Nascent Egypt opposition group seeks regime change
An emerging Egyptian anti-government group, among the few movements willing to call people onto the streets, says it is intent on a democratic regime change for which members are ready to risk arrest.
Ahmed Maher, a soft-spoken civil engineer who is leader of the Sixth of April Youth group, says he is currently working to build a popular base for democratic change in a country whose citizens have typically shied away from public protest.
“We must change the regime. It is not the change of a person, but changing the system as a whole, changing the system of laws. There must be a separation of powers,” Maher told Reuters in a recent interview.
A previous effort by the opposition Kefaya (Enough) movement to mobilise mass protests in Egypt lost steam after it failed to block the re-election of President Hosni Mubarak in 2005, who has been in power since 1981. The group rarely brought more than 1,000 people to the streets.
But Sixth of April, with a younger more activist base, says it will build on what Kefaya began to change the government. Critics dismissed Egypt”s first multi-candidate presidential election in 2005 as flawed.
“We as a group are willing (to go to jail). There are people who, when they are arrested, become stronger, and there are people who become fearful,” said Maher, who has twice been detained.
He added that real change would require sacrifice and persistence.
By contrast, the country”s strongest opposition group, the Muslim Brotherhood, has said it would not risk open confrontation with the state by taking to the streets in large scale protests only to be crushed by security forces.
Sixth of April, formed after April 2008 clashes in the Nile Delta town of Mahalla el-Kubra between police and workers demanding more pay to compensate for soaring inflation, still has a long way to go to effectively mobilise protesters.
PROTEST TURNOUT STILL LOW
The group transformed into a broader anti-government movement after three people were killed and scores hurt over two days of unrest in Mahalla, the culmination of more than a year of strikes by workers at a giant state-run textile factory.
Sixth of April has around 76,000 followers on the social networking site Facebook — a main means of mobilising opposition in Egypt — but the number of street activists is only in the high hundreds, Maher said.
Although Sixth of April”s call for a national “day of anger” on the April 6 anniversary of last year”s clashes fizzled, the strike drew support of disparate opposition groups, including the liberal Ghad party and some members of the Brotherhood.
Maher says his group brings together members whose ideologies are often at odds but who agree on the need for Mubarak and the ruling party to step aside, although he recognises that real change will take a long time.
“We can”t change in two or three years. We know this is a very long road, and we have to keep going and going and going,” he said, although he said he would be selective about calling for street protests.
But, in an oblique criticism of his Kefaya predecessors, whose leadership is older and slightly more cautious, Maher said members would not “sit in offices and formulate theories”.
“To prevent chaos, the people have to have a level of consciousness and accept the concept of peaceful change. This is what we are trying to bring to the people,” he said. “We are going to the street in protest to reach the people. The government arrests some… But we go again and again and again.”
(Editing by Samia Nakhoul)