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.
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.