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Chautauqua Preview: Emerging Citizenship -- the Egyptian Experience


It's been a year since Egypt's first democratically-elected president, Mohamed Morsi, was ousted from power.  For now, Egypt is back where the nation was before the Arab Spring -- under the control of a military dictator.  That's the backdrop as the Chautauqua Institution this week explores the Egyptian experience of trying to create a democratic government. 

As with all of Chautauqua's weekly themes, the planning began 18 months to two years ago.  At that time, Egypt had just held a free election.  Its people elected Mohamed Morsi, a leader of the Muslim Brotherhood, as president.  But then, the Egyptian economy took a turn for the worse.  The people protested.  And the military removed Morsi.  All these issues are likely to be explored this week, including an examination of the citizen participation in the Arab Spring that eventually led to Morsi's election.  One of this week's speakers is Dalia Mogahed, who heads up a Washington-based consulting firm that specializes in Muslim societies and the Middle East.  She spoke at Chautauqua last year.  But in a 2012 address at the Harvard Kennedy School,  Mogahed talked about Egyptian voters. 

"In Egypt, you had 90 percent of the people saying they planned on voting.  Now, that wasn't the turnout, but it was an indication of the enthusiasm for the vote.  At the same time you had 90 percent planning on voting, no higher than 15 percent were supporting one group or another," Mogahed said.  "So, you had this huge amount of enthusiasm for voting as a concept with this leadership vacuum."

And so in a polarizing election, the Egyptian people narrowly elected Morsi over the other candidate who was part of deposed dictator Hosni Mubarek's regime. 

This week, Chautauqua has invited several Egyptians to join the discussion.  One is sympathetic to the Islamists and is skeptical of US intentions in the region.  Another is a liberal who has been critical of both the Islamists and the military.  And then there is a rising political operative who is trying to work within the existing government structure.  Chautauqua President Tom Becker says he's interested to see how this dialog plays out.

"What I love is that a handful of Egyptians who will experience what it is to be a Chautauquan -- to sit in with a body of American citizens and in dialog with people who have different points of view," Becker said.

Becker says this will all be part of the Thursday morning lecture presentation at the Amphitheater that will be led by Jon Alterman, a Middle East scholar.  

Chautauqua President Tom Becker discusses the week four theme of emerging citizenship.

Credit Photo courtesy of Chautauqua Institution
Chautauqua's historic bell tower at dusk.

The afternoon Inter-Faith series of talks at the Hall of Philosophy will explore the Role of the Citizen in a Just Democracy.  Associate Religion Director Maureen Rovegno says some prominent religious leaders and civic activists will touch on the responsibilities of enlightened citizenry.  Among them is 2012 Republican presidential candidate Herman Cain.  

This week's programming is being done in a partnership with Colonial Williamsburg, which is devoted to sharing the story of this nation's emerging democracy.  

Moving on to evening entertainment, Chautauqua Theater presents its second play of the summer.  Director Vivienne Benesch says it's a new work titled "The May Queen."

"I'm calling it a little comedy with a big, big heart," Benesch said.  "It's the story of a former May Queen who suddenly resurfaces in her hometown.  And then everyone have to deal with the difference between life's expectations and the realities."
"The May Queen" premiers Friday night at 8:00 at the Bratton Theater followed by performances Saturday and into the following week.  

Theater Director Vivienne Benesch on "The May Queen."

Also Friday night, singers Carnie and Wendy Wilson and Chynna Phillips will perform on the Amphitheater stage at 8:15.  

Then Saturday is Public Radio Day at the Chautauqua Institution. The Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra's 8:15 performance at the Amphitheater that night will air on our sister station, Classical 94.5, WNED.

Chautauqua Programming VP Marty Merkley presents week four evening entertainment highlights.