability.
“I’m one of the lucky people from the upper class, and I have an American passport. Egypt needs a lot of changes to solve all the problems, like unemployment, poverty and the growing gap between classes. We are stuck in this circle for more than two years now, and it will take at least a few years to make things better. Believe me, I’ve tried, but I’ve had enough of Egypt,” she told her friends. Most of them are trying to find jobs elsewhere.
In the last couple of years, a lot of young educated Egyptians have emigrated. The United States, England, and some of the Gulf states are the most popular destinations because of strong connections to these places, such as having a parent born there or managing to find an internship through a university they attended.
In countries like Egypt, where competition for employment is fierce, and the available jobs are generally not financially (or at times professionally) rewarding, it is common that many well-educated Egyptians head overseas in pursuit of better pay and challenging careers.
Deema, 26, is originally from Dubai, but has lived in Egypt for more than seven years because one of her parents is Egyptian. She married in Egypt and has made a number of friends. Unfortunately for Deema, almost all of her girlfriends moved to Dubai or Qatar when the situation in Egypt failed to improve after 2011.
“I asked my husband to travel back to Dubai with me, but he doesn’t want to go. He says he wants to help rebuild Egypt. I told him so many times that I don’t want to raise my future kids in a society like this. There aren’t enough jobs, there is no stability, and it will take at least 10 years before things get better,” she said to Al-Monitor.
Deema owns a shop selling Middle Eastern items and works full-time, as does her husband, but she feels lonely. Egypt for her is not a country where you can simply go out and meet new people. She explained, “Most women stay at home, also because the crime rate is going up, you always have to be accompanied by people when you go out.”
She says she is afraid the country will slip into a civil war, as clashes between the Muslim Brotherhood and opposing groups intensify. Some of her friends are scared that Egypt will soon be hit by bombings or other types of terror-inducing attacks.
In December 2012, Ahmed, 24, took a chance and spent his savings to study abroad for a year. Now he lives in London, like some of his Egyptian friends who preceded him by a few months. Although he was one of the young activists who helped force Mubarak to step down, he does not regret that he was not in Egypt to do the same with Morsi.
“I’m taking a huge risk, but still it feels better than staying in Egypt. The country is not doing great, and things will not change rapidly. After my graduation I will try to find work here, because I know for sure I will not have the same chances as in Egypt,” he told Al-Monitor. “Of course I would like to come back and help rebuild the country, one day, when I’m old. For politics in Egypt, you have to be an old man.”
Brenda Stoter is a Dutch journalist who writes about Egypt and Syria and about Kurds in Iraq and Turkey. Her articles have been published by Al Jazeera as well as featured in Dutch national newspapers and magazines, including Algemeen Dagblad, NRC Next, Het Parool and Elsevier. On Twitter: @BrendaStoter