Posted by on May 04, 2012 in Blog

As Egypt’s first free presidential elections approach, many in the US are dismayed with the lack of progress of secular and liberal forces in the Egyptian political arena. One of Egypt’s leading liberal politicians and intellectuals, Amr Hamzawy, is in Washington this week, meeting with government officials and other Egypt-watchers in an attempt to allay those concerns. Hamzawy gave a wide-ranging evaluation of the state of liberal forces in Egypt after the revolution in an event at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, where he was interviewed by Carnegie scholars Marwan Muasher and Marina Ottoway. Hamzawy is a renowned figure in liberal circles in Egypt. He is a founder of the Egyptian Freedom Party, a small secular party founded after the revolution. He was elected to parliament in 2012, representing a district that includes the Cairo neighborhoods of Heliopolis and Masr el-Gedida. Since being seated in parliament, he has been a leading voice for liberal causes like promoting a secular state in Egypt and increasing government support for the poor.

Hamzawy offered some interesting insights into the workings of Egypt’s nascent democratic system. Though the Islamist parties, primarily the Freedom & Justice Party (of the Muslim Brotherhood) and the Salafist Nour Party, won the most seats in the parliamentary elections, Hamzawy made it clear that he believes they have been ineffective legislators in parliament and will be penalized as such by voters. Despite his dim view of the Islamists’ political future, Hamzawy and his liberal colleagues have been able to form a productive working relationship with them in parliament. He sits on a committee with members from both Islamist and secular parties that is drafting a new law to govern the activities of NGOs in Egypt–a badly needed measure after years of repression of these groups by the Mubarak and SCAF governments. He also praised the Grand Sheikh of al-Azhar, Ahmed el-Tayyeb, for his efforts to find common ground between Islamist and secular political forces.

Despite his desire to work with al-Azhar and Islamists in parliament, Hamzawy remains a fierce critic of the Muslim Brothers. He said that the office of the Guidance Council–the Brotherhood’s governing body–has replaced the Mubarak-era presidential palace as the main destination for foreign cash, mostly from Saudi Arabia and other Gulf states eager to support conservative Egyptian politicians, but also from American diplomats and legislators visiting Egypt. He alleged that the Brotherhood made the decision to break its pledge not to run a candidate for president only after an FJP delegation was advised to do so by Turkey’s AK Party on a trip to Istanbul. The AK Party (sometimes referred to in English as the Freedom and Justice Party, or FJP) is a moderate Islamist party headed by Turkey’s Prime Minister, Tayyip Erdogan that is often seen as a model for the Brotherhood. If one believes Hamzawy, the cooperation between the two groups is much closer than publicly acknowledged.

Finally, Hamzawy echoed the views of many Egyptians on the question of Egyptian-Israeli relations. He expressed satisfaction with the recent termination of the agreement to export natural gas to Israel, and said he would not support scrapping the peace between the two nations inaugurated at Camp David in 1979. However, he also stressed that continued Israeli settlement building in the West Bank made it impossible for Egypt to consider improving its relations with Israel any further.  

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