Protests and gunfire; blood-soaked streets and unrest; confusion and distrust abounding. In the wake of Egypt’s massive protests two years ago that saw the ousting of a long-time ruler and the installation of a new, unpopular one — who was also unceremoniously ejected from his leadership position recently — the news has seemed to be nothing but bleak.
But in the dark clouds over Egypt’s ongoing attempt to rebuild itself, Dalia Ziada sees a silver lining.
“It’s not a good sign what’s happening there, with the recent clashes, but no one is reporting on the good behind this,” Ziada said Tuesday at an event at the Princeton Jewish Center, hosted by the American Jewish Committee.
The 31-year-old devout Muslim from Cairo would know. She was instrumental in staging the 2011 demonstrations responsible for the first regime change in the country in three decades and has since gone on to co-found a youth-based political party in Egypt and an academy designed to turn her peers into politicians, in hopes of injecting new and more liberal ideas into the country’s political system.
“The Muslim Brotherhood will say ‘Islam is the solution.’ I don’t believe that,” she said. “I say, ‘Inclusion is the solution.’”
And according to Ziada, that’s a stance more of her fellow countrymen are taking. It’s an effect she referred to as the country “politically maturing,” and she pointed to a recent poll showing a majority of Egyptians favoring a civilian president as opposed to a military or religious leader for the country as evidence of that growth.
“The people voted for the Muslim Brotherhood because it was deeply emotional for them,” she said, explaining the 2012 election of Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood’s presidential candidate that year. “It was about religious piety. We love Islam, so we vote for Islam. But now, people are more politically mature. They would rather vote for someone who’s out to help Egypt, and this has given me hope.”
She also credits this notion for the diligence going into the creation of the new Egyptian constitution, and the citizens’ patience in having it drawn up. A “road map” to bring Egypt back to prominence, financially, socially and politically, also is in the works and is another aspect of the country’s rebuilding process that has given Ziada hope, she said.
Pointing to a personal example, Ziada talked about her mother’s changing position on the state of the country over the past two years.
“When Mubarak was ousted, me and my brothers were celebrating; she was crying,” she said of her mother during the 2011 overthrow of former ruler Hosni Mubarak. “When we were ousting Morsi, she was active, for maybe the first time in her life.”
“For the first time, people in Egypt are agreeing on one thing: that they want their civil rights and their human rights protected by their government.”
Still, there’s one group Ziada feared would not see that same type of protection for some time: women. According to Ziada, there’s still much debate on the amount of rights women can have, even among popular, secularist politicians.
“I went to a constitutional committee meeting where they spent three or four hours debating whether one article should read ‘Men and women are equal,’ full-stop, or ‘Men and women are equal, unless where dictated by Sharia law,’” she said. “And this was not a group of religious people. This was supposed to be a committee of majority seculars.”
Ziada herself learned the tough road women face in Egypt after losing in a parliamentary run for the party she co-created, due mostly to her gender, she said.
That has not deterred her, however. The issue of women’s right is extremely personal for her, she said, because she, like 97 percent of the women in Egypt, was subjected to female genital mutilation. That drives her to continue to fight for women’s rights, she said.
“I’ve been harassed and I’ve been threatened, but I believe these are small things that shouldn’t stop people from pursuing what they believe in,” she said. “I will continue the fight. I don’t care what happens to me, because maybe in many years, we will have something because of it. Because of that, I won’t stop.”
And it’s the strength and importance of her message that makes giving her a public forum in which to speak so important, according to John Rosen, AJC’s regional director in New Jersey, who helped organize the talk.
“Having her here is central to what we do with the AJC,” he said. “We believe the best way to advocate is to educate. If people like Dalia can share her vision and bring it to more people, there is hope for peace.”