The Upstart Versus the Army

Amr Hamzawy speaks on panel about the revolution in Egypt.

On the eve of the first parliamentary elections in Egypt since the downfall of the Mubarak regime, Egyptians stood divided. The final week of November was blighted by the death of over 40 people and the wounding of more than two thousand protesters and security officials in protests that were spurred by a peaking frustration with the rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. They were calling for a handover of power from the Military Council to civilians. It was a demand coming from wide ranging interests but largely youth, liberals and secular parties who disapproved of the appointment of Kamal Ganzouri as the Prime Minister. On the other side of the frustrated Egyptian populus were those anxious for settlement, prepared to accept military control if it meant a quick resolution to the country's economic crisis and unknown political future as well Islamist parties, confident in their first round of results, eager to hold the elections as scheduled.

Among them. Dr. Amr Hamzawy, a Professor of Political Science at the University of Cairo, watched the bloody events unfold in Tahrir Square in November's uprising, dubbed by some as the Revolution Round Two.

As a frontline advocate for Egypt’s youth revolutionary movements and the withdrawal of the military from power in favour of handing over Egypt’s affairs to a civilian authority, he is a popular figure who has shot to the front of the story on Egyptian and Arab satellite channels during the revolution as a member of the Committee of Wise Men established to mediate between anti-Mubarak demonstrators and the government. On the eve of the legislative elections, in which he ran for and won the authority to represent the Cairo suburb of Heliopolis as the candidate from the Masr Al-Hureyya party - a party inspired by the 25 January Revolution, he spoke to Al Majalla about what comes next for Egypt.

A Critical Moment

Q: First, as a Professor of Political Science, and second as a political activist, what is your analysis of the reasons behind what is happening in Egypt now?

A: We are facing a historic moment where the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, which is charged with the mission of running Egypt’s political affairs until authority can pass on to an elected president, has lost its legitimacy. Politically speaking, the Council entered a pact with the Egyptian people with two main conditions: the protection of the lives of the Egyptian people and the swift transition of power to a civilian authority. Both these conditions have not been fulfilled until today, which is what has cost the Military Council its legitimacy. In addition, a number of mistakes have rendered the basic demands of the revolution unattainable. No further steps were taken, either in the field of political freedoms or in social justice. Not to mention the restraints applied to the media and the military trials of civilians, which started a new crisis.

Q: Aside from the conspiracy theory, do you believe that there are active authorities and entities behind the scenes that aim to abort the Egyptian Revolution and to place discord between the people and the police?

A: I do not have any information on this matter, and those who do possess such information should make it public. Generally speaking, these speculations are not to be disregarded. Naturally, every revolution goes through a phase of momentous change while internal and external entities make attempts at influencing that change.

The main responsibility falls on the first steps taken by the security forces, especially when they always resort to unjustifiable violence. This leads to counter-violence, which then escalates, leading us to where we are now. There is no doubt that the country’s administration, i.e. the Military Council, should accept responsibility for the absence of sound political administration.

We are now at a critical moment ,which takes us back to a similar political moment at the scene of the January Revolution. This also reflects the conflict between the Egyptian public and those conducting the event. However, there is a group of the public, outside the circle of conflict, who are in opposition to those who are involved in the conflict .

The Army and the People

Q: Do you not believe that the situation in Egypt today is different to that of the Revolution, where the Army was in support, the thing that is lacking in today’s events which is also quite unsettling? Do you anticipate that these recent events are but an introduction to a possible clash between the Army and the Egyptian people?

A: The army is not in a conflict with the people. The political struggle in Egypt is between the political administration that runs the country, i.e. the Military Council, and the public. As a result of the administration’s failure to take crucial and decisive decisions, especially in regards to protecting the lives of the protesters and holding those responsible for the offenses accountable, there is on-going conflict. The Egyptians could not sense a genuine path that the Council is leading towards political solutions, which caused the conflict in the first instance. However, the public will never be in conflict with the Armed Forces. I am certain that the matter could be resolved by transferring the authority given to the Military Council to a national relief authority, while the Council maintains its political presence until a civilian president is elected.

The Elections

Q: Why did you choose to nominate yourself for the parliamentary elections, but not the presidential one?

A: I favoured this as a first step in an attempt to build a model constituency for development in the country. I have also clearly identified the weaknesses of this constituency.

Another reason for standing in the parliamentary elections is my love for Egypt. My desire is to take part in the country’s development and to uphold a constitution that guarantees people freedom, social justice and a secular state—the opposite approach to religious and military states.

Q: Would you reveal the funding sources for your electoral campaign?

A: Most of my funds are donations from family members, businessmen and citizens in the constituency, as well as members of the campaign.

Q: What are the main items on your electoral agenda?

A: Devising a new constitution for a secular state, ensuring equal rights for all, safeguarding the principles of freedom and the public’s interests, advocating individual initiatives, committing to the principles of Islamic Sharia Law and considering them the main source of inspiration for legislation. We also want to urge a triangle of development, which is based on a partnership amongst community initiatives, the private sector, and the state. This will aid in implementing solutions to the various problems in the constituency. I believe in the importance of this tripartite relationship, especially at this moment in time.

Q: Was your campaign for the parliament the reason behind you turning down a number of offers of ministerial posts after the revolution?

A: Indeed. I refused the post of Minister of Youth in the government of Ahmed Shafik in February 2011. I also turned down a similar offer by the government of Essam Sharaf at a later date, following a meeting with the head of the caretaker government. However, these refusals are not associated with the elections, but with my belief that ministers should not be appointed but rather, elected.

Egyptians Abroad

Q: Some disapprove of your candidacy on the grounds that you have dual nationality. What is your response to those criticisms?

A: First, all the requirements for candidacy apply to me. I am an Egyptian national, born to Egyptian parents, and I completed my military service in the ground forces. Second, owing to my belief that I would be exposed to sensitive information or become a member of a committee that deals issues related to national security, I voluntarily renounced my German citizenship before I submitted my application for the candidacy.

Post script: In addition to being a member of Egypt's Legislative Assembly, Amr Hamzawy holds a Doctorate from the Free University of Berlin, a Masters’ degree from the Institute of Social Studies, a Masters’ degree from the University of Amsterdam and a Bachelors’ degree from the University of Cairo his research focuses on the crises of democratic transition in the Arab World and the impact of social uprising movements on authoritarian regimes. He is the author of several books, including Between Religion and Politics (2010) and Human Rights in the Arab World: Independent Voices (2005).

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