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Interviews : Mahmoud Afifi

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Mahmoud Afifi is an Egyptian democracy activist with the April 6th Youth Movement, a group formed in 2008 to support striking workers; afterwards, it transformed into a nationwide opposition network against Hosni Mubarak’s regime. Today, Afifi serves as the Director of the April 6th Youth Movement’s Information Office. He is a lawyer by profession and graduated from Banha University in 2006.

Afifi joined the April 6th Youth Movement in 2009 and founded the group’s chapter in Egypt’s Qalyubia governorate. There he rallied youth to take part in various awareness campaigns and street protests against the government. As part of this strategy, he engaged the poorest segments of the population and strengthened their voice in the political arena. Following his success in Qalyubia, Afifi worked to organize April 6th Youth Movement campaigns at the national level. As the government cracked down on these demonstrations, Afifi was arrested several times and even abandoned in the desert.

Prior to the Egyptian Revolution that unseated President Hosni Mubarak, Afifi coordinated with other organizations encouraging citizens to participate in a January 25, 2011 demonstration in Cairo. On that day, Afifi marched to Tahrir Square with thousands of others demanding Mubarak’s resignation and a free Egypt. The protests intensified and expanded nationwide. Almost three weeks later, on February 11, 2011, Hosni Mubarak stepped down from power ending his 30 year reign. 

After deciding to work in the political field, I started to follow up with the April 6th Youth Movement [an Egyptian activist group that was founded in 2008 to support striking workers] since its very beginning, and before that, I used to follow up with the Kefaya Movement and the Youth Movement for Change. [“Kefaya,” an Arabic word meaning “enough,” is a nickname for the Egyptian Movement for Change, a political activist group that opposed the Mubarak regime in Egypt.]

I was really interested in the existence of a youth activity, a group of youth who have a target and a vision that it is trying to reach. I was following up with the April Youth Movement and supporting it through the Internet, Facebook, and Twitter.

However, I felt that I need to apply some work on the ground with them, so I started to communicate with them, and joined the movement in 2009 and I started to be part of them.

I worked with them for some time as a member and then founded a branch of the movement in Qalyubia governorate [area north of Cairo]; I was the general coordinator there.

Then, I started to work with them on the formation of youth groups in all parts of Egypt so that we form a strong group and a lobby to put pressure on the government and have a strong influence.

I managed to form a group and it was the most powerful group in the movement. We started conducting awareness campaigns in the street and political crowd campaigns in the streets and in every governorate.

After that, I started to communicate with other youth movements, and started to communicate with the political forces existing in Qalyubia so that we have a strong influence inside and outside the governorate. Thus, I was able to contribute with them in forming a strong group to put pressure on the regime.

With the return of Dr. [Mohamed] El Baradei [an Egyptian diplomat, Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and former head of the United Nations International Atomic Energy Agency who was a leading supporter for a democratic change in Egypt] in 2009, I was interested in his return and his contribution to making a change, so I started to work at the National Assembly for Change [A broad coalition of groups that advocated for political change in Egypt]. I participated in gathering signatures on the Statement of Change, we started to form groups and go down the street collecting signatures on a statement. [A nationwide campaign to collect at least one million signatures for a seven-point program of reforms to ensure free and fair elections.]

We started forming groups that explain to the people that change is what our country needs in the meantime, and that this regime is corrupt and will fall one day. However, this won’t happen unless we all unite. So, I worked for the National Assembly for Change with Dr. El Baradei in addition to working in the April 6th Youth Movement. 

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.

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