Egypt’s Political Brain Drain

The fall of the repressive Mubarak regime sadly has not brought democratic change and economic opportunity to Egypt’s beleaguered population.  Instead, Egypt has experienced two waves of increased political instability and human rights violations under the military rule and now the Muslim Brotherhood.  These conditions are sparking a brain drain of Egypt’s best and brightest young political activists who are fleeing for the exits.

Two of my close friends and Egyptian democratic dissidents, Dr. Maikel Nabil Sanad and Kareem Amer, have both fled Egypt for Europe.  They may not be totally representative of Egyptian dissidents because both men are atheists, who represent a small minority of the Egyptian population as a whole, including secular dissidents.  But their departure from Egypt symbolizes the dangerous political conditions in the country.

Kareem Amer was from a Wahhabi family in Egypt and he suffered physical child abuse.  He was imprisoned for four years under the Mubarak regime from 2006 to 2010 for challenging the discriminatory treatment of women and Christians in Egypt and for expressing his atheist religious views.  His Wahhabi family disowned him during his trial and imprisonment.  He participated in the uprising against Mubarak but fled Egypt in 2011 to escape the oppressive conditions under the military regime.  By 2012 he had lost all hope of positive change in Egypt even before the Muslim Brotherhood took over.

Like Kareem Amer, Dr. Maikel Nabil Sanad is also an atheist and democratic political dissident.  He is a pacifist and supporter of Israel and the Jews who has spoken up for women’s rights and gay rights.  He challenged the Mubarak regime for its political oppression and anti-Semitism.  But he suffered a harsh captivity of ten months in prison under the military regime during which he almost died twice on a four-month hunger strike.  Following his release from prison in January, 2012, he fled immediately to Germany for his physical and emotional safety.

A few days ago I checked on the fate of Alber Saber, yet another atheist who had been imprisoned for six months in 2012 and 2013 under the Muslim Brotherhood.  And I discovered to my dismay that he too had fled Egypt in January, 2013. I read this very moving interview with Mr. Saber.

He said about his departure: “The people who should be congratulated are the ones in power. The Egyptian government is now safe from the shameful position they took. They are safe from the criticism that initially forced them to let me go. They are safe from the possibility of me actually gaining my rights and the rights of many others.”

He also noted that he had suffered three assassination attempts by Islamists while still in university as a result of his atheist beliefs. Thus, the Islamists began their intimidation campaign against atheists such as Mr. Saber many years ago.  He supports civil marriages, a concept that is completely alien to mainstream Egyptian society.

The departure of the Egyptian democratic dissidents creates a political vacuum which only strengthens the Muslim Brotherhood’s ideological and political monopoly in Egyptian society.  In addition, the mass exodus of the democratic dissidents also symbolizes the oppressive and dangerous political conditions inside the country.  Egypt has gone backward and not forward since the fall of the repressive Mubarak regime.  The collapse of Mubarak has unleashed a power struggle between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood and strangled attempts to develop nascent democratic institutions.

About the Author
Rachel's educational background includes a B.A. in international relations from Brown University; she has been an independent scholar, analyst, and researcher about Middle Eastern affairs for 12 years; Her focus has been on Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt.