Uniting Egypt’s Opposition
Americans have proven remarkably sympathetic to Egypt’s protests, which are now entering their third week. But in trying to make sense of a complex situation, most commentators have glossed over the varying demands of the opposition’s different elements.
Egypt’s reform factions share a belief in an orderly transition to representative government but reflect wildly divergent political ideologies. At the head of the movement stands Mohamed El Baradei, the former director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency, and his National Association for Change. The NAC is not a legal political party but rather an umbrella group organized around El Baradei’s demands for an end to Egypt’s decades-long state of emergency and for the introduction of democratic and constitutional reforms. Although it is relatively small and not well organized it has recently gained popularity among Egyptians everywhere.
Groups that have rallied around the NAC include the April 6 Movement and Kefaya (Enough). For the last two years the April 6 Movement has organized demonstrations in support of workers’ rights and is now calling for increasing Egypt’s minimum wage. In 2008, it supported Egypt’s first major labor strikes in decades, in the industrial town of Mahalla, on the Nile Delta.
Kefaya -- founded in 2004 to protest Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s candidacy for yet another term -- wants the government to amend the constitution to liberalize the political system. Led by the leftist activist George Ishak, the former head of the country’s union of Catholic schools, it has blossomed into a coalition that includes leftists, liberals, and Islamists. It serves as an umbrella movement for protests against Mubarak’s continued rule and in favor of an independent judiciary.