On the 14th day of the Middle East crisis, Fischer Institute Director Blanche Milligan moderated a panel discussion in Davis Hall on the issues facing Egypt. Milligan stated that this was the first of many opportunities for the Nichols College campus to discuss important current events.
The panel consisted of staff, professors and students, including: Vice President for Enrollment and Marketing Thomas Cafaro; Professor of Management Dr. Ezat Parnia; Director of Spiritual Life and Peace Chaplain, Dr. Wayne-Daniel Berard; senior David Janjua, who recently attended a Washington Center program on “Politics and the New Media;” and Allie Hallam, senior class president.
After each panelist made a five-minute statement, Milligan opened the floor to questions from the audience. While no one knew how the popular protests in Egypt will end, there were plenty of opinions about state repression and the need for an orderly transition.
Cafaro, a West Point graduate who lived in the Middle East for several years, gave a brief overview of the history of the region, Great Britain’s early involvement overseeing the Suez Canal, military conflicts with Israel, and transitions in Egyptian leadership. He stated: “You can’t be a ruler in Egypt without the strength of the military power structure behind you.”
Cafaro explained that Mubarak was “career” Air Force from 1972-1975 before he became vice president and took over as president after Sadat’s assassination in 1981. Mubarak's regime, part of a ruling class of generals which includes many security organizations (such as the secret police and intelligence), is consider corrupt. "Newspaper reports have stated that Mubarak’s personal wealth is somewhere between 40 to 70 billion dollars,” said Cafaro.
Dr. Ezat Parnia stated that he had translated the words of the U.S. Declaration of Independence forty years ago during his student days in Tehran, Iran. He said its words have inspired young people to pursue freedom around the world:
“…We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights... That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government…”
Parnia believes that past U.S. policy has been misguided and access to information and technology has allowed like-minded people to form groups to confront abusive governments. “All revolutions, except for the United States, have resulted in some form of tyranny—even the French Revolution,” he said.
Berard opened with a Walt Whitman quote: “I find myself on the verge of a usual mistake.” He hopes that the U.S. will not revert to its "usual" and negative, hard-line response to Egypt’s Muslims: “The Muslim Brotherhood is not interested in becoming a government.”
“The greatest democracy in the world doesn’t trust democracy in other countries. The U.S. tends to support dictatorships,” notes Berard, “such as the Shah of Iran and Mubarak. That’s why we have so little currency in the Middle East now.”
“The Egyptian Constitution, put in place by Nasser, calls for one legal party only!” he continued. “If the U.S. doesn’t support regimes which support the fundamental principles of this country (e.g. democracy, multi-party, free speech), then we will again, be on the ‘verge of a usual mistake.’”
Janjua focused on the state run media that exists in Egypt and how it has compounded oppression. “The Ministry of Information heavily regulates all outside news outlets so they might as well be state run,” he said. “Egyptians have little or, no faith in the media because it’s just an arm for Mubarak’s propaganda.”
“If there is going to be a new democracy,” said Janjua, “then there must be a free press.”
Hallam stated that she learns most of her information on the internet. “I love Aljazeera and the BBC as news sources. I like to formulate my own opinions and don’t like my news filtered as it is now done on CNN.”
Hallam told the audience that she has an extended family in the Syria: “They don’t have the freedom that we have here. Twitter is creating a revolution, and that's why you will find me tweeting online against censorship.”