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Interviews : Ahmed Samih

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Interviewed May 2011

Ahmed has extensive experience as an organizer and trainer in international programs for human rights education. He has served as a media adviser and director of media observation in a national campaign for monitoring elections in Egypt sponsored by USAID. He has also been a trainer for projects sponsored by the Norwegian Human Rights Fund, such as Supporting NGOs and Right to Freedom of Thought, Conscience and Religion and Combating Propaganda for War. He is the founder of various organizations: Liberal Youth Seminar sponsored by New Civic Forum, Knowledge Club, and Free Youth Association sponsored by Al JEEL Center for Youth and Social Studies. Currently, Ahmed is the Director of the Andalus Institute for Tolerance and Anti-Violence Studies and the director of EGYPT 1st online internet radio. 

I started to talk to the people who I have the feeling that they're sharing my same point of view. Which is this is not supposed to be possible. We are normal human. We need to live in a normal life with dignity. And we need to understand that we have rights as humans. And these rights supposed to be implemented. Not by the system only, by us also.

But the whole environment should accept the concept of rights, easily. So I started a small group called the Free Youth Organization. That stand for three years. And in this group, I had no skills. No-- I had my personal natural skills, but I had no management skills. No strategic skills. And then, day by day was trial and error. I start to learn more and more-- how to figure things and how to organization things and people. And then next level, I joined an opposition political party. Opposition political party, which is one of the biggest opposition parties.

I start to be more and more involved in this party in specifically the student movement. I created-- I been looking to the system of the party. The party actually, opposition party in Egypt means a failure. Not successful thing. So I been looking to the system inside the party. And why the young people is-- why the young people, why normal Egyptians are there but not participating with us. And I found out that people are scared or they don't see any kind of motivation. Because the political parties at that time have nothing to do. They are group of people who have the same political views, but not active.

The previous regime created an environment of not trusting politicians. Through 30 years of Mubarak running the country, a massive character assassinations attacks by media. Independent media and national media been done against anybody Mubarak thought or his politic-- or his political consultant thought or his security leaders thought, he's a threat. From inside the regime or from outside the regime. From inside the organizations, like military, like ministers, like prime ministers, or anybody from outside the regime.

Opposition thinkers, writers, they been all attacked by this huge media tool. And I think the most important thing Mubarak succeeded is to kill the hope of having a successor of him. That was very, very good technique from them. And that was of one of the things we suffering from right now. The weaknesses of the opposition was a daily policy being made in the Egyptian security organizations. Keep monitoring people closely, even in their own private lives. Which is illegal, by the way. But been happened. Was one of the main tools to make sure that everyone have something in his file condemned him and sabotaged his character in front of the people.

So I start a very small activity. I called it Knowledge Club. And to participate in the Knowledge Club, you would not be member in the party. The Knowledge Club is about exchange knowledge. I understand very early that information and knowledge is very, very important to your-- to your act. And very, very important to understand and figure out what's going on. And also to have a vision for the future. So the knowledge club was about every week.

Every week some one of us have a specific knowledge and a specific thing. However, this thing is important to him, not to us. He have to come out and tell us some of his knowledge. So in one week, you find somebody telling us about cooking. And in one week you find someone tell us about his novel. Or somebody tell us his own poetry. But this small circle of people is creating their own knowledge together, knowing each other more and more. And able to work in a very good way. And I made something very strange for everyone.

In Egypt we have the holidays and Friday and Saturday. So our Thursday night is like Saturday night here. So it's known that everybody going out on Thursday night. And that was a time I hold the Knowledge Club. If you have enough loyalty to the concept and love-- enough loyalty to the change course, you will forget about your cinema movie with your friends and come to the Knowledge Club. That was some kind of fee you paying. It's-- you pay part of your personal entertainment or personal commitment to come for your country.

The second rule was you cannot come to the Knowledge Club by hearing. You have to receive an invitation. Invitation from a member who has been declared as a member. So every member have the right to bring only one person extra in each meeting. The Knowledge Club people right now is generation who's doing excellent job in different organizations. Journalism, human rights organization, think tanks. This generation is the generation hoping-- very early in Tahrir Square. And calling Mubarak to come down. 

With a history dating back to the 10th millennium B.C., Egypt has long played a central role in the Middle East. Egypt is the largest Arab nation and has an influential voice in Arabic and Middle Eastern culture. Egypt has a diverse economy, but has struggled to create sustained economic growth and opportunities for its population of 84 million people.

The country has little experience with representative democracy. From 1956 to 1970, President Gamal Abdel Nasser ruled Egypt with a strong hand, nationalizing the Suez Canal and taking the country into conflict with the new state of Israel. Upon his death, Anwar al-Sadat became president. Together with other Arab nations, Sadat launched the October War against Israel in 1973. In 1979, Sadat signed a groundbreaking peace treaty with Israel.

From Sadat’s assassination in 1981 until the 2011 Egyptian Revolution, Egypt was governed by President Hosni Mubarak. For all of Mubarak’s time in office, and for much of the time since his resignation, Egypt has been under “Emergency Law,” which allows the government to suspend constitutional rights, including limiting political activity and restricting free speech. Emergency Law also allows the government to use summary arrests against political opponents.

For four successive terms, Mubarak was reelected in referenda without an opponent. In 2005, under domestic and international pressure, Mubarak proposed a constitutional amendment to allow Egypt’s first multicandidate presidential elections. Because the amendment would have imposed severe restrictions on the eligibility of opposition candidates, opposition groups boycotted the vote. Mubarak claimed to have won the September 2005 presidential election with an official 88 percent of the vote, amid widespread allegations of fraud and vote rigging. The main opposition leader, Ayman Nour, was subsequently prosecuted by the government for forging signatures on petitions and was sentenced to five years in prison, provoking protests from the United States and other democratic countries.

Following the example of the Tunisian Revolution, large protests swept Egypt in early 2011. The military, led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), withdrew its support of Mubarak. On February 11, 2011, Vice President Omar Suleiman announced that Mubarak had resigned. The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) headed by Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi then assumed power in Egypt. SCAF dissolved the parliament and suspended the constitution.

In November 2011, Egypt held parliamentary elections that were reportedly fair and democratic. In June 2012, Muslim Brotherhood leader Mohamed Morsi was elected President, in part because liberal and secular forces failed to coalesce around a single candidate. Morsi’s popularity declined as he declared his orders immune from challenge, removed judicial review processes, and was accused of taking steps towards the implementation of Islamist policies. Conflict arose between those supporting Islamist policies and those seeking a more liberal and secular government. Protests occurred throughout his presidency until Morsi was ousted by the military in July 2013. Muslim Brotherhood leaders were arrested and their camps and offices raided. Until new elections are held, a SCAF-installed provisional government led by acting President Adly Mansour is in control.

In its most recent report, the independent watchdog group Freedom House classifies Egypt as “partly free.” On its scale where 1 is the most free and 7is the least free, Egypt earned scores of 5 in both the civil liberties and political rights categories.

More from Ahmed Samih

Ahmed Samih: The Role of Civil Society Why civil society was more important than political parties in Egypt’s Revolution. Ahmed Samih: Becoming a Dissident On why he became a dissident. Ahmed Samih: Inspiration from Tunisia Discusses the Tunisian Revolution and its impact on Egypt More + Ahmed Samih: Message to Dissidents "Maybe sometimes everything around you says you are not doing the right thing. Don't believe this. This is an illusion. Believe about what you're doing very carefully. And keep your head high and continue what you do." Ahmed Samih: Protestors Back the Military Popular support for the armed forces during the Egyptian Revolution. Ahmed Samih: The Role of Religion On the importance of religion and secularism in Egyptian democracy. Ahmed Samih: Opponents of Democracy Discussing groups that oppose a democratic Egypt. Ahmed Samih: Building Democracy On the need for Egypt to build a lasting, stable democracy. Ahmed Samih: The Role of Women The role of women in the Egyptian Revolution Ahmed Samih: The Role of the United States Discussing the role of the United States in the Egyptian Revolution. Ahmed Samih: Saddam Hussein Falls Discussing the Impact of Saddam Hussein’s Downfall. Ahmed Samih: The Importance of Unity How the demonstrators remained unified in the Egyptian Revolution. Ahmed Samih: Targeting the Police Why the police were a target in the Egyptian Revolution. Ahmed Samih: The Role of the Internet Discussing the importance of the Internet to the Egyptian Revolution