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RANYA KHALIFA: "Democracy Digest"...


My Mentor and I...

Posted on April 15, 2011 at 5:17 AM

Dear readers,

I have decided to dedicate my first blog entry under this category "Towards a Functional Civil Society", to my Mentor, who first introduced me to the term "civil society" back in 1996...

I was studying for a Masters Degree in Middle East studies at The American University in Cairo (AUC), and my Mentor called me into his office to discuss my paper entitled  "Copts in Egypt".  He was impressed that I chose to write about Copts and whether or not they were facing any discrimination in the workplace as well as in their religious practices etc.  He encouraged me to interview prominent Copts in Cairo and to include their words verbatim in my paper. I did just that.  Then a discussion ensued between my Mentor and I.  The following is a true encounter, yet entirely rephrased, based on my memory of that particular discussion:

Me: "Why is it that we cannot all be treated equally in Egypt, whether Muslim or Copt? And why is it that Egypt is ruled with such an iron fist, unlike the United States which enjoys such admirable freedom of expression and equal rights?"

Mentor: "Egypt doesn't want democracy, it is not allowed here in order to protect the regime.  They have to clamp down on anyone who dares utter the word "democracy".

Me: "How is it that we can bring about democracy, without threatening the regime? Is it possible to slowly introduce democratic principles to an authoritarian regime such as ours?"

Mentor: "That's exactly what I am trying to do. Look over at the table behind you.  There's a stack of magazines with an olive-green cover.  Grab a copy and read it.  Tell me what you think..."

Me: I look at the multiple stacks of magazines and books stacked neatly on my Mentor's table.  I come across the stack with the olive-green color.  The magazine is entitled "Civil Society".  I look at my Mentor, startled, confused and feeling a little ignorant.  After all, I was an "A" student in his class and I didn't want to look so lost for words..."Ah! "Civil Society"...what exactly does that mean?"

Mentor: "That's the mechanism that ensures that the people have some form of power over their lives, away from the country's government and executive branches.  Civil society includes NGO's, syndicates, labor unions, etc..."

Me: "Oh! I never heard that term before.  Are you allowed to publish this magazine?"

Mentor: "No, but I am doing it anyway.  I am publishing it out of my own pocket.  Ranya, the people have the right to a civil society and that's the building block for them to know their civil rights".

Little did I know that my Mentor would be jailed roughly ten years after this discussion. The Mubarak regime didn't appreciate his calls for civil society or for democracy.  After his release, my Mentor left Egypt and continued his calls for democracy from abroad. 

The Mubarak regime is now gone....and my Mentor is returning to Egypt...next month.

Categories: Towards a Functional Civil Society...

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