N.J. lawyer with ties to Egypt airs concern

Sally Baraka said deposing a democratically elected leader so soon is a step back.
Sally Baraka said deposing a democratically elected leader so soon is a step back. (STEPHANIE AARONSON / Staff Photographer)
Posted: July 06, 2013

Egyptian American lawyer Sally Baraka was in Egypt two weeks ago to visit her family amid tense talk about the numbered days of Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi.

As treasurer of the Egyptian American Rule of Law Association, a Washington nonprofit created in 2010 to promote accountability in Egypt, Baraka, of Cherry Hill, takes time off from her job as in-house counsel at a Hamilton, N.J., software firm to teach civil society institutions in Egypt about democracy.

Popular discontent with Morsi, of the fundamentalist Muslim Brotherhood, had been building for months. He was ousted Wednesday when the head of Egypt's armed forces announced that the Islamist-drafted constitution was suspended and the country's top jurist would be in control.

The takeover had many observers anxious about the possibility of widespread violence. Not Baraka.

"From a physical safety standpoint, I'm not feeling that way," she said just a few hours after Morsi was toppled. What concerns her, she said, is the future of Egypt's body politic.

"Egypt was spinning in circles, trying to get to a stable civil society" after decades of ironfisted rule by Hosni Mubarak, she said. Deposing its first democratically elected leader after barely a year in office "kind of pushes us back a little bit."

It was obvious during her recent visit that the coalition opposed to Morsi was angry and organized, said Baraka, 36, a 2003 graduate of Temple University's Beasley School of Law who is also on the board of International House in West Philadelphia.

"There was concern that there would be clashes between the Brotherhood and the anti-Morsi protesters," she said. "What surprised me was how restrained the Brotherhood was."

Founded about eight decades ago, the Brotherhood has a reputation for disciplined devotion. Its apparent restraint, at least so far, has helped "contain a dangerous situation," said Baraka. She noted far fewer deaths from violence in this transition compared with the hundreds who died in the 2011 revolution that felled Mubarak.

Installing a jurist as interim leader until a new election, she said, is another encouraging sign: "It made me feel better that the military wasn't out to seize power for its own sake."

Nonetheless, she said, the forced removal of a democratically elected leader is not something she cheers.

"A majority of people voted for him. . . . Can we really say the [anti-Morsi] masses on the streets today represent the will of all the Egyptian people?" she said. "I am concerned about that and about what's next."

Working with Egyptian groups last October, Baraka schooled them about political campaigning.

A lot of new parties were formed after the revolution. But because they were so new, they were unable to organize. The Brotherhood, with its superior outreach to its base, was a natural to win Egypt's first democratic election.

"But the political views of the kids who demonstrated in Tahrir [Square to topple Mubarak] were not consistent at all with Brotherhood beliefs," said Baraka. That set the stage for discontent with Morsi.

Among the complaints she heard most often was the charge that he had failed to secure Egypt's borders. The recent kidnapping of Egyptian soldiers at the border with Gaza was cited again and again, she said.

Still, when people spoke of the need to physically oust him, Baraka found herself explaining that in a democracy, that's not how it works.

"I was advocating that this person was popularly elected," she said. 'Let him mature. Then have another election three years from now."

On Wednesday, an impatient Egypt took another path.

Contact Michael Matza at 215-854-2541, mmatza@phillynews.com or follow on Twitter @MichaelMatza1.

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