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A long time in politics ...

A YEAR HAS PASSED SINCE President Hosni Mubarak announced there would be multi-candidate presidential elections. May marks the one-year anniversary of the referendum to put in place that promise, but Egypt has seen a surge in activism. Emergency laws put in place after the 1981 assassination of President Anwar Sadat are set to expire in June. The president has hinted they may be extended but, ultimately they will probably be replaced by more permanent anti-terrorism legislation. Activist groups such as Kefaya and the Muslim Brotherhood are worried this will mean the Cairo government will launch a clampdown on civil liberties.

The laws allow the government to detain anyone deemed a threat to state security for renewable periods of 45 days without court orders. They also give military courts the power to try ordinary citizens. The new anti-terrorism bill is expected to formalise large sections of the emergency laws currently in place.

In the US, the controversial Patriot Act of 2001 gives the Department of Homeland Security authorisation to boost levels of surveillance over US citizens, as well as enhancing presidential power and the government's right of search and seizure. Similarly, Egypt's emergency laws, and most likely the pending anti-terrorism replacement, will provide national security services with the absolute right to detain suspects for months at a time.

"The priority is to make this country safe and stable," Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif told reporters in April at an international economic forum. "The only reason we have a state of emergency in place is to ensure we can combat terrorism. Egypt has been, and still is, on the frontline in the war against terror." Prime Minister Nazif has ordered the formation of a committee to draft the new law; however, it is not yet clear when it is expected to come into force.

April 2005 saw two French tourists and an American killed in the Al Azhar area of Cairo. Later that same month, seven people were wounded in another attack in the capital. Then, in July, multiple suicide car bombings rocked the Red Sea resort of Sharm Al Sheikh, killing some 70 people in the country's worst terrorist attack in history.

However, not everyone's concerns have been allayed by Nazif's words. "What I am afraid of is that they will replace the current temporary state of emergency with a legalised law of emergency," Amr Darrag, a Cairo University professor and spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, notes. "The difference is that then the terrorism laws will be permanent."

George Ishaq, head of the secular opposition group Kefaya, believes that even with the new law in place, Kefaya will not need to overhaul its approach to activism. Change, he insists will not come overnight. "It is a slow process and people must be patient," he noted. "Egyptians don't care about politics and democracy, so we must go out and help those with real problems to counter the government's lack of effort."

Over the past year, Kefaya, along with the Muslim Brotherhood, have sometimes been seen potentially as viable options to the ruling National Democratic Party (NDP) of President Hosni Mubarak, although many would argue that in recent months, Kefaya appears to have all but fallen off the radar. This is not the case George Ishaq maintains. "We are in the process of instigating a revival at this moment," he confirmed. "To those who say Kefaya is finished, I say to them 'Kefaya hasn't even started'."

Despite the rhetoric it is obvious the government has done an excellent job in sidelining both Kefaya and the Muslim Brothers. People are losing faith in all opposition groups, which they see as doing little or nothing to effect real change in Egypt. "People are feeling left behind because they don't see any real change," Ishaq agreed. "It will take two or more years to make a difference. The government is very strong and will not change on its own. We have to insist the masses bring pressure to bear."

According to Kefaya officials, the organisation has over 15,000 members and millions more supporters who are afraid to officially throw in their lot in with the group. The most important aspect of the organisation, Ishaq believes, is that they are continually breaking the taboo of criticising the president, something punishable by imprisonment only a few years ago. "Everyone can now protest and speak out," Ishaq continues. "It is important to get your name out there and show yourself all the time. People cannot be impatient or uncaring when it comes to democracy. If that happens then we lose everything we have striven for over the past year."

The feeling on the street, however, is that Kefaya does not have a valid platform Egyptians can understand sufficiently well to follow en masse. This is compounded by the fact that, although the organisation conducts protests and demonstrations against the ruling NDP, it insists it does not seek political power for itself.

"We are not a political party and we do not want to take power ourselves," Ishaq confirms. "Nobody in Kefaya wants to be president, we simply want to enable people to move vertically in the power structure without being hindered by the ruling party ... We are trying to become a viable third option for people who have been disillusioned by the government's policies over recent years, if not decades."

The Muslim Brotherhood, although not an official political party, holds 88 of the 454 seats in parliament. Recently there has been an upsurge in arrests in the group throughout the country. Darrag feels this is due to the increasing influence the Brotherhood's MP's are having on the national political scene. "While our MPs haven't been able to do much since taking office, they continue to speak out about what is going on in Egypt," he says.

Unlike Kefaya, which is seen as being the most strident opposition group in Egypt today, the Brotherhood is using its newly found power as a means to work within the system. According to Brotherhood commentators, the move to parliament has meant a change in approach. The group no longer attempts to force the government's hand in the same way as Kefaya, although they support such action. Many interpret the change of direction as a signal the Brotherhood has become something of a toothless tiger.

However, Darrag disagrees. "We will show the Egyptian population we are here to stay and that we can effect real change through the system."
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Title Annotation:Kefaya, secular opposition group
Author:Mayton, Joseph
Publication:The Middle East
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:May 1, 2006
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