Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 - 29 June 2005
Issue No. 748
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

As calls for reform grow increasingly loud a new space is being carved out for dissenting voices. Amira Howeidy takes stock of the dynamics of the movement, its historic context, key players and growth

A chronology of dissent:|2000|2002|2003|2004|2005|


A chronology of dissent

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ANTI-WAR ROOTS: Demonstrators occupy Cairo's Tahrir Square on 20 March, 2003

September -- November 2000

INTIFADA: The second Intifada begins, overshadowing the run up to the November parliamentary elections in Egypt. The killing of nine-year-old Palestinian Mohamed Al-Durra by Israeli snipers is captured on TV triggering massive demonstrations.

Students renounce their decade-long political apathy and stage demonstrations across the country despite the 19-year-old Emergency Law which strictly prohibits street demonstrations.

Twenty NGOs and individuals establish the Egyptian Popular Committee in Solidarity with the Intifada (EPCSI) to collect financial donations and blood for the Palestinians. Founding members include Ahmed Bahaaeddin Shaaban, a left-leaning intellectual, Farid Zahran, a publisher, Adel El-Mashad, an engineer, Aida Seif El-Dawla, a professor of psychiatry and Suzanne Fayyad, also a psychiatrist.

March - September 2001 : Sit-ins and hunger strikes in professional unions, schools and NGOs protest Israeli brutality and "Arab acquiescence". Popular committees in solidarity with the Intifada proliferate.

EPCSI organises its first demonstration in Tahrir Square to condemn US support for Israel.


April - May

In response to a new wave of Israeli attacks against Palestinians, student demonstrations sweep Egyptian universities. Large-scale demonstrations erupt again following Israel's invasion of Ramallah . Protests peak on 1 April in front of Cairo University when a large demonstration, with the participation of intellectuals, journalists, actors, filmmakers and politicians is attacked by anti-riot police as they try to march to the Israeli Embassy. The university student and political activists demonstrations is joined by students from nearby highschools.

Anti-Israel demonstrations at Alexandria University spill from the campus to the street. Police open fire, killing 20-year-old Mohamed El-Saqa on 9 April. Approximately 260 students are injured in what was dubbed the "Egyptian Intifada".

14 October: Mohamed Hassanein Heikal voices the first public opposition to rumours that Gamal Mubarak is being groomed to succeed his father at an AUC lecture aired live on Dream TV. Republics, he argued, do not allow for the inheritance of power. It was his last appearance on Egyptian TV.

18-19 December: The first Cairo anti-war conference is organised by the Egyptian Popular Campaign to Confront US Aggression (EPCCUA), a broad coalition of Egyptian activists, including ECSPI, and intellectuals. International anti-globalists and anti-war figures such as Ramsey Clark, Hans von Sponeck and Denis Halliday attend the conference. It is the first such closing of ranks between international and regional activists in an Arab capital. Ashraf El-Bayoumi, a chemistry professor who served in the UN oil for food programme, and his wife Soheir Morsi, a professor of medical anthropology, emerge as the catalysts of the event and its future rounds.

2003: ANTI-WAR

January-February: Small anti-war demonstrations begin in Cairo then slowly spread across Egypt. Links between the situation in Iraq, Palestine and Egypt are reiterated in slogans chanted during demonstrations -- "Baghdad is Cairo, Jerusalem is Cairo" and "We want Egypt to be free, life has become bitter."

March: 20-21 March: A few hours after the first military strike on Iraq by the US-UK led alliance demonstrations sweep central Cairo. Approximately 20,000 Egyptians occupy Tahrir Square.

Demonstrations are banned the following day and approximately 800 demonstrators -- including two MPs, Hamdeen Sabahi and Mohamed Farid Hasanein -- are arrested. A peaceful sit-in at the Bar Association is broken up by plainclothes policemen armed with truncheons.

In response to a speech by president Hosni Mubarak on the eve of the war in which he blamed the crisis on Saddam Hussein, 29 intellectuals, including former judge Tarek El-Bishry and writer Fahmy Howeidy, issue a statement expressing their "disagreement" with the president's position on the war. It is the first direct public criticism of the president by name. This is followed by a longer statement signed by counsellor Zakaria Ahmed Abdel-Aziz, the president of the Judges Club, on behalf of Egypt's judges blaming the current crisis on "corrupt" Arab regimes and calling on all Arab and Islamic governments to "announce their animosity" towards the coalition leading the war, "especially the US".

May : Gamal Mubarak's rising public profile triggers debate on his political ambitions. Eight political parties form a national front for "urgent" political reform that includes electing the president and lifting the emergency law.

July : Inspired by the 20 March anti-war demonstrations in central Cairo activists from the anti-war and the Palestine solidarity movement form The 20 March Popular Campaign for Change. "Struggle against despotism and dictatorship" and "No to extension, no to hereditary succession" are adopted as slogans.

27-28 September : Demonstrations marking the third anniversary of the Intifada turn into anti-government protests.

October : Novelist Sonallah Ibrahim turns down a state prize. The award, he says, "is presented by a government lacking the credibility that makes [its prizes] worth receiving".

December : Egyptian and international anti- war and anti-globlisation activists organise the second Cairo anti-war conference which emphasises the link between imperialism and dictatorship.

Al-Arabi, mouthpiece of the Nasserist Party, begins the first newspaper campaign against Gamal Mubarak's rumoured succession.



September : The 20 March Movement for Change, the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood, the outlawed Communist Party, the would-be Al-Karama Movement Party and the Hisham Mubarak Law Centre (HMLC) are among the 15 organisations that launch the "Popular Movement for Change" with the slogan "no to renewal, no to hereditary succession, yes to electing the president of the republic".

The NDP Policy Secretariat, headed by Gamal Mubarak, emerges as a leading force at the end of the party's second annual congress.

10 October: Tarek El-Bishri, former judge and leading historian, publishes "A call for civil disobedience", a widely read article which The Egyptian Movement for Change (Kifaya) later adopts.

2 November : Abdel-Halim Qandil, editor-in-chief of the Nasserist Party mouthpiece Al-Arabi, is beaten then left naked on the Suez Desert Road.

12 December : Kifaya organises the first ever anti-Mubarak demonstration in central Cairo. 300-400 protestors hold yellow stickers over their mouths emblazoned with the word "Enough".

2005: KIFAYA

January : President Mubarak accuses unspecified foreign powers of allocating $70 million to fund campaigns demanding constitutional amendments.

Al-Ghad Party leader Ayman Nour is arrested on charges of forging party membership applications. Three reform activists are arrested for distributing invitations to an anti- Mubarak demonstration.

4, 21 February : The Egyptian Movement for Change (Kifaya) and the Popular Campaign for Change hold the second anti- Mubarak demonstration at the Cairo International Book Fair. The third Kifaya demonstration is held in front of Cairo University.

26 February: President Mubarak calls on parliament to take up his suggestion to amend Article 76 of the constitution to allow for the first ever multi-candidate presidential elections.

March : The Muslim Brotherhood takes to the streets of central Cairo demanding political reform. Anti-government demonstrations continue for two consecutive weeks in Egyptian universities.

Misr Digital (, the first independent political digital newspaper, is launched. Over the months to come it becomes the main source of information on the activities of the expanding movement for change.

15 April : At an emergency general assembly of the Alexandria Judges Club 1,200 judges threaten to withdraw their supervision of presidential and parliamentary elections unless they are guaranteed independence and full control of all stages of elections.

A group of university professors, the 9 March Movement for the Independence of Universities, stage a silent demonstration on 19 April demanding and end to security and state control of Egyptian universities.

The group's members include assistant professor of mathematics Laila Souef, professor of obstetrics and gynaecology and writer Mohamed Aboul-Ghar and political science professor Mustafa Kamel El-Sayed.

May: Youth for Change is formed by a group of seven members of Kifaya. The group came to light when two of its members were arrested on the eve of the 25 May referendum. According to Hani El-A'sar, 24, one of the group's founders and a journalist at the independent weekly Al-Dostour, the group, an off-shoot of Kifaya, seeks to draw attention to problems such as unemployment and housing that effect young people.

The Muslim Brotherhood holds several pro-reform demonstrations in Cairo and other towns. The police arrest 900 Muslim Brothers, including leading Brotherhood figure, Essam El-Erian. Tareq Mahdi, one of the group's members, dies after security forces attack a demonstration in Mansoura.

Workers for Change is formed by a group of government workers and employees in the public sector. Their spokesman, Kamal Abu Eitta, says the group wants an "independent" union to represent them.

13 May: 2,500 judges -- members of the Judges Club -- announce they will not supervise September's presidential elections unless the government amends the law to guarantee their independence.

19 May: 2,000 university teachers issue a statement announcing their boycott of the constitutional referendum.

25 May : A peaceful demonstration organised by Kifaya against the constitutional referendum is attacked by thugs under the protection of anti-riot police and NDP officials. Women are sexually molested and beaten. The scandal triggers shock-waves and an angry counter campaign demanding the resignation of the interior minister, and for NDP officials and police officers responsible to be tried.

Cairo University lecturer Heba Raouf, 40, forms the Association for Egyptian Mothers. The group calls for solidarity with the victims of the referendum attacks and on 1 June the steps of the Press Syndicate are crammed with hundreds of individuals, mostly women, dressed in black and demanding justice for the victims. Ghada Shahbandar, 43-year-old English language professor and mother of four, forms the National Apology Campaign which demands a public apology from state and police officials. The campaign gets no apology but distributes 5,000 white ribbons.

2 June: Several women and rights groups organise The Street is Ours political rally at the Press Syndicate. The majority of speakers are women who talk of their experiences and suffering at police hands and emphasise that the street belongs to Egyptian citizens.

4 June: Former ministers and public figures launch The National Coalition for Democratic Change. Former Prime Minister Aziz Sedqi says the movement aims to provide a link between the public and the regime, unlike Kifaya which demands the change of the political establishment altogether. The group's spokesmen is the editor of Al-Osbou' newspaper Mustafa Bakri.

Following a meeting which included, among others, poet Ahmed Fouad Negm, novelists Baha Taher and Mohamed El-Bosati, Negm announces the formation of Writers for Change.

6 June: The National Apology Campaign becomes a civil monitoring group, " " (we can see you), which announces its intention to monitor the run up to presidential and parliamentary elections. The group is about to kick off its campaign by distributing thousands of badges, stickers, banners and pins demanding the "empowering of people for a better political environment."

Journalists for Change -- a group of 50 journalists -- is formed by Al-Ahram journalist Karem Yehia and demands greater press freedom, the lifting of the emergency law and the annulment of laws that imprison journalists.

8 June: Kifaya is joined by other political groups at an impressive candle-lit vigil at the mausoleum of early Twentieth Century Egyptian national leader Saad Zaghloul to commemorate the victims of the referendum day violence. Some 2,000 people turn up to what is described as the most organised and impressive demonstration by the reform movement to date. On the same evening Al-Ghad launches the first online independent radio station.

As "Wednesday functions" become a tradition, a group of young activists, including Youth for Change and the Popular Campaign for Change, stage a demonstration at the Sayeda Zeinab Mosque in Islamic Cairo. They sweep the mosque floor and call on the prophet's granddaughter to help fight injustice. The deliberately humorous play on a symbolic folkloric tradition was aimed at directing their message to the security apparatus.

Doctors for change, an initiative of Naglaa El-Qalyoubi -- the wife of Magdi Hussein, secretary-general of the frozen Islamic Labour Party -- issues a founding statement that demands an end to unemployment within the medical profession, low wages, unqualified doctors and hospitals. "Public health is not separate from public interest," El-Qalyoubi tells the Weekly. The group's members include novelist Alaa El-Aswani, a dentist and the author of the best-selling Yaqoubian Building.

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