UNO panel discusses changes in Egypt

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By Angel E. Eggerson, Contributor

A young college graduate faces the world with optimism only to be stonewalled by the harsh reality of a tough job market.  Months go by with no prospects in their field.  Five years later and still no work.  This is the economic and social frustration that led an entire country to start a movement based not on political affiliations, but a need for change in Egypt.

On Thursday, Feb. 10, UNO hosted a panel discussion on the unrest in Egypt.  The panel was co-sponsored by the Schwalb Center for Israel and Jewish Studies and moderated by Guy Matalon of the Jewish Federation of Omaha and professor of Judaic Studies.

“This is a very exciting moment which has never occurred in the Middle East before,” said one panelist, Moshe Gershovich, professor and director of the Middle East Project Fund at UNO.  “The Middle East is thought to be left behind or anti-democratic.  This is something overdue for a long time.”

Gershovich added that he feels what has happened in Egypt and Tunisia has led to a domino effect and said it could be “very contagious.”

The panel told the crowd piled into the Council Room at Milo Bail Student Center that the people of the Middle East want ownership of their governments and the dignity that comes from democracy.  The panel agreed the situation was brought on not only by political pressures, but also social frustrations.

Panelist John Calvert, associate professor of history at Creighton University said regional and social factors play a huge role in the Middle East today.

 “I tell my students at least you have a future to look forward to,” Calvert said.  “Young people in Egypt find prospects dim.”

Young people in Egypt are denied their future, Calvert Said.  Marriage, home ownership and car ownership are fleeting hopes for many in the country.  The Egyptian government has paid little attention to education and healthcare.

The recent protests, which have led to the resignation of Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak, are a reaction to the seemingly vicious contempt Middle Eastern rulers have shown for their people, Calvert said.

Egyptians are proud of their country for all its contributions to world culture and history, Gershovich said.  The Egyptian people were driven to stand and show their pride, especially after the revolt in Tunisia.

“The young, literate, university graduate is in front of this movement,” Gershovich said.

Social media and news sources like Al-Jazeera helped to rally young people, allowing youth to see the world outside in real time, making censorship difficult.

As for U.S. involvement, Calvert said this is a complex and clarifying moment in history.  The US has interests to protect in the Middle East and has to balance those interests.  But he cautioned against placing those interests ahead of democracy.

“The United States cannot play the game of supporting dictators for temporary gain.”

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