U.N. video conference focuses on unfolding events in Egypt, their impact on the Middle East and beyond
By Deanna McLafferty
Recently, dissatisfied Egyptian citizens of every age, gender and background took the streets to protest against the long-standing autocratic government. As the world watched, they successfully pressured President Hosni Mubarak to resign, leaving the country with the potential for a democratic future. As a historic center of civilization, Egypt is particularly influential in the Middle Eastern region, and the spark of civil unrest has spread to the nations of Jordan, Yemen, Libya, Bahrain and others.
These momentous events were the topic of a recent video conference among Lehigh University, four other colleges, Nazareth Area High School students and United Nations representatives from Cyprus and Pakistan.
Speaking from the United Nations headquarters in New York, Nicos Agathocleous, former ambassador of Cyprus to the United Nations, began the teleconference by listing the reasons this revolution took place when it did, including Egypt’s young population, their access to social media and what he called the “Obama factor.”
“These young people saw this young, African-American man, through perseverance and intelligence, come to inspire the United States and become leader of the world,” Agathocleous said. “This was a great inspiration to the people of the world, especially the oppressed. Hope is very important.”
According to Agathocleous, President Obama’s speech during his first visit to Egypt, in which he said government should rule with the consent of the governed, made an impact among many Egyptians. The most important element of the movement and why it happened now was the feeling among citizens that their pride and dignity was being taken away, he said.
Ahmad Kamal, former ambassador and permanent representative of Pakistan, sat with Agathocleous and mediated the video conference. He agreed with Agathocleous’ sentiments and said the cause of the rebellion was a deep frustration among the youth with the economy, joblessness and lack of government participation. “People will accept the status quo for a long time until the last straw on the camel’s back,” Kamal said.
Despite giving credit to Obama for supporting the Egyptian people and using his considerable influence behind the scenes to bring about change, both diplomats believe these actions are not good enough, and the West is partly responsible for bolstering a corrupt regime. Kamal explicitly stated that Egypt was not an ally of the United States but a strategic ally, and Western interest in the Middle East amounts to a desire for oil at a cheap price.
“There is a conflict between two concepts in the United States – belief in democracy and interest in stability,” he said. “It looks like the ball is bouncing toward democracy, so we have to adjust our interests.”
Agathocleous said the key to the simultaneous reductions of anti-Americanism and Iranian power is solving the Israeli-Palestinian conflict. Resolution of the issue will be one of the important fallouts of these turbulent times, which will eradicate much frustration in the Arab world and weaken Iran’s anti-Western position, he explained.
As for Egypt’s future, Agathocleous is optimistic yet realistic. He believes the country will experience a freer society with stronger civic institutions and more corporate involvement but is unsure what type of government will ultimately emerge. He said it may not be Western democracy but still a form of democracy with participation through elections. It is hard to predict what will happen since the revolution was leaderless, he said.
“Leaderless is not a bad thing,” Agathocleous insisted. “A youth can come out with a party and take with him those who were silent. The important thing is for democracy to come through consensus and cooperation.”
Despite the uncertainty and challenges ahead for Egypt, and the Middle Eastern region generally, Kamal remains hopeful. “When we talk about the wings of change, the quicker you respond, the better,” he said. “You may try to hold it back, but justice ultimately prevails.”
Fairleigh Dickinson University, FDU-Vancouver, Mercy College and Bronx Community College also participated in the teleconference .