First Published: 2005-06-06

Reformist groups mushroom in Egypt

Advocates of reform flexing muscles to shake off the grip of the state.


Middle East Online

By Mona Salem CAIRO

Enough was just the beginning

In increasing numbers, advocates of reform are flexing their muscles in Egypt, setting up new movements for change and democracy with a common focus -- to shake off the grip of the state.

Judges and academics, journalists and writers, workers and politicians, have all announced embryonic groups.

The example was set by magistrates, who are demanding an end to executive tutelage of the judiciary, and by universities who want academic independance and an end to police interference.

At the weekend, politicians headed by Aziz Sedki, a former prime minister under president Gamal Abdel Nasser, announced the birth of a National Rally for Democratic Change, with the self-appointed task of drawing up a constitution to end what they called despotism and autocracy.

"We want to create a forum grouping all political forces to achieve reforms, because the bitter crisis Egypt is undergoing threatens catastrophy," Sedki told a news conference.

Another rally founder, former minister Yehya al-Gamal, added: "We want to promote democracy and change."

The same day, journalists meeting at their union headquarters formed their own body, Journalists For Change, to "lift the grip of the state and of its security services from public journals."

Karem Yehya, a journalist with Al-Ahram newspaper, said: "We want independence of the press and freedom of publication for newspapers, and the election of heads of public newspapers by their general assemblies."

He pointed out that editorial bosses of these newspapers are appointed by the government, with many continuing in their jobs beyond the legal retirement age of 65.

On Sunday, a group of intellectuals, including poet Ahmed Fouad Nejm and novelist Bahaa Taher, in turn announced the creation of a movement, writers for change.

Nejm said the group shared the same ideas as Kefaya (Enough) and would make public within days details of its aims.

Kefaya was behind a number of public street protests in the past few months. It opposes the election of President Hosni Mubarak, 77, for a fifth term in the September election, or the passing on of power to his 42-year-old son Gamal.

Gamal Mubarak himself has said he does not plan to stand in September although Prime Minister Ahmed Nazif said recently that in principle, because of the May 25 referendum, there is nothing to stop Gamal doing so.

The referendum approved a constitutional amendment to allow for more than one candidate to stand in elections for president, under universal suffrage, for the first time in Egyptian history.

Opponents say it does not go far enough and that in practice restrictions will effectively prevent independent candidates from contesting the poll.

In the rolling reform demands, just weeks ago state officials and public sector workers set up another group, workers for change, which wants to establish independent trades unions.

"We are preparing a workers' conference to put in place alternative trades unions parallel to those which currently exist and which are part of the General Union of Egyptian Workers, dominated by the state and which do not look after our interests," said one of the founders, Kamal Abu Eita.

"We are part of the global movement for democracy in the country," he said.


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