Understanding Kefaya: the new politics in Egypt.
At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Egypt's political system has reached a dead end. The opposition political parties are locked in their headquarters, unable to communicate with the public. Virtually acquiescing to the siege of an arsenal of restrictive laws, those political parties have for years suffered from an increasingly diminishing membership, lack of operational funds, and internecine internal feuds.
The "illegality" of the Muslim Brothers (MB) has paradoxically liberated that organization from restrictions that come with governmental licensing. However, the ideology, posture, secrecy and political tactics of the grassroots-based MB all engender the mistrust of many political forces, including some Islamists. At the same time, the secularist-Islamist polarization hinders the possibility of reaching any meaningful consensus on critical issues. This blockage is not lost on the regime, the clear beneficiary of such divisions among its adversaries, and it does not augur well for the future of the Brotherhood in a lead role in shaping Egyptian political life.
With seething political discontent on the one hand and ideologically based mistrust among oppositional political forces on the other, Egypt needs today, more than ever, a new form of politics that pulls together diverse forces from across the political spectrum to forge a new national project. Amidst this political disarray, a new generation of Egyptians holds the promise for transforming politics in Egypt. They have found a home and an instrument in Kefaya and, in the process have invented a new form of politics. Their innovations are historically grounded in the specifics of Egypt's political life in recent decades. Unique Egyptian circumstances have shaped their experiences, aspirations, and vision for the future.
Throughout more than a decade, this group of activists and intellectuals have interacted across ideological lines to reach common ground. Kefaya emerged as one manifestation of these efforts and an important illustration of the possibilities of this new politics. While such collaborative work across ideological lines is not unique in democratic experiences around the world, Kefaya represents the first successful effort of that new kind of politics in modern Egyptian history.
This essay is based on primary sources including open-ended interviews, statements, newspaper articles and reports, as well as unpublished documents, is composed of three main parts. The first part explains in more detail the reasons why Kefaya has been widely mischaracterized; the second illustrates why and how Kefaya represents a new force with the potential of creating a new mainstream; and the third explores the new politics invented by Kefaya.
In any assessment of Kefaya, analysis must proceed on two levels. The first deals with Kefaya as a protest movement and the second looks at it as a manifestation of a more important phenomenon, namely the new form of interactive politics across ideological lines that is behind it. This paper argues that only by taking into account the innovative dimensions of the Kefaya experience, highlighted by the second level of analysis, can an accurate measure of Kefaya' s real contribution be made.
Since its early days, there have been various critical interpretations of Kefaya by politicians and intellectuals alike, at times citing deficiencies in the movement's profile, actions and approach, while at other times dismissing the movement outright as being a "foreign puppet" or the past-time of "a bunch of kids". The most serious and widely noted critique of Kefaya is that it has been essentially an "elitist" protest movement targeting President Mubarak personally without putting forward an alternative candidate or articulating a constructive vision for political transformation. (1)
The critique along these lines has gained more momentum after the 2005 Presidential Election. Since Kefaya's main slogan was the rejection of a fifth term for Mubarak as well as the succession of his son, the argument goes, Kefaya lost its raison d'etre with the end of the election. "Except for rejecting the election results, symbolized by the slogan of "Batel" (invalid) nothing new was produced." When Kefaya played a leading role in the formation of the National Front for Change on the eve of the subsequent parliamentary elections, it was criticized as "passing the torch to the old opposition parties, the very same entities whose inaction it has been formed to face." (2) The EMC has been "dragged into sitting together with the leaders of the tamed opposition, instead of putting forward a demand for changing the electoral system." (3)
While the above-mentioned critics clearly question Kefaya's contribution to Egyptian politics, even the more positive assessments of the EMC mischaracterize it. For example, the American Left sees Kefaya as the beginning of "the process of rebuilding an Egyptian Left crushed by decades of police oppression" and a reverse of its "political marginalization caused by the rise of political Islam." Some Egyptian analysts, as well, characterize Kefaya as a "secular" protest movement and thereby implicitly expect its role to be the containment of the Islamists. (4)
OVERCOMING THE IDEOLOGICAL BARRIER
Although it was announced only in 2004, the EMC has been in the making at least since the mid 1990s. The key to understanding the Kefaya movement is to trace it to the political experience of its founders. Belonging to the famously dubbed "1970s generation," the founders of Kefaya are an ideologically diverse group of activists who were all intensely involved under a variety of banners in the student movements in Egyptian Universities throughout the 1970s.
While they ideologically come from the far right to the far left of Egypt's political spectrum, those leading figures of the "1970s generation" have been keen to extend political bridges among themselves to overcome the ideological battles that have, for so long, mired Egypt's politics. Through their political action in the 1990s they have come to realize that the ideologically-based mistrust and animosity among Egypt's older generation of political elite only serves to strengthen the ruling party's ability to maintain its monopoly of power.
The 1970s generation is in a sense the generation of Nasserism. Born in the late 1940s and early 1950s this generation's political consciousness was shaped during Nasser's high time. In their teens, they were excited about the national dream of that era. They were brought up deeply believing in the promises of achievements, national pride and Arab unity, all wrapped up in the leadership of a highly charismatic leader. In 1967 this generation was dealt a devastating wake-up blow with the crushing defeat at the hands of Israel.
Suddenly all the slogans turned out to be shallow and the dreams looked as remote as ever. "The national independence and pride were lost with the occupation of Sinai," explains Ahmed Bahaa Shaaban, a key Kefaya founder. "The slogan of the strong army was dashed in the war and the rhetoric of the new political system turned out to be a nightmare of power centers, feuds, police brutality, appalling torture in prisons and a regime eating up even its most loyalists." (5)
Confrontation with this bitter truth is perhaps behind this generation's highly critical approach to national politics ever since. The collapse of their early idealistic image of the Nasser regime left them with a conviction that the key cause to such a resounding collapse of a promising experience was despotism. Even the Nasserists among them have come to realize and admit that reality. Adding to this distinctive experience, the relative political openness of the 1970s allowed the emergence of a highly politicized youth. (6) In their maturity, those activists, whose early political experience was one of direct action, have become highly sensitized in a distinctive way to the public pulse and to the opportunities of public action. While many of them are both intellectuals and activists, it is through their street action that they approach their respective big narratives rather than letting such narratives define their political action.
"THE GENERATION OF THE SEVENTIES": A SEARCH FOR COMMON GROUND
By 1971 Egypt was in political turmoil. The perpetuation of the stalemate of no war or peace with Israel aggravated economic hardships especially for the poor. (7) University students led the protest and demanded an end to the inaction against Israel.
The sit-ins and large demonstrations in Egyptian Universities across the country in 1972 and 1973 were led by the left.
Until 1975, the left remained in full control of the Students' Movement, except for some cultural groupings where the Islamists were active. During that year however, the Islamists started winning some seats in the students' unions and by 1977 they won by landslide in eight out of 12 Universities, thus replacing the left as the main mobilizing force of the Students' movement until at least the end of the 1980s. After the 1973 War, three main factors caused the decline of the left. The rise of the Islamists' activism and the strong security campaign against the left coincided with an unprecedented series of feuds within the leftist groupings leading to the breaking up of some of them and the ensuing general disarray in the leftist ranks. (8)
While the early rise of the Islamists in Universities was met by the regime's tacit consent, to say the least, those landslide victories started a new era in which the regime began to backpedal. The tension was aggravated when the Islamist students opposed Sadat's support of the Shah of Iran and was followed by a strong campaign against his argument of "no religion in politics." The confrontation reached its highest point when the Islamist leaders were detained upon their vehement opposition to the Camp David Accord. (9)
The majority of Kefaya's founders are leaders of the 1970s students' movements in both of its key phases, i.e. this simple fact means that they are leftists (Nasserists and Marxists) as well as Islamists. While the two groups disagreed bitterly on many issues, there emerged a clear common ground when it comes to foreign policy- a reality not lost on the part of both sides two decades later. At the time, both groups strongly opposed Sadat's visit to Jerusalem, the US-backed-Camp David Accords and the normalization with Israel.
The rise of the Islamic movement continued to characterize Egyptian politics in the 1980s. Some of the leaders of the late 1970s students' movement later joined the Muslim Brothers and became politically active through professional associations. By the end of the decade, they were running a majority of such syndicates through elections.
These Islamist successes generated inevitable tensions. In the early 1990s, an increasing Islamist-secularist polarization reached unprecedented levels. Many in the political elite voiced concern and called for putting an end to those fierce battles. Such a call was new in Egypt's politics. During the 1970s, there was indeed similar polarization, but no force emerged to articulate such a call for a national dialogue. Ironically, the regime acted to create the basis for a conciliatory trend. In 1981, and just a month before his assassination, Sadat threw into jails intellectuals and activists from all political trends from the far right to the far left. Face to face in prison cells, those adversaries found a chance for a dialogue that promised a more conciliatory politics later. However, the path to real dialogue was not a straight one. The relative political openness of the early years of the 1980s paradoxically enhanced politics as usual through its promise of political competition, especially for the Islamists.
The early nineties, however, carried at least a plausible opening for a genuine national dialogue among opposition elements. Winning big in the civil organizations (such as the syndicates and the students' unions) as well as in parliament, it was "politically correct" for the Muslim Brothers to open a dialogue with the left. (10) The left, on the other hand, faced with one defeat after another, including the collapse of the Soviet Union, found the dialogue with the Islamist trend a tool to return to the public arena more forcefully with a new contribution.
While many on both sides were actually more interested in scoring points in a debate rather than engaging in a dialogue, some of the 1970s generation were genuinely serious about a real opening and exerted concerted efforts in that regard. An early experiment of such a dialogue was the efforts of two of the leaders of the students' movement in the early 1970s, and the early 1980s, Ahmed Abdallah, and Essam Sultan respectively, to put together a three-day-conference in 1993. Abdallah achieved prominence as the leftist Students' Union leader of the early 1970s while Sultan is an Islamist. At the time, a member of the Muslim Brothers, and in his capacity as coordinator of the Youth Committee at the Lawyers Association, Sultan cooperated with Abdullah to organize the conference that opened a dialogue among the younger generations of all political trends. (11)
The year 1993 carried another relevant event that captured the 70's generation's attention. The President seized on the opportunity and in October 1993 took the initiative and called for a regime-sponsored conference for national dialogue. However, the ensuing experience was hardly a "dialogue." The government's heavy-handed approach that excluded both the Muslim Brothers and the communists and handpicked the representatives of the legal opposition parties meant in fact sidelining the most important issues from that dialogue and turning it into a staged conversation among the legally licensed political parties at best. (12)
Watching that episode as well as the failure of the older generation to reach consensus among themselves, those who would a decade later found Kefaya, had by then come to realize that the ideologically-based mistrust and animosity among Egypt's older generation of the political elite served only to strengthen the ruling party's ability to maintain its monopoly over political power. That insight would prove a galvanizing one.
KEFAYA: THE PERSONAL CREATES THE POLITICAL
This new generation of activists and intellectuals was determined to open up a genuine national dialogue that would include all trends and, for that reason, hold out the promise of reaching a genuine national consensus.
An important experience in this regard was the National Dialogue organized by the Committee on the Coordination among Professional Associations in 1994. Such a committee was created by the Islamists who were in charge of the majority of those Associations. Over two days and with the participation of major intellectuals and activists from different political trends, the conference discussed the issues of political freedoms and civil liberties from both the secularist and the Islamist perspective. (13)
The dialogue resulted in the formation of a committee representing all political forces to write a National Consensus document. After a great deal of progress over a year of work however, the Committee failed to achieve its goal because of an escalating conflict between Maamoun El Hudaiby of the Muslim Brothers and the prominent liberal intellectual Saied El Naggar. (14) The 1970s generation certainly took notice of the fact that both were leading figures from the older generation.
Coinciding with those efforts in the mid-1990s, some of the Nasserists and the Islamists of the 1970s generation broke with the Nasserist party and the Muslim Brothers respectively. While the causes of the dissent were different in each case, one important factor was common, namely the reservations each group had on the poor interaction of its own former organization with other political forces. Those younger activists shared the belief that a search for a common ground with other forces offers the key to Egypt's political reform. (15) Both groups, which later applied for founding the Nasserist Karama party and the Islamist Al Wassat parties respectively, have become major players in the founding of Kefaya.
The experience of the 1994 conference was by no means the last, however. One of the most productive efforts was a 1996 informal dialogue that focused on the issue of democracy. In his introduction of the published proceedings of this important dialogue, Farid Zahran explained that the dialogue's meetings which lasted for two full years "have allowed us to better know each other and extend bridges among ourselves and forge personal relationships. The decision to publish this dialogue was meant not just to highlight our newly found common grounds and clarify our differences but also as a way to involve more elements of our generation in this ongoing dialogue ... none of us claim to represent his/her own ideological trend." (16)
Over the next fifteen years, the 1970s generation continued such dialogues informally and welcomed diverse participants from older as well as younger generations. Such continuous efforts helped those elements identify shared values and goals and allowed them to create the precondition for reaching a national consensus. For example, the dialogue participants were able to come to terms with the everlasting bitterness of the older generations of both the Islamists and the Marxists toward the Nasserists which stems from the brutality of the Nasser regime towards those imprisoned from both trends. (17)
By the end of the 1990s such interactions made it possible for those activists to work together politically on issues of consensus. Foreign policy was an excellent start, since a widely shared platform already existed. The Committee on Supporting the Palestinian Intifada included joint action, not just dialogue. The committee mounted direct action campaigns to resist the normalization with Israel, boycott Israel commodities, and help poor Palestinians through fundraising campaigns.
Such interactions and many others resulted in building a level of trust across ideological lines, unseen among the older generations. Trust among those activists has now reached a striking level. According to Amin Eskandar, a Nasserist and a founder of both the Karama party and Kefaya, they would for example "sign political statements for each other without checking beforehand." (18)
Again, in the early 2000, these political forces worked together with others, on a proposal for constitutional amendments. That important effort was overshadowed in 2001 when regional events forced themselves on the agenda. (19) For two years thereafter, they were preoccupied with events in the occupied Palestinian territories. The invasion of Iraq added yet another evocative item to the shared foreign policy agenda. Through their informal interaction however, consensus emerged that the graver the foreign aggression is, the more important the national reform becomes. To these actors, political freedoms have become the key to effective resistance to the occupation of both Palestine and Iraq. The stage was set for the emergence of a new movement that encapsulated the emerging consensus and illustrated the new possibilities it revealed.
Gathered over Iftar in Ramadan at the house of Al Wassat leader, Abul Ela Mady in 2003, a group of 23 people bitterly asked themselves "where is Egypt going?" (20)
Unlike the celebratory Iftars held by officials, for intellectuals and public figures, smaller informal gatherings over iftar represent annual occasions to reflect on year-long experiences, exchange views and sometimes plan for action.
Those who attended the 2003 iftar expressed grave concern. "Zionism has ferociously raped the land of Palestine and the American imperialism has occupied Iraq and humiliated its people," commented Ahmed Bahaa- Din Shaaban, usefully summarizing the mood. "Threats of aggression were swirling around Syria, Sudan, Egypt and Saudi Arabia as well as other Arab countries. At a time when oppressive political elites control the nation's wealth and fate, in such a way that has turned the whole Arab nation into a large prison degrading the citizens' dignity and thus marginalizing the Arab masses in all power balances in the region, those very same elites bow at the feet of the US and Zionism." (21)
The first glimpse of Kefaya could be seen in that discussion. By the end of that night, the attendants ended up naming six of them, (22) representing all political trends, to work on a draft statement that would become the basis for their future political action. (23) It took the "group of six" eight full months of hard work to come up with a consensus statement that brought together the views and approaches of such a diverse group. The statement was later open for signatures by pubic figures, who quickly reached 300 signers, leading up to the announcement in September of 2004 of the foundation of the Egyptian Movement for Change (Kefaya). Kefaya's founders came from the far left to the far right. In addition to the al Wassat and al Karama, there were also among the founders a considerable number of communists and leaders of the now-banned Labor party.
Born in the house of an Islamist over a Ramadan iftar, Kefaya was formally announced in a large gathering held at the well respected Christian Al Sa'eed non-governmental organization. The timing was chosen to coincide with the annual conference of the ruling party. (24)
THE "PRESENT DANGER" OF THE NEO-CONSERVATIVES? (25)
Clearly, the invasion of Iraq aggravated the sense of Egypt's vulnerability in the minds of Kefaya's founders. The founding statement captures the close connection between the external and domestic forces behind the movement's emergence. The statement explained that the signatories "came together ... despite their different intellectual affiliations" to "confront two highly interlinked threats, each of which is a cause and a result of the other," namely foreign threats and political despotism. (26) By placing foreign threats in the first paragraph, the EMC actually contradicted the wishful thinking of the neoconservatives in Washington. To those Egyptians, the "present danger" (27) was in fact US policies in the region under Bush. "The grave dangers and challenges flanking our nation" explained the statement, "represented in the American invasion and occupation of Iraq, the continuous Zionist aggression against the Palestinian people and the projects of redrawing the map of our Arab nation, the latest of which was the Greater Middle East proposal threaten our nationalism and imperils our identity. They, thus, necessitate the mobilization of all efforts for a comprehensive political, cultural and civilizational confrontation to protect the Arab existence against the Zionist-American projects." (28) The Bush administration of course argued that now after years of aiding dictatorships, the US is serious about democratizing the Middle East. The ideologically diverse Egyptian Movement for Change has by no means found that argument credible or helpful to its cause. Instead, they have looked at it as yet another scheme for domination.
PRINCIPLES: THE ART OF CREATING A MAINSTREAM
Starting with such a strong condemnation of US policies in the region, the statement went at far greater length to describe the aggravation of the national calamity by authoritarianism and outlined the reforms necessary to "overcome this overwhelming crisis." (29)
Although Kefaya made clear that foreign domination and political despotism are two faces of the same coin, its approach right from the beginning was that addressing the domestic challenge is the key to resisting external threats. This emphasis on the political transformation shows how far working across ideological lines has borne fruit. In the 1990s, it was only foreign policy that could bring the diverse currents together. Today, they have moved beyond this threshold so that they no longer need foreign policy issues to keep their interactive project intact.
The founders also put forward some guidelines and principles for the movement. The movement is open to all political trends and ideologies; members of parties and other movements may be involved provided that they take off their party's hat on the door and act only in their individual capacity. Accusations that impugn the patriotism of opponents are disallowed. While the movement is open to civil society activists, its leadership roles are not open to civil society's leaders whose institutions are funded by foreign money. (30) "Foreign funds that sponsor most of the civil society activities" contends Amin Eskandar "have corrupted the Egyptian elite and taken them off the track of organized political action. Tuned to a foreign agenda, some in the civil society elite, who were previously Marxists or Nasserist Cadres, have been preoccupied with their numerous travels to the US." (31) In other words, receipt of American funding was a disqualifier for leadership positions. To protect its credibility, Kefaya is self-financed through its own members' private money and contributions.
Those simple guiding principles proved crucial for the movement's sustainability. This conclusion emerges clearly from a comparison with the Egyptian Campaign for Change (ECC) who had parallel aspirations but failed to achieve the same level of success as Kefaya and for reasons directly connected to these principles.
A second group of intellectuals and activists of the 1970s generation had chosen to establish the cross-ideological Egyptian Campaign for Change (ECC) at just about the same time as Kefaya's founding. However, the approach of the ECC to cross-ideological work was based on the cooperation of institutions rather than individuals. Different parties and groupings, including Al Ghad and Tagamu' parties as well as the Muslim Brothers, were involved as institutions under the umbrella of the ECC. Soon, the ECC was "shackled because of partisanship." Farid Zahran, a leading founder of the ECC put it as such: "We thought that involving different forces as institutions would be more successful. It wasn't." The ECC had almost disintegrated before it reinvented itself into a broad leftist coalition, abandoning the strategy of a broader coalition that included the Islamists and the liberals. (32)
This contrast reinforces the judgment that the important and difficult success of Kefaya can be attributed in important part to its decision that participants would act as individuals, leaving their partisan hats at the doorstep as they work for Kefaya, bringing with them only the ideas and practices from past experiences but not the institutional structures within which they are embedded.
The movement has a loose structure perceived by its founders as three circles for action. The activists who set the tone and help maintain the flow of ideas and information constitutes the smallest, inner circle. With no single leader and a decision-making process geared toward consensus not majority rule, the founders named a coordinator and a spokesperson. At a time when Egypt, from time to time finds itself beset with religious tensions, the EMC chose a leftist Christian coordinator, who has been close to the Islamically-oriented Labor Party circles and an activist against foreign intervention since his childhood in Port Saiid. (33) A conciliatory moderate with no foreign connections, George Ishaq is responsible for taking care of the day-to-day business. He calls for and sets the agenda of the leadership meetings and works with the regional coordinators in twenty-one governorates. (34) Abdel Halim Qandil, then the executive editor of the Nasserist newspaper al Arabi, was embraced by the EMC after an unprecedented brutal physical attack on him. He is the movement spokesperson. These selections signal clearly that this generation of activists who founded Kefaya is by no means hostile to the older generation. Both Ishaq and Qandil are seasoned public figures.
A VISION FOR CHANGE
Although many critics argue that Kefaya does not put forward a viable alternative, the movement has in fact developed a credible longterm vision. The vision statement is available on its website and published in a hard copy version. Titled "A Project for Democratic Change in Egypt-toward a New Socio-political Contract," the proposal goes into the details of political reform. It calls for an end to the unchecked powers of the presidency through term limits, direct elections and accountability. The statement also calls for the cancellation of all emergency laws and outlines the framework of a political system based on separation of powers, an independent judiciary and the restoration of political freedoms and civil liberties. (35)
While it is true such demands "are widely shared" (36) by other forces as reported by the International Crisis Group (ICG), (37) Kefaya has perceived them as the tasks of a transitional period that will open the way "toward the peaceful democratic radical change in ideas, policies and institutions." In other words, what has been perceived by other forces as needed reform was considered by Kefaya as only just the first step, namely the transitional period. Ironically, at a time when Kefaya has been accused of calling for chaos in society, it has given particular priority to outlining the framework for the transitional period, precisely to avoid a power vacuum and on the grounds that the future of the democratic process depends on the success achieved in such a transition. The statement proposes that "... a national coalition government should be formed in the transitional period. Headed by an independent national figure and joined by representatives of the different intellectual and political trends in the society, this government's.... main task is to create the environment necessary for holding elections." Subsequently a national Assembly would be elected to write a new constitution for Egypt. (38)
The ICG report, which was widely quoted, contends that these notions while good "in the abstract ... are essentially utopian ... and appear to have been adopted by Kefaya for form's sake." It argues that Kefaya has published such documents to compensate "... its lack of clear focus on a positive democratic demand." (39) This critique actually misses the point altogether, since it fails to see in Kefaya the very characteristics that make such ideas neither utopian nor adopted for form's sake. Kefaya's ability to cross ideological barriers is precisely the new element that makes a coalition government in a transitional period all the more possible. More importantly, Kefaya's role in pushing for a national front on the eve of the last parliamentary elections is clear evidence that such ideas are by no means for form's sake. In fact no "democratic demand" is more positive for Egypt's current needs than creating a new mainstream. This capacity is precisely the potential of Kefaya and an element that the ICG report totally missed.
The vision that Kefaya articulated was its response to the aborted promise opened up with the President's announcement in February 2005 of revising the constitution (Article 76) to allow a multi-candidate presidential election. In February, the EMC issued a statement cautiously "welcoming" the President's decision, while insisting that the revision should extend to include articles 75 and 77 of the constitution and not just Article 76. (40) Article 75 gives the President the power to impose emergency law, while article 77 allows the President to remain in office for unlimited terms. Critics of the EMC point out that it focused on targeting Mubarak personally without putting forward an alternative candidate. The critique has some merit. In fact, there was a debate inside Kefaya on this issue. More pointedly, on the President's decision to change article 76 in February, two camps emerged inside Kefaya. The first argued that the movement should put forward a candidate to run for president, while the other wanted to boycott the election. (41) Between February and May, i.e. before the formulation of the constitutional amendment was finalized and approved by the parliament, the former camp seemed to be winning the argument and there were various efforts to name a presidential and two vice-presidential nominees. But the new amendment as written and approved by the parliament closed down the possibility of real reform through institutional channels. The more assertive wing of Kefaya led by Abdel Halim Qandil, which had called all along for boycotting the election prevailed. (42) Kefaya ended up, therefore, boycotting both the referendum on the amendment as well as the presidential election itself.
These different approaches are in fact a manifestation of a deeper difference among Kefaya's founders over the very role of their movement. The militant wing which stresses the antagonistic tone toward both the regime and the old political parties perceives of Kefaya's role as essentially a civil disobedience movement that should agitate the masses.
The argument of this trend is based on the premise that the regime is already collapsing. When the snowball of demonstrations reaches the threshold of some hundred thousands, adherents of this view argue, the regime will fall. (43) The other wing sees Kefaya as a seed for
a grassroots movement. "Demonstrations are just the first stage" says the well-known public figure and activist Muhammad Sayyid Said. "Toppling the regime, which is by the way in disarray but not collapsing, is not a priority," he argues. Said also added that "we need to rebuild democratic institutions in villages and cities ... we need to reactivate trade unions, labor unions and local assemblies ... until Egypt becomes a workshop for democratic change." In other words, there is a consensus in Kefaya over its role in reactivating society. But while the former wing finds demonstrations as the key to an activation that leads to regime change, the latter finds that a long-term grassroots effort is the key to a real democratic transformation. In my view, the militant wing of Kefaya has prevailed for so long to the detriment of the movement's momentum and further contribution, as will be discussed further below.
FROM GENERATIONAL TO NATIONAL COALITION BUILDING
Kefaya, which boycotted the presidential election, was determined from the beginning to give more attention to parliamentary elections. It thus became one of the main forces pushing for creating the National Front for Change that was meant to put forward a unified list of candidates to challenge the ruling party in the parliamentary elections. As announced on October 8, 2005, the Front included the EMC, the Muslim Brothers, as well as Al Wafd, the Tagamu, the Nasserist, Labor, Karama and Wassat parties. (44) Right from the beginning however, it was clear the Front prospects were meager to say the least. Many of the forces involved were not ready for the compromises such a coalition entails. For example, the Muslim Brothers nominally joined the coalition, while in fact refusing its main thrust. The Debold insisted on using its own slogans and on coordinating with each of the coalition forces on a one-on-one basis rather than collectively. (45) Animosity among some of the forces involved also undermined the Front. Under the pretext of avoiding interference in its internal affairs, al Wafd Party insisted on excluding the embattled Al Ghad Party from the Front (46) and the increasing hostility between al Tagamu Party and the Muslim Brothers set the stage for the Muslim Brothers' all out war against all the Al Tagamu candidates including its symbolic leader Khaled Mohy El Din.
The National Front's unsuccessful experience was not unexpected, given the structural and organizational problems of the political parties and the newness of the idea of a national front which implied compromises many of them were not ready to make. But it remains true that, "for the first time in the last 50 years," the opposition created an alliance to run for parliament seats. (47)
Apart from achievements by the National Front, its constitution was itself an important contribution of Kefaya. The Front, however unrealized in practice, is yet another manifestation of the systematic attempts by the 1970s generation to bypass the ideological and intellectual barriers that set Egypt's political trends apart.
KEFAYA AND THE OLD POLITICAL FORCES
It is important to note at the same time, that Kefaya had its own tensions with established political forces in Egypt. For example, some of Kefaya's figures were caught in ugly exchanges of words and accusations with the old political parties especially the Tagamu party. Rifaat Al Sa'id, the Chairman of the Tagamu party, in a series of interviews ridiculed Kefaya, describing its leaders, at one point as "the kids of George Ishaq" (48) Some elements of the militant wing of Kefaya responded with harsh accusations of corruption against the Tagamu old and new leadership. The Tagamu party issued a statement "freezing all relations with Kefaya." (49) The escalation was aborted however, when the moderate wing of Kefaya intervened. They formed a delegation that visited Al Tagamu party and to some extent cleared the tension. (50) "Such a diversion from Kefaya's priorities needs to stop," (51) they opined with considerable effect.
The tension between Kefaya and the old political forces has been in part caused by Kefaya's aggressive critique of the parties' strategies in dealing with the regime. Right from the beginning, Kefaya has identified the established political parties as part of the problem not the solution. "The regime as well as the opposition is falling down. Their roles have already come to an end," says Aboul Ela Mady. (52) Kefaya argues that "the political parties are partly responsible because they acquiesced to the restrictions on the one hand and have been autocratically run from within on the other." (53) "This is an unfair assessment" responds Amina Naqqash the deputy Secretary General of the Tagamu Party, as "it overlooks our long struggle for political freedoms. Since 1984 we have been calling for changing article 76 of the constitution among other things" she explained. El Naqqash did acknowledge, however, that political parties made concessions to "the legal restrictions that have paralyzed us; we have been unable to communicate with the people and gain new membership." Political parties thus resorted to parliament representation as a way to make up for the loss of political influence. "We were thus forced to make concessions to the regime in exchange for allowing our party to win a handful of seats." (54) Al Naqqash argues that those parliament seats have been the only platform through which the uneducated learn about the party, but admits the price has been a diminished credibility among political forces.
Kefaya's aggressive critique of the old political forces has been only partly responsible for the tension between the two sides, for the very existence of Kefaya and its approach has been a constant source of escalation for that tension. Kefaya's very existence has in fact exposed the vulnerabilities of those forces and the political mistakes that they in fact paid for dearly. For the Tagamu party in particular, Kefaya has been a potent challenge that is eating up its followers. Many of the activists who quickly got involved in Kefaya had been members or affiliates of Al Tagamu party. (55)
This challenge posed by Kefaya was also sensed by the Muslim Brothers who immediately realized that Kefaya represented a third way out of the 'either-or' formula of the ruling party or the Muslim Brothers that Egypt supposedly faces.
Had Kefaya been "merely" an elitist movement with no impact beyond the intellectual and activism circles, as some critics say, it would have not been treated with caution and at times impatience by the grass-roots-based-Muslim Brothers. Instead, for the first time in decades, the Muslim Brothers faced a challenger in the "street." long perceived as guaranteed to the Brotherhood because of both its social services and religious discourse. Strong pressure from the younger generation of the Muslim Brothers in eight governorates forced the organization to return to street protests for the first time in years. (56) But while Kefaya has constantly alerted and invited the MB in advance to join their demonstrations, the MB systematically would send just one or two representatives and at the height of Kefaya's momentum, the Muslim Brothers decided to hold parallel demonstrations. (57) "At some point, we sent a delegation to the General Guide" of the MB, explained Aboul Ela Mady. "He told us that the MB members who had joined us on an individual basis failed to inform the organization at the right time about demonstrations. Nevertheless, the MB's poor participation remained the same even after that reach out effort", he explained. Neither speaking out against nor clearly supporting Kefaya, the Muslim Brothers clearly had no interest in Kefaya's success nor its goals of building cross-ideological coalitions. "They neither like nor want to work with other political forces" says the Islamist Aboul Ela Mady "they think that their grassroots power is an enough basis for them to dominate and/or act alone" (58). Such arrogance of power is one of the qualities that indicate perils for Egypt. While many focus on the "fundamentalist" threat of the MB, the more serious concern posed by potential MB rule is the fall of Egypt under yet another force that has systematically alienated others, including Islamists outside Brotherhood ranks.
The elite character of Kefaya itself as a political movement also raises concerns. However, this dimension of the Kefaya experience must be put in the context of politics more generally in Egypt today. Movement activists are aware of this elite character of Kefaya but they emphasize that it has a positive dimension. "Because a considerable part of the elite has been co-opted by the regime especially in the Gamal Mubarak High Council on Policies," argues Aboul Ela Mady, "it is crucial for the elite to regain the public trust. People now see us beaten in the streets." (59) For that reason, Kefaya did pay particular attention to the political elite. Amin Eskander makes clear that Kefaya works on attracting prominent widely respectful public figures to "sign on." (60) The issue for Kefaya is therefore, not whether or not the movement is elitist. It clearly and self-consciously is. The real question is how successful has this elite movement been in having an impact beyond the elite and how can that impact be deepened.
THE POLITICS OF NEW MEANING
While Kefaya's critics have used its succinct slogans to question the movement's significance, they have in fact failed to appreciate the significance of those slogans themselves. For it is through these slogans, as well as other tools, that Kefaya has been creating a new form of politics that is tailored to the specific needs of the current moment in Egypt's history. Interesting enough, the prominent writer Hassanein Haikal and the Muslim Brothers, who hardly agree on anything, have both focused their critique of Kefaya on its "vulgar" slogans, perceived as "insulting" the president of the Republic. (61) Whatever its origins, this critique misses an essential point.
THE POLITICS OF "HIGH CEILINGS"
The slogan "Kefaya", in fact, usefully captures the contribution of the EMC. Derived from colloquial Egyptian lexicon, the power of the Arabic word goes beyond the fact that it is uniquely Egyptian and at the heart of Egypt's popular culture. Concise yet expressive, the slogan is as fluid as the movement itself. It widely opens up the prospects of future action by the movement to address the issues of highest concerns to average Egyptians. Ordinary people in Egypt have "had enough." Under this powerful slogan, the EMC has been able to inspire and rally different groups and forces concerned with special issues. Responding to the Kefaya mode of action, there was a proliferation of smaller groups for change: Artists for Change, Youth, Laborers, Journalists, and Lawyers for Change. More so, the slogan has allowed the EMC to hold demonstrations highlighting issues of public concern from unemployment to corruption and all under the banner "Enough," enough of unemployment, of poverty and of corruption. "Enough" says it all.
For some critics, the slogan "Kefaya" is too simplistic. Critics of the EMC argue that Kefaya is a mere protest movement with no constructive vision of transformation. This critique derives from a clearly conservative definition of "constructive visions," for Kefaya does present a radical alternative for Egypt's future. Moreover, it is over simplistic to say that Kefaya has just "targeted Mubarak personally" because the movement has in fact rejected the very rules of the contemporary political game in Egypt. Egypt's politics has been characterized by a near total monopoly by the ruling regime which maintains a legal framework that is highly restrictive for both political parties and civil society.
Kefaya has bypassed that institutional framework altogether. By refusing to play by the rules of the game stipulated by the regime, the movement has in fact redefined politics in Egypt. For Kefaya, legitimacy is not a government-granted-status. By taking to the streets without waiting for government permission, which is usually very hard to obtain in Egypt, Kefaya has expanded what is admissible and opened up more public spaces. (62) By putting the word "change" in its title, it has shifted the sands of the political terrain. The rules of the "reform" game, which the political parties were drawn to and drowned into for years, no longer apply. What Kefaya rejected was "the politics of low ceilings" as one of its founders put it. (63) While the political parties have been virtually confined to their headquarters, deprived of a fair chance through the national media and beset by an arsenal of restrictive laws, they played by the rules of the game stipulated by the regime. The Parties' experience in the national dialogue on political reform that was concluded weeks before Mubarak's sudden initiative of Constitutional amendment is a good example of the low ceilings approach. In that dialogue, the opposition parties agreed to postpone constitutional amendments until after the referendum on Mubarak's new term. However, the agreement was short-circuited a few weeks later by Mubarak himself, who then unilaterally decided to put an end to choosing the President through referendum. In other words, the EMC was in fact saying "enough" to the entire political order and not just to a fifth term for Mubarak or the succession of his son. Targeting Mubarak personally in its slogans has been an effective means to break taboos and to shout aloud the previously unspoken.
With this radical vision, Kefaya has needed, at least in its early stages to be a "mere protest movement." For fifty years average Egyptians have shunned politics out of fear or skepticism. New generations have come of age with no experience in political action. With its blunt slogans and creative street action, Kefaya in fact has dealt with the most acute of Egypt's political problems, namely political apathy on the part of the vast majority of Egyptians.
In criticizing Kefaya as being a "mere" protest movement, Kefaya was asked to do the impossible. In times of political disarray and uncertainty, political action is not necessarily designed to achieve an immediate outcome in the political system. Rather, it raises a challenge to the existing "language and cultural codes that organize information". (64) Kefaya has been just that. In the current political moment of Egypt's history and in a country where the silent majority has conceded politics to the ruling elite for over fifty years, the power of creating a new system of meaning that runs counter to the one imposed and putting forward an alternative way for organizing political information does make a difference in the long run.
Kefaya's current predicament flows from the fact that it has for too long maintained a purely protest stance. A contributing factor in this shortcoming has undoubtedly been deep differences among Kefaya's founders over the very role of their movement. As mentioned before, while the militant wing stresses antagonism toward both the regime and the old political parties and perceives of Kefaya's role as essentially a civil disobedience movement that should agitate the masses, the other wing sees Kefaya as the seedbed for a grassroots movement of broader social change.
It is becoming increasingly clear that the dominance of the more militant wing favoring demonstrations has caused detriment to the movement's momentum and further development. While it is true that street action was necessary in Kefaya's early stages and has indeed contributed to redefining politics, the EMC let itself be dragged into a street-action-only strategy. This approach has played squarely into the hands of the regime which realized that it can abort Kefaya's momentum by simply banning demonstrations and brutalizing those detained for their participation in these public events. More so, focusing just on demonstrations for an extended period of time has shaped public expectations. Kefaya in the popular mind existed only in so far as its members were in the streets. When the regime crack-down came and demonstrations became more difficult and infrequent, talk of Kefaya's decline became widespread. In other words, Kefaya has itself helped feed the public sense of the movement's loss of momentum by reducing its action to demonstrations, a form of politics obviously not fully controlled by its members. More important, this approach has put a limit on the movement's capacity to further invent other new forms of politics beyond the stage of breaking taboos and establishing an independent political presence in the streets.
Today, while the MB is a powerful political force, the weakness of the other forces makes it possible that with a free elections, Egypt will fall into yet another political monopoly of power, this time, under the MB. More so, the current Islamist-secularist polarization and tension among political forces makes it likely that the MB in power will aggravate rather than solve Egypt's problems.
Out of this particular political context comes the significance of Kefaya. The new generation that founded Kefaya provides Egypt with a viable alternative, namely instilling the seeds of political conciliation among the different ideological trends and thus opening the way toward creating a new mainstream. Kefaya's founders rightly understood that the ruling party's monopoly of power rests largely on the fact that the opposition forces are bitterly divided among themselves and thus unable to agree on any specific political demand nor capable of formulating a joint project for national transformation. A new political movement that transcends ideology is precisely what Egypt needs at the moment.
Kefaya's critics rightly note that the EMC has lost momentum lately. While it is true that Kefaya is now at a crossroads, perhaps in need of new creative means for action, it is equally true that the lost momentum is a result of the dashed hopes of Egyptians who wanted to believe in the illusive promise of reform that opened in 2005. Besides, while Kefaya has shrewdly used the Americans against the regime, the latter too has developed more creative tactics to deal with Kefaya that avoids making its members martyrs for an international media audience.
The challenges facing Kefaya in the future are twofold. The first challenge is to both expand and deepen its unique interactive politics across [ideological lines]. The success of the founders of Kefaya in taking a major step forward in their interactive politics from just working on foreign policy into a fully fledged political movement is a promising experience that can be both strengthened within Kefaya and extended beyond it. There are some positive signs in this regard. In all the internal disputes that have occurred in Kefaya since its inception, none was caused or fought along [ideological lines]. The different camps in each of those confrontations were as ideologically diverse as the movement itself. More so, the issue of social justice has easily slipped into the agenda without serious debate or opposition especially from the Islamists.
The second challenge facing Kefaya is to reach a consensus over a clearly articulated realistic vision for the movement's future. As mentioned above, there is a consensus in Kefaya on being an agent for reactivating society. Yet, Kefaya's predicament stems from the absence of clarity on the goals and therefore the tools for such activation. [Given the current Egyptian political conditions as well as Kefaya's elitist nature, it is impossible for Kefaya to become a mass movement. It can, however, politically activate the society by other means.]
Ironically, the sense of lost momentum has opened the way in Kefaya for a focus on the harder longer-term work of grassroots empowerment. Over three months, an intensive and serious democratic dialogue took place across Kefaya's chapters in twenty six governorates and a program for political and direct action training was launched thereafter.
It is also important to add that the very existence of Kefaya will help create a new generation of Egyptians who are open to the new kind of politics manifested by the movement. The 1970s generation represents a unique generation of Egyptians who are both politicized and experienced in politics. In contrast, the politicized elements of the younger generations who have only very limited actual experience have a golden opportunity through participation in Kefaya, not only to acquire the skills of political action and learn the nuances of Egyptian politics, but also to be tuned in to and to be close to the only generation that has seriously moved beyond ideological barriers.
The challenge that faces Kefaya is to realistically assess its limitations and to focus at the same time their strengths and contributions in order to solidify its major contribution to expanding the possibilities of Egyptian political life, especially for the younger generation of activists.
Whether Kefaya itself lives on in its current or a new form, or loses momentum, the fact remains that the 1970s generation's path toward creating a new mainstream has been steadier and firmer than ever before. When the Islamist Abul Ela Mady and the Marxist Ahmed Bahaa Shaaban voluntarily get together and plan for serious joint political action, there is far more common ground for political conciliation in today's Egypt than what we are led to believe by the regime or the Muslim Brothers.
This interaction beyond ideological lines has been and remains a difficult yet steady work in progress. In the 1990s it took shape through the work on foreign policy issues. In the early 2000s it manifested itself in the Kefaya movement. The future shape of this important phenomenon is an open question.
Kefaya's significance must go beyond the assessment of the future path of the movement itself. It has already had its lasting mark on Egypt's politics. It has opened up the realm of the possible in Egypt because it represented a positive leap into the future as far as the path of creating a new mainstream is concerned. The ideologically diverse activists and intellectuals of the 1970s generation have clearly made a resounding progress.
(1.) Wahid Abdel Maguid, "Uncertain Political Map in Egypt", Al Kharita AlSyassia Al Murtabika fi Misr, Al Hayat, 23 October 2005; "Reforming Egypt, In Search of a Strategy", International Crisis Group, Middle East/North Africa Report, 46, 4 October 2005, p.i ; Ibid., p.10; Ibid p.i
(2.) Wahid Abdel Maguid, "Uncertain Political Map in Egypt", Al Kharita AlSyassia Al Murtabika fi Misr, Al Hayat, 23 October 2005
(3.) Iman Yehya, "One Year Old, Happy Birthday Kefaya", Sana Min Omr Kefaya, Sana Helwa ya gamil, Al Karama, 24 January 2006
(4.) Issander El Amrani, Kifaya and the Politics of the Impossible, ZNet, Jan. 4, 2006 <http://www.zmag.org/content/showarticle.cfm?SectionID=22& ItemID=9463> 27/02/2006; Salah Issa, "The Ikhwan Fingerprints of Kefaya", Al Asabe'i Al Ikhwaneyya Li Harakat Kefaya, Al Joumhouria, 19 January 2006.
(5.) Ahmed Bahaa Shaaban, Interview by the author, Cairo, 18 January 2006
(6.) Aboul Ela Mady, Interview by the author, Cairo, 24 January 2006.
(7.) Raymond W. Baker, "Sadat and After, Struggles for Egypt's Political Soul", (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1990), p. 60
(8.) Abul Ela Mady, "Sadat, The Muslim Brothers and the 1970s Students Movement", Sadat wal Ikhwan wal haraka al tullabeyya fil sab'einat, Al Hayat, Nov.3, 1996; Muhammad Abdel Rassul, ed., The 1970s Generation, Jil Al Sabeinat, (Cairo: Al Fustat Center for Studies, 2000), p. 261
(10.) Essam Sultan, Interview by the author, Cairo, 31 December 2005.
(11.) Ahmed Abdallah, who has not been involved in Kefaya's founding, but participated in some of its demonstrations, was endorsed by the movement in his unsuccessful campaign for Parliament in 2005; Essam Sultan, Interview by the author, Cairo, 31 December 2005.
(12.) "Egypt and the Democratic Model", Misr wal namouthag al democraty, Selselat Hewarat Almustaqbal, (Cairo: Al Mahrousa, 1999), pp.215-227.
(14.) Abul El Ela Mady, "Towards a United Opposition Front", Nahwa Gabha Muwahada Lil mu'arda, Al Mesreyoun Online, 89 October 2005. <http://www.almesryoom.com/ShowDetails.asp?NewID=5712&page=1 >access 10/10/2005.
(15.) Essam Sultan, Interview by the author, Cairo, 31 December 2005.
(16.) "Egypt and the Democratic Model", introduction by Farid Zahran, p. 7.
(17.) Amin Eskandar, Interview by the author, Cairo, 19 October 2005.
(19.) Abul Ela Mady, Interview by the author, Cairo, 12 October 2005.
(21.) Ahmed Bahaa Din Shaaban, "Kefaya, The Birth and the Path", Kefaya: AlMilad Wal Masir, Al Adab, June-July 2005, p. 73.
(22.) Those six were George Ishaq, Ahmed Bahaa elDin Shaaban, M. Said Edris, Sayyid Abdel Sattar, Abul Ela Madi, and Amin Eskandar.
(23.) Kefaya, The Birth and the Path, p. 73.
(24.) Sawt El Ummah, 4 November 2005.
(25.) The EMC is a clear example of how the neo conservatives' arguments on 'democratizing the Middle East' are irrelevant in the case of Egypt.
(26.) The founding statement of Kefaya. <http://harakamasria.net/informationMOre.asp?id=803&idd=14>, 13 July 2005.
(27.) From the 'Committee on the Present Danger' in the 1970s to Bill Kristol's book with the same title in 2000, the Neo-conservatives have, throughout the years used the term 'present danger'. Ironically, it is the neoconservative agenda in the Middle East that is perceived as the present danger by democratic forces in Egypt. See. William Kristol and Robert Kagan, eds, "The Present Dangers", (San Francisco: Encounter Books, 2000).
(28.) Founding Statement of Kefaya , <http://www.harakamasria.net/ informationMOre.asp?id=803&idd=14 > 13 July 2005.
(30.) Kefaya, The Birth and the Path, p. 76.
(31.) Amin Eskandar, Interview by the author, Cairo, 19 October 2005.
(32.) Farid Zahran, Interview by the author, Cairo, 2 August 2006.
(33.) Al Dustur, 23/3/05
(34.) George Ishaq, Interview by the author, Cairo, 19 October 2005.
(35.) "Towards a New Socio-Political Contract", Nahwa 'Aqd Ijtimai'e syassi jaded, Kefaya Publications, 1st edition, August 2005.
(36.) Reforming Egypt, In Search of a Strategy, p.10.
(37.) The Brussels-based Organization is a conflict- management-oriented NGO which conducts field analysis research and has field offices worldwide. See www.crisisgroup.org.
(38.) Towards a New Socio-Political Contract, p. 9; Ibid, p.20; Ibid, p.22
(39.) Reforming Egypt, In Search of a Strategy, p. 12.
(40.) Statement by Kefaya, 15 February 2005.
(41.) Abdel Halim Qandil, Weekly Column, Al Araby, 12 June 2005. <http://al-araby.com/articles/963/050612-963-col-wat.htm>acc.15/03/06.
(42.) Muhammad Sayyid Said, Interview by the author, Cairo 12 January 2006.
(43.) Abdel Halim Qandil, Weekly Column, Al Araby, 8 May 2005. <http://al-araby.com/articles/958/050508-958-col-wat.htm > acc. 15/03/06
(44.) Statement by Kefaya, 10 October 2005.
(45.) Amin Eskander, "Kefaya: The Slogan of the Battle on Change", Kefaya She'ar Maarakat al taghyeer, Al Karama, 25 October 2005.
(46.) Abul Ela Mady, Interview by the author, Cairo, 24 January 2006.
(47.) Fahmy Huwaidy, "Pessi-optimistic about Elections", Mutashael bil intikhabat fi Misr, Al Ahram 25 October 2005.
(48.) Wael Abdel Fattah, "Whither Kefaya", Hal Intahat Harakat Kefaya?, Al Fajr, 3 September 2005.
(49.) Statement of Al Tagamu' party, 6 June 2005.
(50.) Joint Statement by the Tagamu' party and Kefaya, 15 June 2005.
(51.) Muhammad Sayyid Said, Interview by the author, Cairo, 12 January 2006.
(52.) Abul Ela Mady, Interview by the author, Cairo, 12 October 2005.
(54.) Amina El Naqqash, Interview by the author, Cairo, 13 January 2006.
(55.) Interviews by the author: Amina El Naqqash, 13 January 2006 and Muhammad Said, 12 January 2006.
(56.) Abul Ela Mady, Interview by the author, Cairo, 12 October 2005.
(57.) Muhammad Sayyid Said, Interview by the author, Cairo, 12 January 2006.
(58.) Abul Ela Mady, Interview by the author, Cairo, 24 January 2006.
(59.) Abul Ela Mady, Interview by the author, Cairo, 12 October 2005.
(60.) Amin Eskander, Interview by the author, Cairo, 19 October 2005.
(61.) Hesham Al Nasser, "Democratic Vulgarity", Qilat Al Adab Al Dimocratia, Al Shaab Online, March 30, 2005. http://www.al-shaab.org. 2 April 2005
(62.) Reflexivity of Social Movements, pp. 58-78.
(63.) Abul Ela Mady, Interview by the author, Cairo, 12 October 2005.
(64.) Alberto Melucci, A Strange Kind of Newness: What's "New" in New Social Movements, in: New Social Movements, From Ideology to Identity, 101-130 (102).
Manar Shorbagy is Senior Consultant on American politics in the Arab Center for Development and Future Studies and teaches in the Department of Political Science at the American University in Cairo.
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|Publication:||Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)|
|Date:||Jan 1, 2007|
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