The Croft Institute for International Studies and Department of History’s newest professor Vivian Ibrahim studies the Middle East with a primary emphasis on Egypt. She accepted the job in December 2010 and was soon confronted with the swiftly unfolding events of the “Arab spring” including the popular uprising in Egypt.
Ibrahim researches the relationships between the minority Coptic Christians of Egypt and the majority Muslims by focusing on the role religion plays in the region and in the lives of its people. The British citizen with familial roots in Egypt finds similarities between the Middle East and the American South.
“I’ve realized that religion plays a much more important role in Americans’ lives, at least in the South,” Ibrahim said in a recent interview with The DM. “But in many ways, the South reminds me of the Middle East because your daily lives are governed by religion, and our values are exactly the same whether you’re Muslim or whether you’re Christian. So actually the South and the Middle East have much more in common than you would expect.”
Ibrahim emphasizes that the uprising in Egypt didn’t occur overnight.
“This isn’t something that started two, three, four years ago,” she said. “This has its roots way back and has to do with people’s standard of living and unemployment that’s been rife for years. It has to do with corruption — police brutality is huge in all of this. So it has long, long roots and, as a historian, I’m keen to show the different roots to current conflict; it didn’t just come out of nowhere, and it wasn’t all because some kids had Facebook and Twitter. That’s important, but I don’t think that was the root.”
She describes herself as a cautious optimist about Egypt’s future.
“I’m hoping it’s a move toward more democratic elections,” she said. “There are such deep-seated problems, socially and politically, that change doesn’t happen overnight; you can’t suddenly expect a whole upheaval of the existing system. It’s going to take 10 or 15 years. It’s very difficult to predict. I don’t think it’s going to be a huge, democratic leap, but I’m hoping it’s in the right direction.”
Ibrahim observes that people in the Middle East are realizing that the uprising, which she calls an evolution, has been stolen from the people.
“Here we are in the cases of Egypt and Tunisia, many months later, and there hasn’t really been fundamental change, and actually what we’re seeing is military command, a military coup,” Ibrahim said. “We have military command by those who supported the man who was president in the first place, so there’s no change.”
Ibrahim hopes that people in the West will learn that the Middle East is multifaceted and every country’s evolution is unique to the place.
“That’s the kind of understanding that we need to have of the Middle East, it’s so varied, and yes, we might all speak the same language, but we speak it with different dialects, and we have multiple religions and we have multiple practices within the same religion. The more that we evaluate each country individually, the deeper we understand the region.”[vsw id=”29804276″ source=”vimeo” width=”425″ height=”344″ autoplay=”no”]