Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2006, page 59

Arab-American Activism

Egypt Today

(L-r) Mohammed Elshinawi, Amr Hamzawy, Heba El-Shazli, Sherin El-Abd and Wael Aboulmagd discuss Egypt (Staff Photo H. Sarhan).

WITH THE NATIONAL debate on democracy and reform in the Middle East concentrating mostly on the current state of affairs in Iraq, this year’s ADC convention provided an opportunity to examine political activities taking place across the wider Arab region, namely in Syria, Palestine, Lebanon, and Egypt.

On Friday, a discussion on “Egypt Today” explored a variety of crucial topics such as the 2005 presidential election, opposition efforts by both secular and Islamist movements, media censorship and other threats to press freedom, as well as the continued imposition of Emergency Law throughout the country.

The introduction by Egyptian American Cultural Association President Mohammed Elshinawi gave audience members a comprehensive overview of Egypt’s contemporary political sphere. Featured speaker Amr Hamzawy, a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, argued that the country suffers from a “lack of vision” about how to achieve democracy and, in the meantime, how to manage political affairs during an extended period of transition. Further, Hamzawy declared, this lack of vision is shared not only by President Hosni Mubarak and the current establishment, but by all political players, including opposition parties and the intellectual elite.

In the months leading up to the 2005 national election, Hamzawy explained, the regime faced confusion about how to move forward and, specifically, how to implement its promise for a multiparty election. Accordingly, he said, what resulted was “a shift back to the authoritarian-style government” that has been in place since Mubarak’s predecessor, President Anwar Sadat, was assassinated in 1981.

Following the election—and at least partly in response to a spree of recent bombings in the Sinai Peninsula—the government successfully reinstated Egypt’s 25-year provision under Emergency Law. This, Hamzawy explained, provides the legal justification and the watchful political climate under which participants in public demonstrations and outspoken journalists continue to face the possibility of arrest.

Political stagnation is not an entirely centralized problem, however, Hamzawy said. Only about 20 percent of citizens actually voted in last year’s election, he noted, revealing that Egypt’s “lack of vision” is in many ways supported by a more worrisome “lack of interest.” Hamzawy suggested that political parties are not doing enough to encourage participation, and that, like the Egyptian economy, which has been slow to embrace privatization, the political space is not yet “organized in a way which defines borders between government and constituent issues.”

Concluded Hamzawy: “We need domestic pressure, a resonating message, and ultimately consensus of opinion. These are the safeguards for democratic transformation.”

Hanaan Sarhan