Drescher: Native of Cairo is back for Egypt’s ‘long weekend’

jdrescher@newsobserver.comJune 16, 2012 

From left, Dylan Simel, 18, Sasha Seymore, 19, and Ahmad Saad, 20, kick soccer balls along the American Tobacco Trail near Cary on their way to Morehead City on May 17, 2012.

ANDREW KENNEY — akenney@newsobserver.com

To promote peace, Ahmad Saad, once of Cairo and now of Cary, recently dribbled a soccer ball across North Carolina.

Now Saad, 20, hopes to experience a peaceful, democratic revolution that will be felt across the world.

Saad’s remarkable summer isn’t halfway over and he’s already covered a lot of ground.

He traveled by foot across the state and then made his way halfway across the world – to his native Egypt, where voting this weekend could mark a turning point for that country.

Saad, who will be a sophomore at UNC-Chapel Hill, is a devout Muslim who prays five times a day.

He and two Carolina buddies spent three weeks in May dribbling soccer balls from Asheville to Morehead City.

One of his dribbling friends is Christian and the other is Jewish. They wanted to promote religious tolerance through their shared passion of soccer. As they moved across the state, they raised money for groups that use soccer to promote harmony.

“If a Jew is passing to a Christian or to a Muslim, they’re not looking at it as a faith passing to another faith. It’s a person to another person,” Saad told staff writer Andrew Kenney.

Kenney’s article about Saad and friends appeared in The Cary News and The News & Observer. For more on Saad’s soccer journey, see kickingacrosscarolina.com.

From Cairo this week, Saad emailed: “It was such a great experience. For three weeks I was able to see not only the beauty of North Carolina as a state but also the generosity and kindness embodied by all of the people we encountered along the way.”

Shortly after finishing that jaunt, he headed to Egypt for June and July. Saad was born in Cairo and moved to the U.S. with his family when he was 2 years old. He is now a U.S. citizen. His parents live in Cary and are college professors. Saad landed a temporary job as a foreign media analyst for the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Muslim Brotherhood, the Islamist group that opposed former President Hosni Mubarak. The party supports Mohammed Morsi for president.

The other candidate in this weekend’s runoff election is Ahmed Shafik, a former Air Force general who was the last prime minister Mubarak appointed before he was forced from office.

In January, Egyptians democratically elected a Parliament for the first time in six decades.

But Egypt’s transition to democracy was jolted this week. First, the military-led government reimposed martial law. Then a panel of judges appointed by Mubarak dissolved Parliament and said Shafik could run for president. Parliament had banned top Mubarak officials from the presidential race.

In his final years in office, Mubarak appointed judges loyal to him as he prepared for presidential elections then scheduled for 2011.

The Obama administration had hoped for a quick transfer of authority from military to civilian rule. Now that’s in doubt.

Saad fears Egypt’s chances of moving to democracy took a serious hit with the court allowing Shafik to stay in the race. “Many people believe that the military and the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, both of which are full of Mubarak sympathizers, are working with the remnants of the Mubarak regime in an effort to keep them in power,” he wrote.

The Muslim Brotherhood has its own matters to address. It broke a pledge not to seek the highest office. The Brotherhood is popular because it provides social services and has a reputation for honesty. But its political party is built around a religion, which raises questions about whether it would protect religious liberty. Secularists face a difficult choice: a Mubarak ally or an Islamist party.

“Many people support Dr. Morsi as a candidate but are unsure about the Muslim Brotherhood and how their candidate would preside over the country,” Saad wrote.

Saad had been to Egypt four or five times to visit relatives and friends. When he arrived in early June, Saad sensed that the country seemed to be holding its breath. Egyptians seemed more uncertain than excited. But he sensed a rebelliousness that Egypt had never seen.

And that was before the decisions of the last few days, as the remains of a desperate, creaky regime clutched to power. “From the looks of it,” Saad wrote, “this could be a long weekend in Egypt.”

Drescher: 919-829-4515 or jdrescher@newsobserver.com. On Twitter @john_drescher

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