Democratic Change in Egypt?-Amr Hamzawy and Others
Saturday, November 5,2005 00:00

Democratic Change in Egypt?

JONATHAN MANN, CNN HOST: Have Egyptians had enough? As the regime swings between signs of reform and repression, a small democracy movement is gaining confidence. Can it convince the country to follow and force Hosni Mubarak’s hand?
Hello and welcome.

Here’s a quick look at an activist’s agenda for Wednesday in Cairo. The Egyptian Doctor’s Syndicate is meeting to condemn recent arrests and organize protests at several state hospitals. The Egyptian Pharmacist’s Syndicate is meeting to talk shutting pharmacies in protest against the arrests as well. Members of the Kifaya movement and planning to officially submit evidence of attacks that they blame on government supporters and Kifaya is also planning a candlelight vigil to protest against those attacks. And that’s just Wednesday.

A remarkable change is underway in Egypt. A small but growing number of people are demanding a voice in how their country is run. Leaders are coming forward, organizations are being formed, abuses are being exposed and denounces. And Kifaya seems to symbolize the trend.

In Arabic Kifaya means enough. Unlike the much larger and more influential Muslim Brotherhood, which has long been banned, Kifaya is new and it’s been tolerated. But now with expected elections drawing near, it may be getting bigger and bolder than the government is prepared to accept.

On our program today, enough.

CNN Cairo bureau chief Ben Wedeman has the story.


BEN WEDEMAN, CNN CAIRO BUREAU CHIEF (voice-over): Speak out against the Mubarak regime and this is what can happen to you. It happened in late May when members of the Kifaya movement -- Kifaya means enough in Arabic -- held another protest against Egypt’s long-serving leader. They were attacked by what many believe was a pro-government rent-a-mob. The mob dragged several women away. The women say they were sexually molested while the police did nothing.

Kifaya returned a week later, demanding that senior security and police officials be put on trial for allowing the attacks to happen. Kifaya’s courage and persistence have reinvigorated politics in a country once known for it’s vibrant though flawed democracy.

The government says the incident is being investigated. Kifaya, which also calls itself the Egyptian Movement for Change, sprang up late last year with a simple idea, to rally Egyptians weary of decades of authoritarian rule around one slogan: "enough."

UNIDENTIFIED FEMALE: Enough of Mubarak. Enough of the system. Enough of corruption. Enough of what we’re living through.

WEDEMAN: Since the 1952 revolution, Egypt has been ruled by a series of military strongmen in civilian clothing. 77-year-old President Hosni Mubarak has been in power since 1981 and is considering running for another six-year term. But after over a half-century at the helm, Egypt’s self- appointed rulers are politically bankrupt, says Kifaya member and poet Sanallah Ibrahim.

SANALLAH IBRAHIM, KIFAYA: This regime is doing nothing. Mubarak and his crew have no idea, no plan, nothing at all for the future of the people.

WEDEMAN: The state paints a rosy picture of a stable, prosperous and free Egypt. The critics counter there is a fine line between stability and stagnation and Egypt crossed that line years ago.

HANI AMAN, KIFAYA: Stability, don’t shake it. If you shake the stability, chaos would come. Number one.

Number two, you give tickets away, the fundamentalists will come.

Number three, nobody can rule the country except us. Who says so?

GEORGE ISHAQ, KIFAYA: Go down and down and down. It’s very miserable, really, in art, in media, in economic, in feeling.

WEDEMAN: Kifaya founders say one of their inspirations is the fear that Egypt is on a slippery slope to religious extremism, businessman Hani Aman told me.

AMAN: Dictatorship, corruption, separation of free expression. People go to the mosques, either to pray for God to take your soul or to prepare themselves and train for anything. A gun, whatever.

WEDEMAN: But the regime is nothing if not powerful, controlling the sprawling state bureaucracy, most of the media and the omnipresent security services. The ruling National Democratic Party dominates parliament and runs a well-oiled patronage system.

Kifaya by comparison is tiny. It’s members operate within the very narrow margin of freedom the regime affords dissenters. It holds press conferences in small, cramped quarters, protests when and where they can. Their Web site substitutes for an office.

The group insists it has no desire to take power, but is simply trying to revive what was once the Arab world’s center of gravity.

AMAN: We wanted to break the fear culture. There is a fear culture. The Egyptian people are resigning from the political activity interests in the last 50 years.

WEDEMAN: But apart from Kifaya’s 7,000 or so registered members, most of Egypt’s more than 70 million people prefer the safety of the sidelines. And while Kifaya’s word is spreading, Egypt’s aging opposition parties, the leftists and the nationalists, have been slow to exploit what appears to be mounting discontent with the regime.

ISHAQ: Well, tell them you have to move now. It is very golden chance to move, move now. Get up from your sleeping.

WEDEMAN: Not sleeping is the powerful Muslim Brotherhood, banned but tolerated by the government. After staging nationwide protests, the Brotherhood saw hundreds of its members rounded up by the police, many of whom remain behind bars.

Kifaya is an odd combination of young and old, combining the energy and idealism of youth with an older generation that feels they’ve been kept out by a regime eager to maintain its monopoly on power.

AMAN: Long time running something, you don’t add fresh blood. You don’t add fresh blood, new ideas. You work with a group, you are excluding generations, our generations are being excluded. We are the generation that has been excluded.

WEDEMAN (on camera): Perhaps Kifaya’s greatest accomplishment has been to show Egyptians, of all generations, they can, at some personal risk, say enough is enough. But this small group of activists is up against a regime that as yet doesn’t seem to have taken all this talk about democracy to heart.

Ben Wedeman, CNN, Cairo.


MANN: We take a break. When we come back, the odds are stacked against the opposition in Egypt. Can it force real change?

Stay with us.


MANN: Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential election is expected in September, but only one opposition figure, Iman Noor (ph), has so far announced plans to run. Most of the opposition says the vote will be a sham with rules written specifically to prevent a real contest. They aren’t rushing to name candidates or to support Noor (ph).

Welcome back.

Egypt has a variety of opposition groups and figures. Kifaya has sympathizers across the spectrum, but it doesn’t speak for the more established parties or movements. And as Ben Wedeman notes, it’s membership accounts for about 1/10 of 1 percent of Egypt’s total population.

So what does Kifaya really amount to?

Joining us to talk about that is Amr Hamzawy, an Egyptian political scientist at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.

Thanks so much for being with us.

What do you think? Is there more or less to Kifaya than meets to eye?

AMR HAMZAWY, CARNEGIE ENDOWMENT FOR INTL. PEACE: Well, actually, Kifaya stands for two specific developments in the last two years in Egypt. One, it stands for a broad coalition among opposition forces across the ideological spectrum.

You have Islamists, moderate Islamists. You have leftists, you have liberals, seculars and religious-oriented intellectuals and activists. So it is the first time that we do have a broad coalition within the opposition spectrum in Egypt.

Secondly, Kifaya stands for a new style of making politics. It’s the first time that we have a movement which goes systematically in a sustained way to the street to contest Mubarak’s regime power. This is unprecedented in Egypt and the regime itself is not used to it. So Kifaya stands for these two events. A broad coalition and a new style of doing politics.

MANN: When you look at the math, though, not that many members. And when they try to do things, get out, they’re on the streets, as you say, but are they being effective?

HAMZAWY: Well, it’s actually very hard to judge the degree of effectiveness of any opposition movement in an undemocratic stetting.

As we know, not only in Egypt or in the Arab world but even outside, opposition movements in authoritarian settings or non-democratic settings are rather limited in numbers, and the effectiveness is normally a question of time. So it takes time until they generate a degree of public attention, until they move from this public attention to a second step of creating a public awareness and then moving to an agenda.

It will take time, but it certainly is a step in the right direction of at least having voices in the public space which are new and which are not affiliated with the government and not affiliated with opposition parties. Like Ben in his report from Cairo said, they are marginal and stagnant and they actually have the same structure and deficiencies as the regime itself.

MANN: Where did Kifaya come from given that, really, the issues in Egyptian political life aren’t particularly new? There have been opposition movements before. What created Kifaya?

HAMZAWY: Well, mainly out of the stagnation of the opposition parties themselves. The spectrum in Egypt since the 1980s has been stagnant and, as I said, they share even the structure of deficiencies of the regime, aging leadership, no new ideas, no new blood.

Secondly, Kifaya stands for a shift in the region in general, which did not go unnoticed in Egypt. We do have new momentum in the region for calling for democracy, democratic reform and freedom, and Kifaya stands exactly for this agenda of freedom and civil rights and represent of human rights and practicing politics.

MANN: Is a clash with the government inevitable?

HAMZAWY: It depends. My impression is the government has a two- strategy model. First of all, the government tries to make some concessions. Amendment of Article 76 started apparently is a concession for the president to a growing public demand --

MANN: I’m going to interrupt you. Article 76. What are you talking about?

HAMZAWY: Of the constitution. Amending laws and regulations governing the selection of the president to pave the way for pluralistic and multi-party elections. The article was amended, was accepted on a public referendum by 53 percent of -- 90 percent out of 53 percent turnout of voters. So the government ties to make concessions.

And secondly, the government tries to repress opposition movements. However, Kifaya is not really touched by the government attempt to repress or suppress opposition movements. The Muslim Brothers are still very much at the forefront of being subjected to governmental repression strategy.

So Kifaya is still very much able to play its game and mainly depends on the growing public attention to its activities. As you pointed out, coming Wednesday, tomorrow, we have different activities from Kifaya and this has been a daily phenomenon in Egypt, in Cairo, especially in the last two to three months.

MANN: And the government is just watching it happen? Apart from the repression we saw on the street, the thugary (ph) that attacked some of it’s members, there has been no more organized effort than that to try to stop this movement?

HAMZAWY: No, because the government knows that Kifaya is not reaching out to broad segments of the population. Kifaya does not have the same constituency of the Muslim Brotherhood. The government acted heavily in a clear oppressive way as the Muslim Brothers started to mobilize their broad constituencies, which are not only urban centered.

And here’s a crucial difference between the Brotherhood and Kifaya. Kifaya is mainly an urban movement. The Muslim Brotherhood does have urban and rural constituencies. So the government is not scared from Kifaya. Kifaya is, even from a government perspective, not bad to have, because it proves for the West and for the United States and for the European Union that Egypt and its politics does have a degree of pluralism.

So the government moves in between. Kifaya is not frightening for the government when compared to the Muslim Brotherhood. But Kifaya has also red lines. When it crosses the red line, like on May 25, the day of the referendum on the constitutional amendment regarding the presidency, the government acted heavily. So it depends. But Kifaya can still very much up to the parliamentary elections, coming presidential and parliamentary elections, coming in autumn, can go on with its activities without being challenged by the government and security forces.

MANN: We have just a moment left. Let me ask you one last question. There is going to be an election. Is it inevitable that a group like Kifaya will want to turn into a party, put forward a candidate?

HAMZAWY: Well, if we look at it from a comparative perspective, yes, certainly, we did have similar developments in Europe and Africa and Latin America, and in the end all of them established political parties.

It will take time. Kifaya will wait till the parliamentary elections coming in October and see what will come out of it, what kind of political scene we will have, and I guess we will make a decision. But clearly they stand for a different agenda as compared to established opposition parties.

MANN: Amr Hamzawy, thank you so much for talking with us.

HAMZAWY: Thank you very much for inviting me.

MANN: We take another break. When we come back, the push for democracy throughout the Middle East. Is it real?

Stay with us.


MANN: Last month, the Kuwaiti National Assembly voted to give women the right to vote and run for office. A controversial decision in the male-dominated emirate. But it will be 2007 before they’ll be able to exercise that right, and even then, less than half of the country’s native- born population will have full voting rights.

Welcome back.

Egypt is just starting to move towards democracy. Kuwait started decades ago and it is still moving. Both countries, like others in the Middle East, raise the most basic question about the move toward reform. Is it really happening?

A short time ago we got in touch with Egyptian analyst Mamoun Fandy, a senior fellow at the James Baker Institute of Rice University.


MAMOUN FANDY, RICE UNIV.: It is between window-dressing and real changes. I mean, if you look at the four major regions of the Middle East, the Gulf region, one can say there is one bright spot that one can say this is real, and that was last month’s vote that was given to Kuwaiti women. This is historic and very important and will have implications for women throughout the Gulf region, including Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Bahrain, Ammon and the UA.

If you look at the Levant (ph) region, which includes Iraq, Palestine, Lebanon and Syria, you can say, well, there are bright spots for democracy and the Palestinian territories as well as in Iraq that we saw.

In Syria, certainly it’s a dark spot, but Lebanon would be in sort of the gray area. On the surface of it, it is bright, but really underneath there is a great deal of feudalism and old political patriarchs who are running the show.

North Africa, the best story you can find for democracy is Morocco. There are some fundamental changes happening there in terms of parliamentary changes, concerning, again, women’s rights and laws regulating family laws and all of that, that’s a very good opening. Algeria and Tunisia are really within the gray area. Libya is certainly a dark spot for democracy. Nothing is happening there.

The Nile Valley, Egypt, Sudan. Sudan is a dark spot for democracy, Egypt is a gray spot. I mean, it’s really mixed bag in Egypt, although it is the country that sets the trends for the region.

MANN: You’ve covered a lot of ground there. Let’s start with Egypt, because that’s what we’ve been talking most about and you spoke most recently about.

The government clearly seems to be of two minds about how quickly it wants to move and how much it wants to move. But let me ask you, in that case, and in the region as a whole, do gestures inevitably count for more than they’re meant to? Does just talking about democracy raise expectations beyond what any government can control?

FANDY: There are the what we call unintended consequences of certain moves. I mean, certain small moves, like what President Mubarak did recently to allow presidential contestation. I mean, this is really a first in the history of Egypt, from ancient Egypt till today. This is the first time the pharaoh invites somebody to compete with him for the top job for Egypt.

So there are tremendous unintended consequences for this that will have tremendous effects beyond what the government can see that move to be. I mean, they circumscribed it and made it very difficult for other candidates to run, but nonetheless, it opened the door for demonstrations in the streets, for the Kifaya movement, the people who are saying enough, and for the Muslim Brotherhood. This is something new. I mean, there is a new buzz in Egypt today.

MANN: Can this rule of unintended consequences spread across borders? Is it inevitably going to be spread across borders everywhere where leaders either choose to or are forced to adopt the rhetoric of democracy?

FANDY: Well, I mean, there are certain realities about the Middle East that we should take into account.

One, I think if you look throughout the whole region, the status quo is unsustainable. I mean, there’s tremendous demographic changes. The leadership throughout the Middle East are in their 60s and 70s with few exceptions, and the population, 60 percent of them are under 25. So there is a big gap between those who are ruling and those who are being ruled, and there is tremendous frustration. The economic situation is not terribly good, so change economically and politically is a must and it has to happen. Otherwise, if it does not happen in a manageable, peaceful way, it could be very disruptive and very dangerous for the region.

MANN: If we can say that there is at least some real change happening now, is it that demographic pressure that’s responsible? Is it George Bush who is responsible? Is it the Palestinian Authority, which after the death of Yasser Arafat organized a real election to replace him? Or is it Al-Jazeera, CNN and the Internet that are responsible?

If all of this really is happening at some level, who is to thank?

FANDY: I think you can thank a whole host of factors, but the major factor in all of this is really George Bush. I mean, he is the man who really removed the dictator in Baghdad. He changed the whole formula.

I think also you have to thank the Palestinian model. I mean, if you are looking for the model for democracy in the Middle East, it is not Iraq. It is Palestine. This is where the population is most dedicated. These are the people who are most democratic in a sense and can be a model for democracy.

Certainly Al-Jazeera and CNN and Al-Arabiya and other factors opened up space and allowed people to talk about taboos that they were not talking about in the past, issues that people cannot talk about on the ground. Take it to the screen and scream and yell about them. They shamed their leaders into change, and that’s what’s happening.

Even in countries like Saudi Arabia we have seen municipality elections. We have seen tremendous response on the part of leadership to the pressure coming particularly from the media, from the outside world and also from the (INAUDIBLE) throughout the region.

MANN: Mamoun Fandy, thanks so much for being with us.

FANDY: Thank you, Jonathan.

MANN: That’s INSIGHT for today. I’m Jonathan Mann. The news continues.