Medford graduate knows political climate in Egypt

Drew Brammersubmitted photo

Drew Brammer is getting used to Egyptian uprisings and civil disorder.

The 27-year-old North Medford High School graduate was there amid the Arab Spring throngs in Cairo's Tahrir Square, where protests ended Hosni Mubarak's rule over Egypt in 2011.

If he hadn't returned to the Rogue Valley for summer break a couple of weeks ago, Brammer would have found himself smack in the middle of Cairo during the Egyptian Army's ouster of President Mohammed Morsi earlier this week.

Save for a short break two summers ago, Brammer has called Cairo home since August 2010.

His apartment is one block away from Tahrir Square. If he can't see all that goes on during celebrations, protests and clashes, he can definitely hear it.

Brammer teaches English to seventh through 11th grades at a French Catholic school 15 minutes from his apartment, by taxi, and 45 minutes away by Metro line.

When he left Cairo on June 24, Brammer was acutely aware of what was going on among student groups and others who had grown weary of Morsi's rule.

"When I was in Metro stations, they had been passing out flyers and asking for signatures for months," Brammer said. "The (opposition) has been planning for a long time. Everyone knew it was going to be big. I met people who said, 'I'm going to the demonstration,' even random people. It was kind of surprising people would be so open about telling me, so I figured it would be pretty big."

It took 18 days of protests in January and February 2011 to bring down Mubarak. Army Gen. Abdul Fatah al-Sisi gave a 48-hour ultimatum to Morsi before removing the Muslim Brotherhood leader on Wednesday.

"I was a little surprised how quickly the military said it would give Morsi 48 hours," Brammer said.

Morsi earned just enough electoral support to become Egypt's first democratically elected leader. But 51 percent clearly was not the mandate he needed to push through an Islamic constitution a few months later.

While Morsi was widely popular in the rural areas outside of Cairo, in the high-density, politically diverse capital city, he had far less support.

Brammer said the Muslim Brotherhood was the most organized of all the political parties in the country, attracting followers by providing charitable social services where the state left gaps.

"The liberals in Egypt are not organized at all, and the small liberal parties can't agree on things," he said.

Beyond that, the array of parties — in a nation that still doesn't understand democratic rule — quickly shifted their support away from Morsi.

"People aren't stuck with parties; it's very fluid right now," Brammer said. "I know a lot of people who started out with the Muslim Brotherhood and quickly changed as soon as the Muslim Brotherhood came to power."

While there is risk during a time of civil violence, being a witness to history has its rewards.

"I have mixed feelings," Brammer said. "Being at the first revolution, that was cool. But it got less and less fun. I would walk through Tahrir Square, and people would tell me thanks for coming. They would ask where I was from and then say it's great to have you here and thanks for your support."

Brammer considered himself an observer, not a protagonist. The festive atmosphere of 2011, he said, has eroded over the past in 21/2 years.

Soon after Mubarak was deposed, nongovernmental organizations came under greater scrutiny. Staff members from organizations such as the Democrat Institute and Republican Institute, which had played consulting roles for political groups, were accused of being spies.

"They had a big trial, everyone left, and their materials and computers were seized," Brammer said.

Despite the new-found political freedom, suspicions grew, especially when it came to foreigners, Brammer said.

"The people, in general, still don't understand democracy," he said. "When people hear a conspiracy theory, they are very prone to believe it and spread it. They can't be convinced otherwise. They still think there is a foreign hand behind everything and accused Barack Obama of propping up Morsi."

Posters of U.S. Ambassador to Egypt Anne Patterson reflect that thinking, Brammer said. "Her face has been morphed to look like a demon."

After studying Arabic at the American University in Cairo, Brammer wanted to stay in Egypt. He landed a variety of odd jobs until a position at Collège De La Salle opened last summer.

There were 120 middle and high school students in the program where Brammer worked. He had 100 students in his classes.

"They're definitely from a higher socioeconomic class," he said. "A lot of them spoke English, and some didn't really need my help.—

Teachers aren't necessarily revered in the culture, but at 6-foot-5, Brammer is an imposing presence.

Although he can't see directly into Tahrir Square from his apartment, he has seen violence spilling into the side street below his windows.

One night last spring, Brammer came home and watched a scene unfold beneath his balcony.

"I saw people one night during some kind of demonstration," he said. "There was screaming, people running down the street, and then I heard glass breaking. I don't know if it was hooligans smashing windows or whether it was anti-Muslim Brotherhood people smashing the windows of businesses owned by supporters."

In general, he said, his neighborhood is safe.

"I know everyone in my neighborhood," he said. "The only problems are at night. During the day, in most areas things are safe. Problems tend to be very localized."

Brammer, who is scheduled to return to Cairo in August to begin another school year, said the unknowns that have twice changed the country's leadership — and are likely to lead to yet another new constitution — won't be easily resolved.

"Morsi said because he won an election, he could do anything he wanted," Brammer said. "Obviously that wasn't true. I think it's normal after a revolution for there to be a bumpy ride. I just hope the ride is coming to a stop and it goes a bit smoother now."

Reach reporter Greg Stiles at 541-776-4463 or business@mailtribune.com. Follow him on Twitter @GregMTBusiness, and read his blog at www.mailtribune.com/Economic Edge.



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