Free Minds & Free Markets

Egyptian Dissident Cynthia Farahat: The Middle East Is Hungry for Free Markets and Free Speech

She started the first secular, pro-market party in Egypt. Then the government sent the secret police after her.

In 2003, when Egypt was ruled by strongman Hosni Mubarak, then 22-year-old Cynthia Farahat co-founded the party that would become the Liberal Egyptian Party, the first secular, classical liberal political party in the country's modern history.*

"Sharia law is not friendly to women or minorities or gays," Farahat told Reason. "I wanted to fix my country. I wanted freedom. I wanted liberty."

Mubarak's government responded by sending intelligence agents and the secret police to go after Farahat.

"I was under constant, 24-hour surveillance in Egypt for almost a decade," she says. Government agents would routinely call her in the middle of the night and would sometimes play back recordings of Farahat's conversations with friends recorded in her own living room.

Other calls were more sinister, Farahat says. Sometimes she would pick up the phone to hear heavy breathing on the line. The person on the call "would start to talk about the intimate things that he wants to do to my decapitated head—that he's going to keep in his freezer if I don't stop my political work."

The key to survival was to "never show fear."

She sensed that her family was in danger and knew that the government could arrest her at any time. She was eventually placed on an Al Qaeda affiliates' hit list and banned from entering Lebanon because of her political advocacy.

Afraid for her life, Farahat sought political asylum in the U.S. in 2011, which was granted. Today she's a writer, political analyst, and fellow at the Middle East Forum. Her work has exposed secret ties between the Islamists, the military, and governments across the region, which she argues work together to subjugate citizens and uphold theocratic, authoritarian regimes.

Reason's Justin Monticello spoke with Farahat about her mission to bring a true political alternative to the region, why she vociferously advocates for the Muslim Brotherhood to be labeled a terrorist organization, how Coptic Christians in Egypt are persecuted and blamed for American foreign policy, and why she believes people across the Middle East are hungry for civil liberties and free markets.

Produced by Justin Monticello. Cameras by Meredith Bragg and Zach Weissmueller. Music by Silent Partner.

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This is a rush transcript. Check all quotes against the audio for accuracy.

Cynthia Farahat: I wanted liberty. And I knew that the way to get there was through sound ideas that have proven to work. When you look at America, and you look at the Soviet Union, and you look at Egypt, doesn't take a brain surgeon to know which fundamental ideas you need to go with.

Justin Monticello: How did you get put under surveillance in Egypt?

Farahat: So, I was under constant 24-hour surveillance in Egypt for almost a decade. And I knew this is in a very sinister and nasty way. They used to call me at two or three AM. Every single day for 10 years. To this day, I wake up at that time automatically because I'm used to being woken up at this time. One of the times, I said hello, and I heard my own voice on the other end of the line. And, it was a recorded conversation that I had with one of my best friends in my living room. That was super creeper. That's the good phone call. Bad phone calls will tell you hello in the middle of the night and some necrophiliac would be on the other side of the line. And he would start to talk about he intimate things that he wants to do to my decapitated head that he's gonna keep in his freezer if I don't stop my political work.

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  • John||

    "Sharia law is not friendly to women or minorities or gays," Farahat told Reason. "I wanted to fix my country. I wanted freedom. I wanted liberty."

    No it is not. And it doesn't magically become any different when it comes to the West. Be nice if Reason would actually listen to what this woman has to say.

  • Mickey Rat||

    And they see a rationale for blaming US foreign policy for the majority Muslim persecution of the Coptic Christian minority.

    Whatever us wrong in the Middle East, the United States is always the root cause.

  • Quixote||

    It is indeed important that we remain silent about such matters; as long as she does not engage in deceptively drafted "satire," Ms. Farahat is allowed to criticize, but it is not for others to intervene in delicate affairs of the sort. Ever heard of discretion? If not, here is an analogy. A judge is, technically speaking, entitled to publish a "First Amendment dissent" in our nation's leading criminal "parody" case, and a media law specialist is also allowed to publish a personal opinion concerning that case, e.g.:

    no matter how foolish said opinion might be; but it would be highly inappropriate for an institution like Reason, or indeed for anyone at all, to say anything further about the matter. We have enough problems of our own, without complicating our lives and taking a stance that prove itself wrong or, worse, be rejected by the authorities. In particular, whenever confronted with claims of "atavism," "barbarism," "the violence of the law" or what not, it is very important to remain silent, and to allow history to delicately run its course without commentary.

  • Quixote||

    Another typographical error of my incorrigible amanuensis: a stance that might prove itself wrong or, worse, be rejected by the authorities.

  • BYODB||

    Yeah, she's basically saying that she wanted all of those things for her people because those things are amazing but they can't have those things because no one over there actually fucking wants them outside of a tiny minority of terrified people.

    More power to her, frankly, but now that she's not in Egypt that's one less voice of reason over there and one more interventionist over here.

    Is that a win?

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    I don't think there's any reason to slam her. She seems (based on my very limited exposure) to be a genuinely good person, thoughtful, and interested in real liberty. She left her country because that Egypt isn't a friendly place to people who want freedom and liberty-- and she's doing what she can.

    The only thing I doubt is the commitment to freedom in the larger population that isn't telegenic and uses hashtags.

    I've become more and more suspicious of news programs that immediately use young, attractive twenty-somethings as representation of 'the voice of the people' *cough*Vice News*cough*. Democracy is ugly, messy, and we've still got a huge domestic media sphere that still can't wrap its head around Trump. So color me skeptical when I see that same domestic media try to analyze Egypt from thousands of miles away-- a domestic media which insists on using Twitter as a source.

  • BYODB||

    I'm not trying to slam her in any form or fashion, I absolutely understand her situation and it's a terrible and evil thing. If anything she's way more of a fighter for liberty than some jackass 1st worlder internet commenter could ever be. Can any of us actually imagine having our conversations being taped and played back to us on the phone, or having the government explicitly threaten to kill and/or rape you every day for a decade? I think not.

    I'm talking about Egypt, which as a whole clearly doesn't give a shit about those things. Furthermore, people leaving Egypt who are like her, that is liberty oriented, means there are fewer Egyptians in Egypt to fight for freedom. This seems to be a tacit admission that Egypt is not, and will not in recent times, become more free. Why would it, when all the people who actually want that in Egypt flee?

    Understand, I don't blame them for leaving. But she is an interventionist in that she came to America so that we can help her force Egypt to be like us. I merely ask the question if that is a good, or bad, thing.

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    jackass 1st worlder internet commenter could ever be.

    Hey, I resemble that remark!

  • Eidde||

    You know who else didn't like people who left Egypt?

  • IceTrey||


  • IceTrey||

    For the love of Allah I hope she doesn't want Egypt to be like us!

  • BYODB||

    If the premise of this article was true, why don't they have free speech or free markets? I guess the Arab world is just really passive after all? Interesting claim.

    "Sharia law is not friendly to women or minorities or gays," Farahat told Reason. "I wanted to fix my country. I wanted freedom. I wanted liberty."

    Oh, I see. She's a racist and sexist.


  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    Hmmmm, not sure how hungry the middle East is for that. As we saw in Egypt, there were a few young people who use Twitter who seem to want it, but once you actually gave the larger population the vote, democracy didn't always come out the way we expected.

  • juris imprudent||

    Damn, that's better than the LP does in U.S. elections!

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    The Middle East Is Hungry for Free Markets and Free Speech

    How many times are you guys going to fall for this?

  • Sidd Finch v2.01||

    Shit, I remember when Welch was a "war blogger." (This was a real thing, kids. People wrote about the second Iraq War on their blogs and called themselves war bloggers.)

  • This Machine Chips Fascists||

    The turn of the century was a strange time.

  • SIV||

    Matt Welch: From neocon to neocuck

  • Diane Reynolds (Paul.)||

    As long as the people saying it are young and attractive... pretty much every time.

  • Devastator||

    Yep, avoid those foreign entanglements. We already have enough of the. I welcome her to our country, but until her old country starts seeing the light, you won't make them see at it at the end of barrel like the USA is currently trying to do in Afghanistan, Iraq, and Syria. Soon as you move the barrel and point it at something else they will all be up to their old shenanigans. Change has to come from inside. That or total takeover like in Japan, which I am also against, but history has shown that is about the only military intervention that changes a culture.

  • CE||

    And free emigration.

  • Marshal||

    "Sharia law is not friendly to women or minorities or gays," Farahat told Reason.

    Sharia law (or any subjugation) is not friendly to any large group and the idea a majority men benefit is wrong. Only a tiny percentage of people benefit. Your cause fails because you've adopted this language telling a large number of people they benefit from the current structure and will therefore lose under your reforms.

    Maybe if you thought less about the victim hierarchy you wouldn't shoot yourself in the foot quite so often.

  • Sevo||

    "The Middle East Is Hungry for Free Markets and Free Speech
    She started the first secular, pro-market party in Egypt. Then the government sent the secret police after her."

    Sounds like a lot of people in the Middle East aren't that hungry for that stuff.

  • loveconstitution1789||

    And the kicker is that open border types want them to flood into the USA.

    I wonder what happens when a bunch of people who don't like free market nor freedom flood into a country and vote?

  • Tyler R||

    Umm.. the ones who like Sharia law probably aren't flocking here. My guess is that they're pretty happy in Egypt.

    Flood our country? At what percentage of the population would it be considered "flooding"? Because right now they make up well less than 1 percent of the population. And in very limited circumstances can they vote.

    So you are 0 for 3 in that post.

  • Tyler R||

    Egypt has a population of 100 million people. Even if 90% want a theocracy, that still leaves 10 million who don't. The people who "flood" into the USA come exclusively from this portion of the population.

  • Finrod||

    It's cute how you believe that. Funny how the ones flooding into Europe don't match up with that.

  • Devastator||

    they really aren't. Most people just want to keep their family fed and relative peace. Until those things are firmly established no thought system whether commie, libertarian, or GOP really matters much to the vast majority of people in a country.

  • juris imprudent||

    She is a stranger in her own land; she really ought to consider living in a place that embraces her values rather than trying to change the batshit ignorant religious nuts of her homeland. I would recommend Chile.

  • Aloysious||

    This was awesome.

    More please.

  • JeremyR||

    Remember though that Egypt voted in the Muslim Brotherhood when they had a chance for democracy.

    Remember that Turkey voted in Edrogan.

    People (especially some at Reason) use "neoconservative" as a synonym for Jew/Israel Supporter, but in reality it was a type of foreign policy that thought promoting democracy (even using force) would make the world safer because democratic countries would not fight with each other or be repressive.

    But the reality is people are happy with being repressed if it brings them security or prosperity. Or the promise of it.

  • Finrod||

    Germany voted in the Nazis, too. People haven't learned not to vote in the types that won't let you vote them out.

  • JeremyR||

    Also, how can Reason ignore the lesson that the Coptic Christians provide? They are literally the inheritors of Ancient Egypt''s culture. Coptic is to Ancient Egyptian what Italian, Spanish, or French is to Latin. They used to mummify people still.

    But they've been swamped by a foreign culture/religion (Islam) and are now heavily repressed.

    And that will eventually happen here and Europe if nothing changes.


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