The writers' revolution
Egyptian intellectuals and leftists have been staging demonstrations to press for protecting rights and freedoms, Ahmed Morsy reports
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Men of letters protested outside the Shura Council demanding "a civil constitution"
Over 5,000 protesters staged a demonstration at downtown Cairo's Talaat Harb Square on Friday evening to press for five demands and against the Brotherhoodisation or Muslim Brotherhood domination of state institutions. The protest, which toured the streets downtown for several hours, included leftist parties such as Al-Tagammu, the Egyptian Socialist Party, the Kifaya movement and the Socialist Popular Alliance Party as well as revolutionary socialists and activists.
On Sunday, 200 Egyptian writers and intellectuals gathered outside the Shura Council in downtown Cairo demanding "a civil constitution", and stressing that the country's draft constitution must guarantee civil freedoms and represent Egypt's broad diversity. The protest was planned mainly by the "Constitution for All Egyptians" campaign and the National Committee for Defending Freedom of Expression and Creativity, which both consist of intellectuals, writers and artists.
"The demonstration is supported by the Writers Union of Egypt, the Egyptian Creativity Front, Egypt's Society of Writers, and the Press Syndicate, along with the country's acting and film associations," Yehia Qallash, spokesman of the National Committee for Defending Freedom of Expression and Creativity, said during Sunday's protest. "Today's protesters express fears and concerns regarding the public freedoms in the constitution currently being drafted, especially freedom of expression and creativity."
Qallash justified such fears by reference to the manner in which the assembly for drafting Egypt's new constitution was formed, with an Islamist majority, posing many questions about the content. Such concerns are reflected in Egyptian liberal and secular forces as well -- strict Islamic law, it is feared, might be imposed in Egypt; that is not what the revolution was about.
The assembly's way of working is almost public relations oriented because at first they held more than one listening session with some intellectuals and artists who should have been partners in drafting the constitution. Yet the leaked articles came out dissimilar to what had been agreed on.
The Shura Council protesters raised banners rejecting the religious constitutional reading and calling for a constitution for all Egyptians. "Oh constitution, we need equality. All the religions are for God," they chanted.
The Press Syndicate deputy Gamal Fahmi was among the protesters, stressing that it was neither the first nor last sit-in demanding "a civil constitution": "One goal gathered all of us to protect public freedom in every form. We believe that the public freedoms are currently threatened even more than they were during the old regime. One of the main revolutionary goals, freedom, is currently under threat. Thus, coordination and cooperation between all the entities of Egyptian society are needed for achieving the revolutionary goals which are basic public rights and freedoms, freedom of expression, thought and creativity."
The drafting of a new constitution has been a highly divisive issue in Egypt since last year's uprising, which ousted long-standing authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak. Similar to Fahmi's opinion, Bahiga Hussein, a journalist in Al-Ahaly weekly newspaper, also demands a constitution that guarantees intellectual, economic and health rights: "I believe that the assembly writing the constitution won't produce a civil draft and it won't grant freedoms for all Egyptians but instead will only impose oppression and repression. Therefore we will continue our pressure tactics so as not to let the present assembly freely write what it wishes."
To avoid conflict, novelist Sayed El-Wakil required a clearer representation for intellectuals in the constitution drafting committee. El-Wakil said, "we also need the constitution's articles to be written clearly in order to avoid possible misinterpretations of the problems Egyptians might face."
Assurances that the constitution will guarantee freedoms for all and will sustain the civil identity of the country were lately announced by the spokesperson of the constitution writing assembly, Wahid Abdel-Meguid. In addition, he emphasised that there is a strong tendency towards offering a constitutional guarantee for the preservation of economic and social rights.
Asked why there is no trust in response to such assurances, former chairman of the Press Syndicate, member of the Supreme Press Council and columnist Galal Aref said, "there is a dispute within the assembly and therefore the assurances are not guaranteed. We have to exercise pressure to have equilibrium in the coming constitution. There is no democracy without freedom of thought."
Egypt's Prime Minister Hisham Qandil said Egypt will have a new constitution drafted by the end of September, which will be submitted to a nationwide referendum, according to Egypt's MENA state news agency. Nevertheless, he did not specify a date for the referendum.
The assembly has made quick progress with the writing of the constitution, spurred on by the postponement of a lawsuit calling for its dissolution.
On the other hand, regarding Friday's march in Talaat Harb Square, Kamal Khalil, founder of the Workers Democratic Party, who initially called for the protests, led the demonstrators through downtown Cairo, passing the High Judiciary House onto Tahrir Square before finally marching to Talaat Harb Square.
The protesters' five demands were: raising the minimum wage to LE1,500; releasing all those imprisoned under sentences of military courts; rejecting the proposed International Monetary Fund (IMF) loan; and refusing a safe exit to former Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Chairman Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi and his deputy Lieutenant General Sami Anan, who should be tried for the killing of protesters under their rule.
Leading the protest, Khalil was seen carried on the shoulders of recently released political prisoner Sambo, arrested during the Mohamed Mahmoud Street clashes, after which he spent over a year in military detention.
"Initial calls were made for a million-man march," Khalil said. "However, certain revolutionary powers suggested that we had better not call for a million-man protest until Mursi's first 100 days of rule are over."
Khalil refused to identify those revolutionary powers to avoid any form of "categorisation" but also took issue with calling the demonstration "a leftist protest": "The protest was not a leftist protest; it is the protest of revolutionaries, and the left is only one part of those revolutionaries." Whoever claims that this protest is leftist only aims to isolate it from the people. Yet the protesters chanted and waved both Egyptian and red flags. "The left is rising, from the streets and factories," they chanted.
Abdel-Ghaffar Shokr, head of the Social Popular Alliance Party, agreed on the five-point petition, insisting that all participants in the protest have the same demands. "I believe that the protest is a crucial step in building a cohesive opposition," he said over the phone. "Among the demands, we reject the IMF loan since there have been extensive debates on IMF funds, and their economic benefits. It would bury Egypt in debt and harm it economically and politically."
Last month, Egypt requested a $4.8 billion loan during a Cairo meeting between President Mohamed Mursi and the fund's chief Christine Lagarde. Nonetheless, since the ouster of former president Hosni Mubarak, activists have been campaigning under the banner "Drop Egypt's Debt", raising awareness about the likely consequences of an IMF loan, which they argue would only work to impoverish Egyptians.
The leftist assault on the Brotherhood's Mursi for accepting the loan triggered a backlash from the Freedom and Justice Party's acting chairman Essam El-Erian a week ago, accusing leftists on Twitter of receiving foreign funding, being anti-religion and looking down on the people, and claiming that these are the reasons for their failure. "Where is El-Erian, the left is here," chanted some protesters. "Bread, freedom, social justice! The revolution still continues."
For his part, Shokr emphasised that "this isn't a continuation of the 24 August protests and we as revolutionaries do not mix our cards. The latter was called for by elements that had supported former presidential hopeful Ahmed Shafik who only took to the streets to protest against the Brotherhood. They have allied themselves with SCAF."