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Themes Women as Human Rights Defenders » 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. 

The women in Egypt played a very important role. Women activist like Samir Abdel Fattah, like Rasha Azab, and like Mohsin Hassan, like Nihad Abu Al-Umsan, like Shaima Abu Al Khair, like Marwa Mokhtar. I can name to you thousands of names of activists women who been supporting the revolution. Been supporting the power of change into the society, early before the revolution. They been playing an important role in any action we been doing.

When the placed forces drew out from the streets and they kept the streets without protection, woman being-- staying in the streets to protect them on the streets in neighborhoods like Zamalek, like Masr al Qadima and like Ma'adi. Staying in the street till the morning. Shifting with other guys and girls to make sure that them own neighborhood is safe and they take responsibility of it.

Women in Egypt-- and maybe not in Egypt. Women who are supporting this kind of change movement have very powerful characters. Especially when they are living in a society don't enhance woman roles. I guess this character is a normal thing for the Egyptian woman.

In the previous revolution, 1919, against occupation-- the British occupation, the Egyptian woman played an im-- very important role of fighting the occupation. And trying to bring democracy and constitution to Egypt, 1923. And that's for me is not new. I didn't stand up in Tahrir Square looking around me and say-- "What the womans is doing here?" That was not my main question. My main question is which one of this woman are going to do this next heroic-- move? (LAUGH) And it seems that all of them have the capability of doing this. 

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 on this theme from Ahmed Samih

Ahmed Samih: The Role of Women The role of women in the Egyptian Revolution

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Ahmed Samih: Becoming a Dissident On why he became a dissident. 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." More +