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With Egypt's New Choices, The Burden Of Democracy


If you're just tuning in, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Jacki Lyden.

This week, Egypt got a new constitution, but protesters have been taking to the streets for weeks there, upset about how the country's new president, Mohammed Morsi, has handled the process. It was June when Morsi took the reins after former President Hosni Mubarak was ousted in 2011.

We wanted to take a step back and reflect on 2012 in Egypt with NPR's Cairo bureau chief Leila Fadel. She explains what changes Egypt's new democracy have brought.

LEILA FADEL, BYLINE: It's the first time that Egyptians were able to make a choice about who leads them and decide what their country will look like in the future. And with that choice came the burden of what democracy is, making a choice that puts the responsibility of the future of your country on your own shoulders. And the weight of that responsibility really felt among Egyptians as they made this really difficult choice for president and now are bearing the consequences of the choices that president makes.

LYDEN: Then in August, Leila, there was the news of the death of 16 Egyptian soldiers in Sinai by mass gunmen. And following that, President Morsi stepped up security, saying he was fighting back against Islamic militants. You went to Sinai, you looked for this stepped up security. What did you find?

FADEL: We found that a lot of that huge military operation was actually quite fictional. We couldn't really find evidence of these major attacks. A lot of the reports of militants being killed were really exaggerated. At that time, that was one of the biggest challenges or his first challenge as an elected president. Following this military campaign, he made actually quite a big decision, a military shake-up where he took back the power from the military rulers.

LYDEN: Was there a sense that President Morsi exploited the situation?

FADEL: Yeah. A lot of the terrorists think that Mohammed Morsi really made a shrewd political choice. He realized there was unhappiness in the rank and file of the military with the leadership, especially with this major military breech and used that to oust his top two, if you will, enemies within the leadership and elevate those that really were more on his side.

LYDEN: Stepping away from the leadership for a moment, Leila. You often have covered the arts and music in Egypt. And that is one way for people to reflect on the reality of - and vagaries of their life there. Tell us a little bit about the arts movement. You did a lovely piece.

FADEL: Well, really, what's been amazing in the last year, and even in the last two years, is that art and music is able to document the daily life of Egyptians, the emotional roller coaster of this transition, and also social justice issues that they could never talk about in a very open way.


FADEL: For the first time, we're seeing in music and art a documentation of a turbulent transition, an outspokenness in the lyrics of musicians. Musicians often talk about how before the revolution, they were always singing about love because that's the only thing they were allowed to talk about. And so it's really quite a beautiful thing to watch.

LYDEN: And so as the year concludes - I mean, there have been some noticeable successes for President Morsi, not very long ago called so influential brokering a Gaza truce - are people hopeful, or would you say less hopeful as the Arab Spring really enters a very much - perhaps a third phase?

FADEL: One of the things that has happened over the past year is that Egyptians have gone from that elation of 2012 where everything seemed possible - Mubarak was gone, they ousted him through a peaceful revolution - to the realization that the economy is in dire straits right now where you cannot get dollars at banks because everybody's buying them out, worried about their currency where an organization that was long oppressed under Mubarak is now being tested politically, and, according to their critics, failing and losing some popularity because they're not solving Egypt's problems overnight.

LYDEN: That's NPR's Cairo bureau chief Leila Fadel speaking to us from Egypt. Leila, thank you very much.

FADEL: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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