ENGLEWOOD — Moderator Ahmed Elrefai’s message was loud and clear Monday — “As Egypt goes, so go the Arabs.” Visitors at the Elsie Quirk Library were treated to an eye-opening discussion Monday about how events in Egypt and U.S. foreign policy shape the Middle Eastern political landscape.
“What is going on in Egypt is going to affect other countries, worldwide and the Middle East,” Elrefai told attendees at the library’s Great Decisions Discussion Group. “There is tremendous misinformation everywhere.”
Elrefai, a former Punta Gorda resident now living in Virginia, spoke candidly about his experiences in Egypt and the events surrounding the 2011 Egyptian Revolution that started Jan. 25 and resulted in the overthrow of the Hosni Mubarak government. They resulted in the expanding influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and turnover of government power to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, he said.
“Egypt is under a soft dictatorship now that the Muslim Brotherhood has power,” he said.
Egypt’s status in the Arab world cannot be denied, Elrefai said. It has the largest population (80 million in 2007), largest military, second-largest economy and became a model for political and legal institutions which have been emulated in Kuwait, United Arab Emirates, Jordan, Iraq and Syria, he said.
Visitors at the discussion came prepared and some expressed dismay at the developments in Egypt.
“It’s terrible,” said Pat Burkey, a seasonal Englewood resident. “I was surprised how things haven’t changed. All the same things are going on. We keep hoping for democracy there.”
Burkey said she was surprised how much the Muslim Brotherhood got away with.
“I would like to trace the money from Muslim Brotherhood,” she said.
The discussion was a surprise for Englewood resident Bob Shepherd.
“We’re blessed to be in Englewood,” he said. “It was a real eyeopener. Nothing like an inside look that you read about or watch on TV. It’s a wonderful opportunity, because you get a lot of background.”
Hal Johnson, a Boca Grande resident, applauded Elrefai’s contribution to the Great Decisions series. “He’s been in Egypt numerous times and everyone values his opinion,” Johnson said. “I think he’s doing a real good job.”
Elrefai said he hopes Secretary of State John Kerry will bring the sides together.
“To help Egypt and the Middle East, talk to all sides,” he said.
The events of 9/11 inspired Elrefai to speak about misconceptions about Muslim culture, particularly in the U.S., he said.
“There is an anti-Muslim sentiment in the country,” he said. “One of the main reasons why the U.S. has interest in the Middle East is oil and Iran. People are changing their understanding about why we went to war.”
Elrefai has spoken at other area public libraries, at Edison State College and teaches the Religion of Islam at Florida Gulf Coast University.
“People are listening,” he said. “They’re open- minded and opinionated. They came prepared. If speaking is made out of silver, silence is made out of gold.”