This article was originally published in the Deutsche Rundschau. The interview was conducted in Arabic and interpreted by Elgebaly’s son, Ahmed. Views expressed below represent the source’s opinion only.
Brigadier General Mohamed Elgebaly spent 20 years in the Egyptian military under Sadat and Mubarak. Since 2000 he has lived in Madison, Wisconsin. Last summer, I met with him to speak about former president Mohamed Morsi’s ousting and its consequences.
ISW: Leaders of Egypt’s army belong to the country’s elite class. Which privileges do military officers enjoy?
Officers often engage in intense ‘dirty work’ in the desert. For this reason, they are rarely home. There are separate hospitals, clinics, clubs and stores for their families. The head of the household is not at home, after all, so his family deserves these privileges. Medical attention in a military hospital is the same (as in a civilian hospital), though, if maybe faster.
The majority of (Egypt’s) elite class is made up of businessmen. With a military career you don’t earn much money. Members of the Egyptian military earn one of the lowest salaries in comparison to (that of) other military forces of the world. The same privileges given to members of the military are available to engineers and doctors.
ISW: How are these privileges affected by the ousting of Morsi?
Nothing will change because military law has not changed yet.
In every family there is a member of the military. Privileges won’t change… because the civilian population in Egypt has a strong relationship with the military and doesn’t want to change these privileges.
ISW: Your country seems deeply split religiously, with dead counted on both sides. How much room is there for a renewal process?
Politics and religion shouldn’t mix. When (Muslim Brotherhood member) Morsi came to power, he mixed both and split the country as a result. The main reason for the split is that every person has his own religious and political level. Religion should be between a person and God; (it’s) an intimate and personal thing. The person in power should be a civilian or member of the military – no matter which religion the person belongs to, he should be someone who doesn’t mix state and religion, and who can respect everyone in the country.
The best way is probably if a strong member of the military comes to power and unites everyone under the goal of bettering the country. A member of the military will respect every sector of the country and (these sectors) will respect him as a military person. The people didn’t agree politically or religiously with Morsi.
ISW: Tourism was and remains an important source of income for Egypt. How can the trust of foreign tourists be regained?
Tourism will come back as soon as all the criminals that Morsi freed are imprisoned again and all the terrorists he let into the country are gone (according to Elgebaly, Morsi freed supporters imprisoned for felonies). This is because these people don’t want tourists.
Islamists believe that tourists get drunk and commit other sins against Islam. They idolize the pyramids, the sphinx, (and other popular sites). (Islamists) feel tourists hurt their country instead of adding to it.
ISW: What can Americans learn from Egyptians and vice versa?
When Egyptians learn a new skill, they think critically and efficiently. Americans, in contrast, use their skills like robots. They rely too heavily on the bureaucracy, and workers and employees are very dependent on official policy. They think in the way they were trained, and that’s all. They must learn to think independently.