Digital arts professor speaks on turmoil in Middle East

Keith Kaczmarek

While Egypt is on the other side of the world, the effects of the unrest there have touched those here in Bakersfield like Adel Shafik, a digital arts professor at BC. Though he emigrated from Egypt in 1986 after being educated at Egypt’s Helwan University and became a United States citizen in 1999, he still has four sisters and a brother living in Egypt.

When the unrest in Egypt began, he tried to contact his family. “It was difficult to get in touch with my family with no landline and Internet, but after the fourth day I was able to get in touch with my brother,” he said.

After getting in touch with his family, he was afraid for them. “After the police and security left their positions, there was no law with people robbing shops and businesses and that was the most fearful thing about it,” Shafik added. “The internal security and ruling party opened the prisons and a lot of the criminals came out and there were trying to use them to terrorize the people,” he continued. “It begins as a peaceful and honest revolution, [then] they created chaos and fear and unrest, thinking that people would break off. That’s when the army came in.”

The reason for the revolution was clear in his mind. “The people wanted jobs and opportunities,” he said. “Mubarak was in office too long – 30 years. That’s too long.” He also mentioned economic problems. “It was that there were no jobs for college graduates, high food prices, no places to live and no increases in pay [to account for] inflation.”

Corruption also seemed to an issue to him. “I was told that they saw the wealth that government officials had, [as well as] the politicians and police force.”

After performing a quick calculation, he mentioned that the average engineer might make $1,200 a year “versus someone on the police force who can buy the most expensive Rolls Royce.”

The future of Egyptian politics concerns him. “My fear is that you are going to get a different group, such as fanatics like the Muslim Brotherhood, and personally I don’t want Egypt to become like Iran or Afghanistan.”

That being said, Shafik has hopes for the region. “My opinion is that the idea for change was good, and it was a youthful revolution,” he said. “There are all kinds of groups, and people want all groups to have opportunities.” Later he added, “I’m hoping for a democratic election, a secular government, and real freedom of expression and religion. I’m hoping that there will be real change and that I can go back and visit my family.”

Shafik thinks that there are lessons to be learned from the Egyptian revolution. “We should listen to the people, and we should not take things for granted. Our officials should have a wiser way of dealing with conflicts around the world. We lose credibility when we support people like Saddam. We should be the kind of place that people can learn from. I’m a strong believer that democracy is a strong way to live.” He later added, “The West learned long ago that you need to separate religion from politics.”

With Egypt having three different governments in power since the British-backed King Farouk in 1952, Egypt has changed a great deal from the Arab cultural center it was in the 1950s. “We had a wonderful culture of the arts and it’s become colored by the religious atmosphere. We have this incredible history,” Shafik said. “After Farouk left in 1952, we still had a freedom of the arts. In the Arab world, our governments ran to religion for a more secure way of life.”

Neighboring Tunisia also had peaceful revolution while Libya has had violence. Various protests have also been happening in nearby nations like Yemen. “When one place has started, it means that there is pressure at other places. With Tunisia, it said to people ‘why not.’ The economy was a big issue. When they look at the future, it was a dark future.”

Shafik has remained optimistic about the situation in Egypt. “I think it’s very positive that is was a peaceful transition, but the government is still run by the armies. It’s still early to see if it will be a peaceful transition. It is positive that the ministers are under investigation,” he added. “I have great faith that things will change for the better, but it will come with sacrifices. That is the cost of freedom, I guess.”