Egypt's Youth Grapple With Love-Hate Relationship With US

Article Summary
Egyptian liberal youth have become highly critical of the United States as it expresses its support of the Muslim Brotherhood since the party's rise to power. Despite their criticism, writes Amina Khairy, many youth still strive to immigrate to the US for more opportunities and a better life.

The long queues outside the US Embassy in the Garden City neighborhood of Cairo are as long as ever. The crowd is very large, they are excited and have high hopes. Some are seeking a tourist visit, that could possibly turn into a residency permit, while some are dreaming of a green card that can save them from the problems surrounding them. Others are planning to visit aunts and uncles, hoping that they receive an offer of marriage for one of their daughters. This would give them an opportunity to stay and live with them and find a job.

The youth sparked the Egyptian revolution and it continued until it toppled the regime. As a new regime started to form, the United States got involved in a variety of ways during the transitional phase. This involvement elicited mixed reactions from both revolutionary and non-revolutionary youth.

The Muslim Brotherhood had just emerged on the political scene, when members of congress and other US officials starting a series of visits to the headquarters of the Brotherhood’s political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party. Perhaps these visits even contributed to the group’s political emergence, leading some youth groups to start questioning this unclear US role. 

Some considered these visits normal, merely a superpower seeking to secure its own interests in light of changes taking place in a strategic country like Egypt. However, others were not comfortable with the visits, particularly since they all ended with what resembled praise of the Muslim Brotherhood and the symbols of its party, the Freedom and Justice Party. Yet, what is perhaps most interesting is the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood youth, who are usually ready criticize and vent all of their anger on any visiting official from the West, remained silent regarding the visits and praise. Egypt’s previous policy of not commenting on US visits or any statements made by US officials, a policy which under the former regime was criticized for being “a blatant interference in Egypt’s internal affairs,” was clearly still in place during the recent visit of US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and her meeting with the Muslim Brotherhood President Mohammed Morsi. Youth activists who are not affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood or other political Islam parties criticized the visit and accompanying rosy statements made by US officials. However, the Muslim Brotherhood youth remained silent at first, then mobilized their energy and creativity and waged a fierce war against whoever dared to criticize Clinton’s visit, her admiration of the Muslim Brotherhood, and her so-called “blatant” interference in Egypt’s affairs!

These changes in the youth groups’ stance towards the US are unprecedented. The liberal youth forces are now against the US, and major figures from revolutionary youth groups are no longer of interest to the US. These are the same figures whom the US sought to invite to the country of “Uncle Sam,” following the January 25 Revolution, to honor them and listen to their powerful revolutionary experiences in overthrowing a corrupt regime. These are figures who met with congressmen and other US officials during their many visits to Egypt following the revolution. The US has stopped caring about Christian youth forces until further notice. These are the same forces that organized demonstrations and called for protests outside the US Embassy in Cairo, demanding US support regarding a number of problems facing Christians in the wake of the revolution.

Strangely enough, this temporary honeymoon between Brotherhood and the US did not affect queues outside the US Embassy in Cairo nor did it affect Egyptians’ dreams of travel and immigration. This honeymoon is characterized by love and harmony, and has severely affected US relations with other Egyptian parties. Marwan Mustafa, 27, is desperately seeking an opportunity to immigrate to the United States, although he was upset by US support for the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt.

Mustafa notes: “The United States is a superpower. As a superpower, you cannot talk about another countries’ interests or promising future if it contradicts US interests. This is what we are seeing today in the US support of the [Muslim Brotherhood]. On the other hand, the United States is a pragmatic country. If the Muslim Brotherhood one day prevented the US from pursuing its interests, the US will be the first country to turn against it. I dream of immigrating to the United States not because of a love for Clinton, Obama or the future US president, but in hope of a better future.”

There is no Hope Locally

The dream of a better life, that all Egyptian youth had during the revolution and in the few weeks that followed, became a purely Egyptian dream for perhaps the first time in decades. Minnatullah Hilmi, 22, says: “Before the revolution, talk of a better future and decent life went hand in hand with talk about immigrating, namely, to the United States. Nobody was dreaming of a rosy future in Egypt. We didn’t have any hope. Yet during and after the revolution, we had dreams about a wonderful future and decent life in our country. However, after the revolution resulted in a religious state, this dream unfortunately has dissipated and our dreams are now back with the country of Uncle Sam.”

But, Hisham Abdul Latif, 25, strongly objects to what Hilmi said. He states that “the revolution did not result in a religious state. On the contrary, it led to the victory of the most organized movement in the presidential election. It is not an eternal victory. Leadership might change in the ballot boxes as a result of the Brotherhood’s performance. Abdul Latif adds: “I am not surprised regarding the US stance towards the Muslim Brotherhood. I believe that they would have taken the same supportive stance if Hazem Abu-Ismail [the Salafist candidate] became president. The US is working to achieve their interests regardless of the names and movements aligned with them. Politics do not recognize feelings, values or morals. As for all who thought that ‘Mother America’ will rush to their rescue whenever they ask for help, they learned a lesson that the US will not rush to help anyone but itself.”

Whether the US rushes to help itself or to help other parties in order to rescue itself, there will always be a close link between the US and the youth’s dreams of immigration. However, this link is based on a love-hate foundation. They hate the United States, but they are dreaming of escaping there, especially when they are desperate in their own country. It is a contradictory and cloudy relationship, but it isn’t new.”

Mahmoud Ali, 19, says: “Interestingly, the majority of people who criticize the infidel West, the opportunistic US and the materialistic nature of Western civilization are still hanging on to these entities. The mother of the former presidential candidate [Abu-Ismail] is American, two of the current Egyptian president’s sons have American citizenship and the new prime minister holds a PhD from an American university. Therefore, we all love the United States even if we hate it.”

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