President Barack Obama shakes hands with Palestinian children during a visit to the Church of the Nativity in the occupied West Bank town of Bethlehem, March 22, 2013. (ATEF SAFADI-POOL/GETTY IMAGES)
Lebanese Kurds wave the Kurdish flag and a flag picturing Kurdish rebel leader Abdullah Ocalan during Persian New Year, or Noruz, celebrations in Beirut, March 21, 2013. (JOSEPH EID/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Israeli Finance Minister Yair Lipid (c) with former Foreign Minister Avigdor Lieberman, who resigned his position after being indicted on charges of fraud and breach of trust, at the Feb. 5 swearing in of the 19th Knesset. (URIEL SINAI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Israeli soldiers take pictures of each other in front of Israel’s illegal apartheid wall near the Qalandia checkpoint outside Ramallah, March 30, 2013. Israeli troops earlier had clashed with Palestinian demonstrators commemorating the 37th anniversary of “Land Day.” (ABBAS MOMANI/AFP/GETTY IMAGES)
Clay, Babylon, Mesopotamia, after 539 BCE D x H: 7.8-10 x 21.9-22.8 cm British Museum, London, ME 90920 Photo: ©The Trustees of the British Museum
Prosthetic legs for wounded American soldiers at the Center for Intrepid rehabilitation gym at Brooke Army Medical Center in San Antonio, TX, Aug. 7, 2012. (JOHN MOORE/GETTY IMAGES)
Washington Report on Middle East Affairs, August 2006, page 59
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.”