Dr. Hamzawy on Egypt, exile and elections

On Tuesday, March 1, professors and students from both St. Olaf and Carleton crowded into Viking Theater for Dr. Amr Hamzawy’s lecture entitled “Egypt Since 2013: A New Autocracy or the Same Old One?” Hamzawy was an elected member of the first Egyptian parliament in 2011 after the revolution, and he served as a member of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights. He is currently a visiting scholar at Stanford University.

The lecture, which was organized by Professor of Religion Jamie Schillinger and Professor of Sociology and Anthropology Ibtesam Al Atiyat, focused on the state of Egypt’s political regime since the country’s revolution in 2011 and the military coup that followed.

“Wide segments of the population took out to the street – rediscovered the street as an arena for politics, rediscovered the street as an arena for staging peaceful, positive activism against an autocratic government and rediscovered the street as an arena for leveling demands which were very concrete,” Hamzawy said. “Egyptians took out to the streets on January 25, 2011 to demand an end to human rights violations.”

The protests in Egypt lasted for 18 days before President Hosni Mubarak announced he would resign as president. In 2012, Egypt held its first popular election since Mubarak took power over 30 years before.

In response to the popular elections, Hamzawy raised serious questions about Egypt’s future.

“So, how come after such a moment of peaceful, nonviolent mass mobilization with very concrete demands not driven by ideology, not driven by questions of religion and politics, how come this country has been backsliding in recent years to stand where it is now? Where it is now is quite to the opposite of what people demanded,” he said.

Egypt elected Mohamed Morsi to the presidency in 2012 and experienced a brief period when democracy seemed possible for the country. However, in July 2013, Morsi was ousted by a military coup. Hamzawy argues that the autocratic government that follwed is even worse than Mubarak’s regime.

“If Egyptians demanded a stop to human rights violations and human rights abuse, the last two years have been in fact the worst years in the long history of the Egyptian Republic since the 1950s,” he said.

The new military autocracy has been very effective when it comes to silencing the opposition.

“We have, for the first time in Egyptian history, Egyptian diasporas outside of Egypt,” Hamzawy said. “Intellectuals, opinion makers, writers and academics who were forced to leave Egypt because of the repression committed by the regime.”

Hamzawy himself was forced to leave Egypt when Morsi was removed from office in 2013.

“I was banned from travel for a year. I did not have the intention of leaving my home country after my travel ban was canceled by a court ruling,” Hamzawy said. “But I was threatened, indirectly and directly, and I was left with no options but to leave. So I had to leave. I left the American University in Cairo as well as Cairo State University, which banned me from teaching for opposing the military autocracy as well, and I came to Stanford. And my story is by no means tragic when compared to real tragic stories of many Egyptians.”

Hamzawy stressed that young Egyptians, who represent 60 percent of the population, were the main champions for democratic reform, but the military autocracy was quick to discourage them.

“This led young Egyptians to feel disenchanted, not to walk away, but to basically leave aside the ballot box, because it was a simple conclusion. If what we took out to the street to demand is not happening, but exactly the opposite is unfolding, why should we mobilize and go to the ballot box?” Hamzawy said.

Hamzawy continues to try to answer the question of why Egypt failed to democratize through his studies at Stanford and is currently working on a book exploring Egypt’s political upheaval.