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Karim Youssef ’02 LLM, ’08 JSD—A View of Tahrir Square

Karim Youssef ’02 LLM, ’08 JSD is head of the Middle East arbitration practice at Amerller Legal Consultants and an associate professor of private and international law at Cairo University. In March 2011, the Yale Law Report spoke with Youssef about what he experienced living in Cairo as the revolution unfolded.

What was day-to-day life like in Cairo during the revolution? Did you work? Were you able to have any contact with people outside Egypt? Were you fearful for your own safety?

Businesses, as you may expect, were closed. Work, nevertheless, cannot stop, especially concerning arbitrations seated outside Egypt. The total Internet and data services blackout for almost a week (including BlackBerry) was quite frustrating...

I received phone calls and emails from friends and colleagues from Yale, Paris, and other places, many of whom belong to the arbitration community. I also had the chance to discuss the situation in Egypt with Professor Michael Reisman [YLS ’64 LLM, ’65 JSD] whose wisdom always helps with refining opinions and focusing on the essentials of things.

Did you attend any of the demonstrations? What were they like?

On Monday, Feb. 1, the day of the largest demonstration, Tahrir Square was filled with nearly a million Egyptians. The level of diversity could only be matched by Times Square. In addition to a default background of young women and men, protesters included university professors, clergy members, doctors, public employees, actors, businessmen, families with kids, and foreigners distributing white flowers to all of those.

This crowd also (and naturally) included law professors, judges and a large number of lawyers. I met about 10 of my arbitration law professors brethren during the peaceful demonstrations, and know that others have participated as well.

One interesting aspect was the sense of humor that reigned over Tahrir. Most signs held by people took the form of political jokes, and satire of Mubarak and of the old regime. This light spirit was especially empowering: people fought violence and stubbornness of the regime with incredible determination but also with some indifference, as if they knew that victory is inevitable.

Was there anything that the Western media didn’t show or got wrong?

The Western media did a far better job than expected; and many foreign correspondents had to pay the price (in terms of harassment, assault and even detention by the old regime). All coverage was focused almost exclusively on Tahrir Square, which is understandable of course, but major events took place also in Alexandria and other places.

What do you expect/hope for the future of Egypt?

I guess (and hope) the situation will evolve toward stability, both political and economic, soon, with a government that will focus on combating corruption and administrative mismanagement (which were a main trigger for investment arbitration claims against Egypt), encourage private entrepreneurs, and be more respectful of foreign investment.

On the medium- and long-terms, the effects should be quite positive. Egypt is likely to benefit from significant foreign economic aid and reform programs. Analysts already speak of a potential economic take-off post-transition.

Other welfare effects may also ensue. The transition toward political and administrative reform is likely to reflect on the performance of the legal system as a whole and restore the standing of Cairo as cosmopolitan crossroads of legal cultures.

I am rather optimistic. There are risks, of course, of a rise in political Islam, but I think an Iran-post-Revolution-like scenario is not likely.