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‘Only the people can legitimize Mubarak's successor’

A conversation with Mamdouh Habashi

Published Feb 6, 2011 9:08 PM

By Karin Leukefeld in Cairo

Mamdouh Habashi is Vice President of the World Forum for Alternatives and the board of the Arab-African Research Center, Cairo.

Karin Leukefeld: For almost two weeks now demonstrations have shaken Egypt, and many are saying there is crisis in the country.

Mamdouh Habash: I would never call it a crisis. This is a revolution. Perhaps it is a crisis from the perspective of the regime, all right. But for us it is a revolution. It meets all the conditions of a revolution. It is the beginning of a new era. Since Jan. 25 Egypt has joined the free nations of the world. The special feature is that the people are demanding that Mubarak leave. He is finished. It is not his decision to resign. The people have decided that he must go.

The demonstrators are protesting against the "Mubarak system."

Yes, Mubarak's resignation is not the end of the regime, but it is a big step in that direction. That is why I speak of a revolutionary achievement.

What will happen after Mubarak's resignation? Does the movement go back home?

MH: After his resignation a transitional period will begin and open a long process to achieve the actual demands of the revolution. This will be the real revolution. The protesters have agreed on many proposals: the dissolution of the National Democratic Party, the elimination of the security services, the dissolution of the "phony Parliament,” as we call it, including both chambers. We are all in agreement on this, regardless of ideological differences. There will be a power struggle between us and the regime. We have no other weapons than the people, the pressure of the street, our unity. The regime has all the weapons but legitimacy.

KL: So the real struggle begins only after Mubarak resigns?

Well, this transitional period might last a year or two. We need to agree to hold free elections. We need time to breathe, time for political discussion, organization and preparation for the elections.

Many of the protesters seem to want immediate change.

MH: Yes, of course democracy is more than free elections. Democracy means radical change and social justice. We need a redistribution of wealth in society that gives to those at the bottom, instead of taking from them. We need higher wages, better incomes for the poor. That must be accomplished during the transition period. People can’t wait until we have free elections and a new government to satisfy their social needs, their social rights.

KL: The first demands on Jan 25 were for jobs, fair wages and social rights.

MH: Exactly these changes must have priority. This includes the fight against corruption and nepotism in the power structure. But we also need to think beyond this. Therefore, we plan to establish a commission of maybe 50 people who will draft a new constitution. For this we need a long, detailed debate in the society. All groups with different ideological conceptions must participate so that at the end we reach a balanced distribution of power.

KL: Who can take political leadership in this important transitional phase?

That is the question. After four decades of dictatorship, the political landscape in Egypt is extremely distorted. We have no really independent political parties, only parties that have submitted to the regime’s orders. We have many illegal organizations, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, that are demonized in the West. Of course they are not monsters; they are part of this society. We have many civil society groups that were important, because political activists were able to organize within them. There are independent trade unions, professional associations, NGOs, and so on. And we have many youth groups that have come together over the Internet. For example, this group, "We are all Khalid Said." This was the young man who was killed in Alexandria by the police. Before the revolution 450,000 people communicated through this website, and this is just one example. There is a new principle of decentralized organization with minimal consensus -- and it works.

How do these new groups and the traditionally organized parties get along? How can a new political leadership emerge from this mixture?

Well for the youth, most of these parties have no credibility, of course. But we have a scenario with which to form a leadership. A national meeting will form a national committee, which takes over the leadership. This happens, of course, not at one meeting; we must all agree. All the political blocs have to be represented equally. There are four political blocs: the Nationalists, the Liberals, Islamists and the Left. There are individuals, social groups, NGOs, trade unions, professional organizations -- and all must be involved in the transition process. And it is very important that at least one third of this new representative body must represent the youth groups.

A committee of 14 people who will lead the political transition process is also under discussion; names have already been named.

Yes, there are many proposals. Which will prevail, I don’t know. The question is, what mandate will these people have that legitimizes them? The most important thing is that they must emerge from a democratic process, chosen by a committee that was formed democratically and accepted as such. And that's not simple in our troubled political landscape.

In the West, they seem to have settled on Mohamed ElBaradei or Amr Moussa, the Secretary-General of the Arab League. What do you think?

ElBaradei or Amr Moussa? -- whoever. Members of the Mubarak regime are also under discussion in the West, but that's not the change that the people want. The regime wants people who are acceptable to the West, who have worked with Israel -- and that's not easy for us. ElBaradei could have a chance if he goes along with the people and if the people approve him. That’s true for him and anyone else. The people must give him the mandate, not the regime. But the so-called international community, which consists essentially of the United States and Europe, is influenced by Israeli interests. Look at how the U.S. administration has acted after Jan. 25 -- that’s because of the geopolitical importance of my country. Egypt is a cornerstone of U.S. military strategy to control the world according to its wishes. But Egypt can go in another direction. That was already shown by Akhenaten and by Gamal Abdel Nasser. So now they are trembling. They are trying to maintain the status quo as much as possible.

Translated from the German original by John Catalinotto http://www.jungewelt.de/2011/02-05/061.php