Egyptian Activist and Americans discuss Ideas for Egypt’s Future!
By M. Scott Bortot, 14 April 2011
Washington — American students and policymakers discussed challenges facing post-Mubarak Egypt with Egyptian democracy and human rights activist Esraa Abdel Fattah at the Woodrow Wilson Center in Washington April 6.
Hosted by the center’s Middle East Program and the Project on Middle East Democracy (POMED), the discussion, titled “Youth Activism, the January 25 Revolution, and Egypt’s Transition,” was moderated by Wilson fellow Jason Brownlee and POMED Executive Director Stephen McInerney.
Abdel Fattah, arrested by Egyptian authorities in 2008 for her activism on Facebook, is a co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement. When protests in January and February swept Hosni Mubarak from power, she updated Al-Jazeera and audiences online as events unfolded.
In March, Abdel Fattah met in Cairo with Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and asked that America’s relationship with Egypt take on a new dimension.
“I told her that we need to have a balanced, new relationship, between the government and with the people, with civil society,” Abdel Fattah said. “If we open the dialogue with the government we should always open a dialogue with people, with civil society.”
During the panel discussion, Abdel Fattah said that other Arab countries will experience popular revolutions in the coming years and that she hopes America will stand with the people.
“Please don’t wait until you know that the revolution will be a success,” Abdel Fattah said. “If you really support the actual principles of democracy and freedom as it is in your country, then support international efforts and don’t wait to take the side of leaders or the side of the people.”
With parliamentary elections scheduled for September of this year, Abdel Fattah said Egyptian political parties need to organize quickly.
“The people in Egypt stayed for more than 30 years without any political participation,” she said, adding that time is needed to further educate Egyptians on the electoral process. “The main challenge to us is the very short time.”
The Muslim Brotherhood, considered by observers among the most organized groups in Egyptian politics, is showing signs of fracturing, Abdel Fattah said. Groups new to politics may try to take advantage of this in the coming months.
“I heard that there are a lot of struggles between them and a lot of conflicts,” Abdel Fattah said about the Brotherhood. “Leaders among them have resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood, and I think that we can use these struggles in a perfect way to have more seats in the next Parliament.”
Quranists, who hold the Quran as the only sacred text in Islam, may play an important role in the country’s future political life, Abdel Fattah said. She explained that Quranists separate religion from politics.
“We need the Quraniyeen that are in Egypt to convince people to separate between religion and the political life,” she said. “You can cooperate with us in understanding [the difference] in being religious and using religion in political campaigns.”
Discussion participants raised concerns that Egyptians are spending too much time on developing political systems and not enough time on building the economy. Abdel Fattah said steps are under way to develop economic policies to benefit all levels of society.
“The people in my new liberal party are trying to make a tour to other governments outside Egypt to make conferences, to meet with people, to try to discuss with them the new liberal programs,” Abdel Fattah said.
Among the current economic challenges, Abdel Fattah said, is finding a way to return stability to the country. She said international assistance is needed to train Egyptian police forces.
“How can we train the security? How can we train them to respect people, to protect them under the law?” Abdel Fattah said. “Security will lead to more investment in Egypt, increase projects and leading [to] improvements in the economic situation.”
Abdel Fattah said Egyptian political activists continue to use social media to organize and express their opinions, as they did in opposition to Mubarak, but will explore other avenues of communication. As press freedoms improve, she said, Egyptian activists need to adapt to a new environment.
“We need to learn how we can use the traditional media as we learned the social media,” Abdel Fattah said. “We need to be on TV; we need to reach people through our own programs.”
Brownlee, an associate professor specializing in Egypt at the University of Texas at Austin, praised Abdel Fattah for her democratization efforts.
“I want to add my awe and admiration to what everyone else has said about your work, Esraa, and what has been accomplished this year,” Brownlee said. “I look forward to any way that folks can support you … especially by raising awareness here in the United States.”