Skip to main content
Part of international coverage of

Post-revolution Cairo casts cynical eye on race to White House

From Ramy Yaacoub, Special to CNN
March 5, 2012 -- Updated 2139 GMT (0539 HKT)
When Barack Obama took American politics on tour in 2009, Egyptians watched closely. When Barack Obama took American politics on tour in 2009, Egyptians watched closely.
Election 2012: Postcard from Cairo
Election 2012: Postcard from Cairo
Election 2012: Postcard from Cairo
Election 2012: Postcard from Cairo
Election 2012: Postcard from Cairo
Election 2012: Postcard from Cairo
Election 2012: Postcard from Cairo
Election 2012: Postcard from Cairo
Election 2012: Postcard from Cairo
Election 2012: Postcard from Cairo
Election 2012: Postcard from Cairo
  • Egyptian revolution has diminished normally avid following of U.S. politics
  • Superficial reasons why Cairo citizens admired Barack Obama have faded
  • Some Egyptian activists say they miss the days of former president George W. Bush
  • Egypt's newly elected parliament only recently began its first session

Editor's note: This is the first in a series of dispatches taking a look at how the upcoming U.S. election is being seen in cities around the world. Ramy Yaacoub was born and raised in east Cairo. A graduate of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University and graduate student at American University in Washington, D.C., he currently works as a political analyst in Cairo for one of Egypt's new political parties. Read more from Ramy at his blog.

Cairo, Egypt (CNN) -- During the summer of 2009, Egyptians from all walks of life waited in hopeful anticipation for the arrival of newly-elected U.S. President Barack Obama in Cairo.

The city spent weeks preparing for the visit. Streets were shut down, buildings lining the route to Cairo University were repainted, and the dome under which Obama was set to give his speech renovated. Egyptians listened to the president's speech with much hope -- and when it was over, local talk shows spent days analyzing his words. American politics had gone on tour to Egypt, a place that has historically watched American politics very closely.

But Obama's visit in 2009 is yet another reminder of how drastically different the situation in Egypt has become since the January 25th revolution last year.

It is hard to tell there was a revolution in many parts of Cairo just months ago. The rubble is cleared from downtown streets after each new battle between police and protesters, the blood washed away quickly. Deposed President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party building is still standing, but it has been burnt from the inside out. Berlin Wall-style partitions erected by the army block several of the six or so roads leading to Tahrir Square, the heart of the revolution.

Ramy Yaacoub
Ramy Yaacoub

As the 2012 U.S. presidential race heats up and the primaries get under way, many Egyptians are too busy with their own concerns to follow along. It has been more than a year since the uprising started, and while Cairo has cleaned itself up, the city remains mired in turmoil and confusion over the transitional process to its own democracy.

Cairo, like many major cities in the world, has historically observed the U.S. presidential election closely and with a great deal of skepticism. But the public mindset, typically littered with guesswork and conspiracy theories, is now one of indifference.

In neighborhoods across Cairo, men and women in smoke-filled cafes tune in to daily political talk shows discussing Egypt's own crisis and fears for the future -- a new phenomenon in post-Mubarak days -- on televisions blaring so loud that entire neighborhoods can hear them.

Egyptian activist: 'Nothing has changed'

In the bars and cafes along the crowded, traffic-choked streets of downtown Cairo, people are too busy making the news to watch it unfold on television. At the Greek Club, or inside the historic Cafe Riche, with its warm amber-tinted windows and walls lined with photos of Egypt's great intellectuals, Cairo's political activists and academics gather over beers to talk about the great issues of the day.

We used to talk a lot more about U.S. politics than we do now. Friends of mine, avid followers of the U.S. political scene who used to be able to name various Congressmen and their policies, just aren't paying as much attention this time around.

I believe the U.S. election is incredibly important -- U.S. foreign policy affects much of the world, and the president is the chief diplomat. But Republicans have yet to choose a candidate -- they've not found that ace, that someone fresh who can challenge Obama, and that's making it hard for people to pay attention right now.

Egyptians watched the 2004 U.S. elections closely because they felt they had a stake in the outcome, especially considering the ongoing wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. In 2008, Cairo closely watched as America neared the election of the first African-American president, the candidate of hope and change.

Egyptians are viewing the 2012 elections with a certain amount of cynicism. All of the superficial reasons why Egyptians admired Obama have melted away, and what is left in some corners is a feeling that he wasn't as quick to embrace our push for freedom as he could have been.

While many Egyptians feel George W. Bush had a clear position on democracy and freedom of speech in Egypt, Obama came to Cairo in 2009 and made promises to the Egyptian people that were not necessarily kept. And recent events have convinced some that the Obama administration is not so keen on fulfilling its promises to supporting freedom, democracy, and civil liberties.

Even though Bush is generally regarded negatively for his "War on Terror," it is interesting to hear some engaged political activists say that they miss the Bush days, preferring his support of freedom of speech in Egypt when compared to the Obama administration.

One long-time activist said that during the days of Bush, then-Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice made several visits to Egypt, underlining the importance of democracy and freedom of speech. In 2005, he said, the fruits of that pressure resulted in "relatively fair" parliamentary elections, particularly when compared to the second round of parliamentary polls and the 2010 elections.

For the first time in recent history, our own political news is the dominant issue, so local media coverage of the race to the White House so far has been dismal at best. And as our revolution continues, so clashes between protesters and security forces and the onset of uprisings in neighboring countries have saturated the news cycle.

As the newly elected parliament here delves into its first session, Egyptians for the first time are experiencing their own taste of democracy, with all the troubles that comes along with it. Egyptians are watching the newly elected members of parliament closely, watching as they become household names, waiting to review their performances.

In the past, many Egyptians sought out hope and salvation in the actions of foreign governments -- but this electoral season, after a year of real change in Egypt, many Egyptians learned that hope will have to come, or at least start, from within.

Part of complete coverage on
Get all the latest news in Campaign 2012 at CNN's Election Center. There's the latest news, a delegate counter and much more.
From Cuba to South Africa to Japan, people on five continents tell CNN what they're looking for in a U.S. president.
November 7, 2012 -- Updated 1640 GMT (0040 HKT)
The dead-even U.S. election race reflects the nation's deep political chasm across the country. CNN brings you the best election day pictures.
As Americans head to the polls Security Clearance takes one last look at some of the most pressing foreign policy issues facing the candidates.
They represent a sliver of the electorate, yet their choices on Election Day could make a difference.
November 7, 2012 -- Updated 0259 GMT (1059 HKT)
The Chinese artist and political dissident says the American system has flaws -- but that China's system is "inhuman."
October 10, 2012 -- Updated 1053 GMT (1853 HKT)
Afghans fear the silence over the bloody 11-year-old war during the U.S. campaign means it is no longer a foreign policy priority.
October 26, 2012 -- Updated 0928 GMT (1728 HKT)
Memories of his father may be fading in Kenya -- but from the clubs to the teeming barrios for which Nairobi is notorious, his son is widely admired.
November 6, 2012 -- Updated 1105 GMT (1905 HKT)
A look back at CNN's election night coverage, going all the way back to 1980.
October 24, 2012 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
Hugo Chavez has endorsed Barack Obama, calling him a "good guy." Is there hope for a fresh start between the U.S. and Venezuela?
Predict which candidate will win each state and see who reaches 270 electoral votes first.
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1343 GMT (2143 HKT)
CNN's Tom Foreman explains how the Electoral College works and what would happen if there were a tie.
October 24, 2012 -- Updated 1312 GMT (2112 HKT)
Nigerians were thrilled when a "son of Africa" won in 2008. The luster has worn off, but has any of it found its way to Romney?
November 5, 2012 -- Updated 1332 GMT (2132 HKT)
If there's one thing that would have struck a chord with Hong Kongers, it was Barack Obama and Mitt Romney using China as a political punching bag.
October 23, 2012 -- Updated 1753 GMT (0153 HKT)
China bashing has taken center stage in the U.S. election, where everyone seem bent on casting China as the bad guy.
Christian Amanpour says the chance to transform Afghanistan is slipping away -- and that the election won't make a difference.
October 17, 2012 -- Updated 0937 GMT (1737 HKT)
Obama's "Yes we can" message has long faded away amid plummeting relations between the two countries, writes Masud Alam.
See where the nation stands on one of the tightest races for the White House in years. Follow the numbers as Americans flock to the polls.
November 6, 2012 -- Updated 2120 GMT (0520 HKT)
With the months-long campaign finished and the presidential election under way, CNN brings you the best pictures from the campaign trail.
October 12, 2012 -- Updated 1052 GMT (1852 HKT)
For many in Iraq following the U.S. election, the Republican party remains the party of deeply-despised George W. Bush.
October 11, 2012 -- Updated 1601 GMT (0001 HKT)
After months of talking about each other, Obama and Romney finally go toe-to-toe. But do debates actually affect election outcomes?
Use an interactive map to explore the money game and the strategies of the Obama and Romney campaigns.
October 8, 2012 -- Updated 2151 GMT (0551 HKT)
Mitt Romney promises to take the U.S. back to a foreign policy based on exerting global influence through military and economic power.
October 2, 2012 -- Updated 2047 GMT (0447 HKT)
Brooke Baldwin talks to Erin Burnett about foreign policy being a major component of the 2012 presidential election.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1153 GMT (1953 HKT)
CNN fact checks Mitt Romney's claim that Barack Obama was 'silent' when anti-regime protests broke out in Iran in 2009.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1307 GMT (2107 HKT)
Yanis Varoufakis says some Athenians fear Europe is waiting until after the U.S. election before cutting Greece loose from the euro.
Get the latest political news, campaign stories, and Washington coverage from CNN's team of political experts.
CNN's Security Clearance experts take a country-by-country look at the differences between the candidates' approach to foreign policy.
October 9, 2012 -- Updated 1308 GMT (2108 HKT)
Whoever wins the upcoming U.S. election will find Cuba in a state of flux, says Nobel Prize nominee Yoani Sanchez.
July 29, 2012 -- Updated 1345 GMT (2145 HKT)
Israelis and Palestinians in Jerusalem tell CNN which U.S. presidential candidate is better for their cause.
July 21, 2012 -- Updated 0910 GMT (1710 HKT)
People in London step up to CNN's Open Mic and deliver their messages to the U.S. and its presidential candidates.
May 22, 2012 -- Updated 1416 GMT (2216 HKT)
Award-winning novelist Manu Joseph says there must be something about human nature that divides the species into Democrats and Republicans.
June 1, 2012 -- Updated 0604 GMT (1404 HKT)
Mexicans step up to CNN's Open Mic and offer their messages to the U.S. presidential candidates.
April 24, 2012 -- Updated 1038 GMT (1838 HKT)
The U.S. election race conjures up images of mud flying through the air for many Japanese.
March 5, 2012 -- Updated 2154 GMT (0554 HKT)
With the amount of campaign spending in the U.S. projected to exceed $6 billion, we look at how this compares to other countries.