No doubt, the reform issue has imposed itself on the agenda of public opinion in Egypt, but this does not mean a promise to achieve any serious reform steps in the foreseeable future, even with the initiative of President Mubarak on February 26 demanding an immediate amendment of the Constitution to allow the possibility of conducting Presidential elections between more than one nominee.
If the Ruling system seeks to actually block the way to comprehensive and grass-root reforms, and if political parties have failed for many reasons, to gather people around them, to view them, individually or combined, as other political poles or an entity equal to the ruling system since 1952. In fact they are torn by their differences, further, the parties, or the emerging non-party groups, fail to work coordinately and to lead a comprehensive dialogue about a new constitution, which forms its most prominent slogans, then it becomes a legitimate question: who does the opposition relay on to achieve its reform programs?
This question was the focus of discussions at Ibn Rushd salon, organized by Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies (CIHRS) on January 31, 2005. Answer to this question became more important following the approval to hold presidential elections on multiple bases, and refusal to respond to all other related demands for reform.
Mr. Bahey El Din Hassan, Director of CIHRS, expressed the expectations asserting that this year 2005, will be a very hot year on the political arena. This year, Egypt will witness the elections of the People’s Assembly and the end of the fourth term of President Mubarak, in addition to what is currently happening in terms of unprecedented dynamic movements of the opposition parties demanding reform, and the increasing strong criticism of the current political situation.
Hassan inquired about the tactics followed by these opposition parties, whether the parties, or the civil society organizations, or different political groups demanding change – in order to achieve its goals, particularly in view of their complaints about prevailing weaknesses and lack of strong political. In addition, members of the other political groups demanding change are young in age, although they have long experience in the political work; also the ruling party has monopolized all the State capabilities for decades to serve its interests and to exercise control over all matters.
Further, Ahmed Seif el Islam Hamd, Director of Hesham Mubarak Law Center, and member of the Egyptian popular campaign for change, indicated the changes and variables witnessed by the Egyptian society since 2000, referring to the massive public participation in demonstrations to support the Palestinian Intifada, as well as demonstrations against the American occupation of Iraq. Seif el Islam severely attacked the Egyptian elite stating they abandoned their role and betrayed the people. They should bet on increasing people’s participation that is limited now, in case the elite group has enough courage to enter into the battle of liberating the Egyptian people and to be willing to pay the price in order to achieve reform and democracy.
He further stated that we should mobilize resources for the important battle in the coming period that is described as the battle to liberate vocational syndicates, starting with the syndicates of journalists, lawyers and engineers.
Amin Iskandar, a leader in the Dignity Movement (under establishment) and member of the Egyptian movement for change, referred to the importance of having a group that has credibility to lead the public movement demanding change. It is important for the opposition parties to stop flirting with the ruling party. The Egyptian movement for change seeks change in order to convince a national personality that has credibility to push it to lead a battle towards the Presidential position. Isakandar stated that the movement seeks to build a bloc for change in the Egyptian society and to polarize huge sectors of citizens towards this movement.
He further asserted that change in Egypt starts by amending the Constitution and canceling articles related to choosing the President by referendum, as well as other articles related to the authorities offered to the President.
On the other hand, Hussein Abdul Razek, Secretary General of the El Tagammu’ Party, and executive of the committee for defending democracy, stated there is an absence of political work in the Egyptian street mainly because of the Marshall Law during the last quarter century; torture in police stations; in addition to forging of the elections. He asserted that these factors along with others have led the Egyptian citizen to turn his back from the political work all these past years.
He also indicated that the opposition parties’ conduct their work in unusual circumstances, for example, security blockage of their activities and economic blockage of their resources; however, the parties bear partial responsibility for the current situation of the political work in Egypt. He warned that attacking parties could lead to supporting the one-party rule, which is currently happening in Egypt, but it is in a “multiple frame”.
He asserted there could be great coordination between the political parties and movements and groups demanding reform and change, provided that each of them would not consider the other an enemy. He referred to the experiment of coordination between the Parties and the Human Rights Movement, which emerged after long years of doubt and enmity between the two parties, and indicated that the presence of an opponent competing for the President’s position is a tempting experience, but it requires a well-known national personality, but that is difficult to achieve in the present time in light of the ruling party’s monopoly of the media, T.V., and the national newspapers.
He added that the committee defending democracy had presented a brief program for reform, signed by the presidents of Tagammu’, Al-Wafd, Al-Nasery, and Labor in 2003. Hundreds of signatures were obtained supporting this program.
With respect to what is currently said about certain parties that concluded bargains with the ruling party, Abdul Razek stated that bargains are not bad and part of opposition work includes bargains with the State, whether by refuting, condemning or refusing, and even by making profits. He indicated that parties do not work in an isolated island; they do not claim to wish to cause a revolution. They were established under certain legal conditions and comply with the Constitution and prevailing laws, and seek to change them through democratic means.
On the other hand, Dr. Jamal Abdul Gawad, expert at AlAhram Center for political and strategic studies, sated that the global conditions in the Arab region which almost became “the sick foot of the world” because of the inability to change for long decades. The world has become interested in changing and reforming this region. Reform has become an open issue to public debate in the region and has higher priority than it did many years ago. He said it is now privileged with protection because of the global interest. The State has been somewhat lenient to allow some to cross the red line. The Egyptian ruling party is now facing different internal currents about how to deal with reform and the differences between these currents towards this issue.
He also stated that to be a ruler is not among professions practiced by the Egyptians; the heritage of the Egyptian nation lacks “Rule”, because, for more than 2500 years, it was subjected to rulers who do not belong to it. The period 1919 through 1952 was not enough to overcome this heritage despite the public’s going down the streets.
He expressed his pessimism about people’s participation in the current period. People are waiting, but this waiting does not request the Egyptian elites to open a dialogue between them; to abbreviate matters in their slogans, or to simplify them not to be limited to just inducting against the rule.
He emphasized the necessity to approach the coming tour of dialogue between the National Party and the opposition in a different spirit in view of the different global circumstances. For the opposition to enter into a dialogue in this spirit could result in some progress achieved. However, to enter a dialogue with a pre-determined failure, then it is better not to enter at all and or to create illusions for the people. True, this is the fifth time to conduct a dialogue, but because it comes in different global circumstances, which would make it different this time. What is against the government is not necessarily right. He warned against the ambiguity in speeches on what is exactly requested, which in many cases, does not achieve the required objectives.
Hassan asserted the legitimacy of the requests and the goals aimed to be achieved by the different opposition parties, particularly with respect to changing the method of selecting the President. What was mentioned by Seif el Islam about the battle of liberating vocational syndicates and their role in making change, raises a question about how to deal with syndicates, should they be treated as one bloc, since they include different political currents and some, such as the Islamic Group, come from what seems to be a pledge of allegiance to the current regime? He also commented on “wide public alliance” by asking the question: can we say there is wide public alliance ready to be established and agree on highly conflicting goals? Can we talk about the existence of an organized political movement in the Egyptian street that can, in the foreseeable future, create a party equal to the ruling one?
In the final comments, Seif el Islam Hamd referred to the huge support offered by different sectors in the Egypt to the Palestinian Intifada in 2000, such as in demonstrations by primary, preparatory and secondary schools, and the huge caravan aids offered to the Palestinian people. He added there is a strong desire for a new leadership. He expressed his optimism that in the coming years, Egypt will not be the same; some radical changes will take place.
Iskandar stated that some educated people along the history of Egypt viewed that sharing in power improves its performance. He referred to what has been marketed in the Arab region currently as an independent liberal project, independent from the nation’s problem. He requested that the Islamic groups should not be excluded because of their success in streets work.
Hussein Abdul Razek asserted that the public movements do not substitute for political parties and are not more widely spread. This is clear in the attendance of 30,000 members of El-Tagammu’ party in the last fifth convention. With respect to democracy inside the parties, there is a difference between presidency of the State and presidency of the party. He suggested that Francois Mitterrand remained President of the Socialist party for a quarter of a century although he was elected President for two terms only.
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