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Political Issues in the Transition to Democracy in Egypt. Part 1

Posted on the 11 April 2011 by Warigia @WarigiaBowman
Dear readers
These are my notes from a really amazing lecture I attended at the American University in Cairo, Tahrir Campus. The lecture was held on Tuesday, March 29, 2011. These lectures are part of the Tahrir Dialogue Series were sponsored by the AUC School of Global Affairs and Public Policy  and the Konrad Adenauer Stiftung. The speakers included Dr. Ibrahim Awad (Director of the Center of Migration and Refugee Services at AUC),  Dr. Nevine Mossaad (Institute of Arab Research and Studies Cairo University), Dr. Ibrahim El Issawy (National Planning Institute, People's Alliance Party), Dr. Amr El Shobaky (Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies) and Dr. Samer Soliman (AUC and Social Democratic Party). Simultaneous translation was provided. [] means I am adding in my own summary or interpretation, or pointing to something I may have left out. Any errors in transcription are my own. WMB 
Ibrahim Awad: Regarding the transition to democracy, there are a number of questions concerning the political parties law. Who was consulted in drafting this law? Is three to five months enough to create new parties?
Ibrahim Issawy: Actually, I want to talk about an economic angle. After this optimishm that we enjoyed for a few days after Mubarak left, after a short time we had the constitutional amendments. Some were confused, so appeared not to vote. Some said it was a religious duty [to vote]. People were victims []. Article 2 was not part of the referendum, but people were told to vote on it. They told us that there was going to be a dialogue. No one contacted me. Nothing was arranged. This banning of demonstrations. Why? We should have a dialogue. This insistence makes us worried and suspicious. The idea here is that what we see now is restoring the old law. Also, the military council was given a note [?]. Referendum, new constitution. Why are we wasting our time? Why should we go for--we need more time. If the military people are in a hurry [to get back to their duties] we can have a technocratic caretaker government. [We need the] formation of a committee for amendments. The legal personnel [appointed by the SCAF] were not specialized in Constitutional Law. Too much weight was given to the Muslim Brotherhood [on the committee].
The slogans of the revolution were economic.
1) Change, freedom, social justice
2) Bread, freedom, human dignity
Democracy is a tool to get to these objectives. We need a more even distribution of wealth. We want the whole system to come down. Not destroy the state, but redesign the state. The New Prime Minister said we are not going back "on free economy [?]." I think that this is just a way to reassure investors. What is the Egyptian economy going to be like.
In the short term, urgent steps are needed to bridge the economic gap. It is important to have a multi-phase program to deal with problems. Students want to get rid of the leadership that enslaved people for a long time. [missed some words] One is making 10 million Egyptian pounds a month, one is making 150 Egyptian pounds a month. We see this in banks. We can redistribute income and improve lower wages. Regarding minimum wage-let;s take some measure. Make people feel assured. Lets take from the millionaires. Improve services. Create investment opportunities. Right now there is no tax for capital profits. Maybe we can divide one big company into smaller ones. Investors want stability. In the previous period we lacked planning. They lacked a ministry for planning. There are clear ways to coordinate between sectors.
Ibrahim Awad: The economy is part of political life. The revolution succeeded because the victims reconsidered their doubts [Not sure about this].
Nevine Mossaad: I will talk about some points in brief. Are we actors or reactors? The relationship between three parties: The people, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and the religious powers. We were not consulted by SCAF on the amendments or the coming elections. When some of us had some reservations, we were told we wanted to delay stability. Mubarak stated this for 30 years, If what we wanted was stability, why did we have a revolution? We are not actors, we are reacting. The law of political parties was imposed on us. The national dialogue, I was invited to it, but it was not set for a sepcific date. How serious is it if no preparation is made? No, we will choose speakers according to their importance. No one has mentioned anything to us, and the dialogue is supposed to start tomorrow. {I am not sure if this dialogue took place. I will have to check} You have not prepared the files for the speakers.
We are invited to discuss the political parties law. But we don't have a trade union law. Law 100 has been annulled. Some people in the trade unions and syndicates drove away their leadership by force. Part of the civil society is not well organizaed. We need to prepare for ILO {International Labor Organization}. Some of the provisions in the political parties law: it is not allowed to have a political party on the basis of religion or race. Why don't we establish a political party for the workers as a class? Don't the workers matter? How can the MB be a member of another party if he is from a religious group. Annull Article 3.
The relationship between religious organizations and civil society. Why do we have to have a committee to approve political parties. It is an obstacel. There is a short time between the April and September elections. Who has the power to organize these large numbers. Collect 5000 signatures form 10 governorates in a short period of time. I have serious reservations about the political parties law. Egyptians want to form new parties, We need to form NGOs. One party wants to establish development programs.
Samr Soliman: He is with the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. He is a leftist. On the one hand we have trade union freedom, but protesters do not have the right to speak. The nature of this transitional period is important. I am not here as an academic, but as the founder of a new party. 1) People must be held accountable 2) We must be able to form civilian parties.
It is natural what is happening in Egypt. It is difficult to have a revolutionary government. We could have a coalition government, but the opposition is splintered. I think that party of the old regime is trying to get rid of a different part of the old regime.
The military is leading the transition. They could have gotten rid of the Constitution completely. But people are tired. We have lost momentum. The pressure should continue to keep the gains of the revolution and to clean the system. {Editors note, this talk given before the events of April 9th}. Look at the military police. Sometimes they are very violent for no reason. There are cases of torture. The committee making amendments was not elected. In fact, the committee was very imbalanced.  Bad luck. The 2d article was not part of the referendum. What is really worrying and scary about the amendments is that people with a double nationality or people with a foreign wife or husband cannot be president.
We need peaceful pressure to follow the right path. We have a problem. There is no political life for the last thirty years, and suddenly we have elections in September, yet there are no political parties. 1) forgery 2) violence 3) mney 4) groupings want to be represented. We have to pressure the transitional authority. We have to build political parties, work, join, volunteer. For the first time in years, people have an appetite for politics. Thousands of people have come to us {the SDP}. Middle aged and young. People have lots of ideas, social justice and democracy. bread, democracy, humanity and dignity. These were the goals of the revolution. The religious trend is gaining. Some times they give bribes like good supplies. We cannot do that. We have to respect people's political rights [not bribe them]. We need to talk to them about education and opportunities.
Ibrahim Awad: Dr. Samr said part of the old regime has moved away the most corrupt people. What is your opinion about the political parties law?
Amr El Shobawky: I am more optimistic than what my dear friend Dr. Nevine said. This optimism means that the transition to democracy is difficult. The late transition did not eradicate the old regime as occurred in revolutions in France, Russia and Iran. The Egyptian institution was not prepared for this. The Egyptian Revolution got up to 12 million people in one day. They did not eradicate the old regime. So I don't think we are an exception. One half of the Eastern Europeand countries were transformed by arrangements [at the end of the Cold War]. The camel battle has its precedent in Argentina. This is a good start we can build on in the future, In 2003, there was a change in Iraq. Iraq is a rich country. It has oil. But the starting point for the revolution in Egypt should be better than that in Iraq. The relationship between the people and the army: mutial respect will open horizons. In Portugal there was a coup d'etat and this opened the path to democracy.
(more this afternoon. 12:43 p.m. WMB)

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