Al-Ahram Weekly Online   8 - 14 September 2005
Issue No. 759
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Enough is still enough

What are Kifaya's options following Mubarak's election, asks Amira Howeidy

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JUDGING JUDGES: All eyes were on Cairo Judges Club chairman Zakareya Abdel-Aziz on Friday (left); on Sunday, the media and opposition movements crowd a courtroom where a battle on election rules

At a press conference on Sunday the Egyptian Movement for Change, otherwise known as Kifaya, pledged to continue its struggle against a stagnant political establishment following Hosni Mubarak's all but inevitable victory in the 7 September presidential elections.

"Our battle will actually begin on 8 September," said Kifaya's coordinator George Ishak.

Kifaya's oft-chanted slogan, "no to extension no to hereditary succession", is more relevant than ever, said spokesman Abdel-Halim Qandil. "The amendment of Article 76 of the constitution was tailored for Mubarak, and after him for his son. The danger [of Gamal Mubarak succeeding to the presidency] is more real than ever."

Kifaya, formed last autumn, staged the first ever anti-Mubarak demonstration last December in downtown Cairo, paving the way for a series of demonstrations and events protesting the president's attempts to seek a fifth term. Before December public opposition to the president was unheard of and the regime, helped by a 24- year-old Emergency Law which the opposition claims has stifled freedom of expression and meaningful political participation, had shown little inclination to tolerate any form of organised dissent. Kifaya managed to break the "Mubarak taboo". It may not be a small victory to have notched up but it appears to be Kifaya's only triumph to date.

For several months now Kifaya's leaders had promised a campaign of mass "civil disobedience" in an attempt to bring pressure to force an end to Mubarak's rule. They promised a series of rallies to mobilise public opinion and help bring about a strong opposition network capable of pressing the regime into modifying the constitution.

It didn't happen. Attendance at anti- Mubarak demonstrations -- two of which were violently attacked by security forces -- was limited to a few hundred. Kifaya's attempts to hold a political rally in July were also hampered by the authorities, which refused to allow either hotels or the Press Syndicate to host the event.

Political analysts, along with other groups working for reform, now wonder what the future can hold for the movement given that it has failed to achieve its raison d'être and prevent Mubarak's re-election.

The sudden flurry of activity in the week before election day -- Friday's demonstration supporting judges in their demand for full supervision of the elections, Kifaya's press conference on Sunday, the first ever public demonstration by Children for Change on Monday and a host of statements calling for the elections to be boycotted -- was intended to sound a defiant note. It was defiance, though, that seems to many to have more than a hint of desperation.

Wael Khalil, a Kifaya activist, disagrees. There is no reason, he told Al-Ahram Weekly, to assume that dissent has failed. "We didn't win but neither were we unsuccessful. Think back a year ago. Today the authorities are at least paying lip service to reform."

But there is, Khalil concedes, "room for criticism and reassessment".

"The movement should have been more active outside the capital, should have tried harder to hold public rallies and link political issues with socio-economic ones. In retrospect," said Khalil, "the movement should have taken on board the needs and demands voiced by the people. It didn't do so which explains -- to some degree -- why people were watching rather than joining us." But there have been "lots of gains" including, he says, the emergence of Youth for Change, a Kifaya-affiliate that has proven to be more audacious than its mother group.

"There are fears over the movement's future after the elections and they're valid," Khalil added, "but the existence of Kifaya and other movements for change is a reaction to persistent political and social problems." And they will not disappear overnight.

Egypt's estimated 30,000 political detainees constitute one such problem, publicised by Monday's Children for Change demonstration. Several dozen children, aged between 5 and 16, staged the first ever demonstration by children in Egypt, demanding the release of political prisoners on the footsteps of the prosecutor-general's headquarters in downtown Cairo.

"We want our smiles back, we want our detained fathers back" read one placard.

"All four of my uncles have been in detention for the past 14 years without trial," Hoda Ezzeddin, 13, told the Weekly. "I'm here because I feel bad for my cousins. Maybe when the authorities see children suffering they'll do something about it."

"We want to live in a free country and be free people" and "We need our detained fathers, return them to us" read other placards held by members of the group which was formed last month by Mohamed El-Kazzaz, 13, following the brief arrest of his father, university professor Yehia El-Kazzaz, during a Kifaya demonstration in July.

Critics of the movement have ridiculed the group, saying it should not be taken seriously. But the children posing for TV cameras and journalists on Monday clearly meant business.

"Why is it that when we object to Mubarak because he detains people without trial we're ridiculed as immature? TV shows are filled with children telling Mr and Mrs Mubarak that they love them no body treats it as a joke," said 10-year-old Iman Abdallah.

"The state has a big problem to deal with," said Yehia Kazzaz, who joined his son in the demonstration. "These are the future generations. Who stole their innocence? Why aren't they playing instead of demonstrating?"

Political detainees remain just one among a host of problems -- including poverty, unemployment, corruption and political repression -- forming the backdrop to Mubarak's re-election. Since they will not vanish into thin air, and can no longer be brushed beneath the carpet, then political dissent will continue to be voiced, and loudly.

Kifaya's next phase of action will focus on contesting the legality and fairness of the 7 September vote, but that is not going to be the end of the story. "The situation in Egypt is complicated. The political establishment has been entrenched for years but there are numerous brave and resilient movements and groups out there determined to change that," says Khalil.

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