Revolution has rocked Egypt, but the movement is not apparent through my taxi window in downtown Cairo. I see no protests, violence or military presence. Despite the steady stream of alarming headlines and travel alerts flowing from Egypt, calm prevails in the aftermath of the presidential election. I see people going about their lives, engaging in routine activities. Arab Spring uprisings started in Tunisia in December 2010 and quickly spread to other countries. But the world has followed the twists and turns in Egypt especially closely. With more than 80 million citizens, Egypt is the largest Middle Eastern country and an economic power. What happens in Egypt affects the whole region. During the next few days, I will step out of my taxi and meet Thunderbird alumni on the ground. I also will gather insights from Egyptian expatriates watching from afar. Their stories will provide new windows into Egypt and its place in the Arab Spring.
Part 2: A mosque built with rubble
Egyptian international business development professional Amr Fahmy ’03 pauses at the entrance of Muhammad Ali Mosque and removes his shoes. Groups of tourists roam the inner courtyard, mixing with locals who have come to worship.
The domed structure, built in the 1800s using rubble from older Citadel buildings, offers a hilltop view of the bustling city below. The mixture of ancient and modern illustrates Fahmy’s perspective about the challenges Egyptians face as they work to transform their country.
“The United States had a great advantage,” he says. “Everybody was going there for a fresh start.”
Egyptians must build something new on the ruins of older things, like they did with the mosque that now gives Fahmy an escape from the blistering Cairo sun. He says Egypt might need 20 years or more to convert the passion of street protesters into meaningful change.
“Because Egypt is such a huge ship, the inertia will be slow,” he says. “But the attempt to have a revolution has started. It is messy, but people are waking up and realizing they have more rights than what they are claiming.”
Western observers sometimes view the Arab Spring as wave washing over the Middle East that will produce similar results everywhere. But Fahmy has seen enough of the region to know better.
“Tunisia is different. Libya is different. Everyone is different,” says Fahmy, born and raised in Alexandria, travelled on work extensively and now resides in Cairo. “What people want and how they are getting it is different, and the chances of success are different in every country.”
Fahmy visited many North African locations as a business consultant in the construction and infrastructure fields — sometimes staying in places such as Libya for as long as three months at a time.
Now the Thunderbird MBA is using his background in industrial and mechanical engineering to do business development for a top electromechanical and water and power infrastructure company throughout the Middle East and beyond.
He says some places will get worse and some will get better as the Arab Spring moves forward. Other countries like Egypt will need time to figure things out. Years of uncertainty and turmoil will frustrate some, but Fahmy says his Thunderbird education prepares him for the unknown.
“I live here,” he says. “So I am comfortable with ambiguity.”
EGYPT UP CLOSE
Part 1: Two trips to Tahrir Square (Alsherif Wahdan ’08)
Part 2: A mosque built with rubble (Amr Fahmy ’03)
Part 3: The Mercedes that didn’t happen (Mohamed Roushdy ’04)
Part 4: Seven words on Facebook (Khaled El Miniawi ’84)
Part 5: A cross to bear (Adel Labib ’83)
Part 6: Revolution, recreation and leisure (Ashraf Bassili ’00)