CAIRO: When Kefaya, The Egyptian Movement for Change, kicked off its first pro-reform demonstration in December 2004 then continued to agitate throughout 2005, it was lauded as the cure to the political apathy of the Egyptian street; a long over-due shot in the arm to rally the masses and end the decades of political stagnation.
Yet the recent buzz about a gaping internal divide within the opposition movement has dealt a heavy blow to the grassroots reform initiative.
On Dec. 12, Kefaya held a large anti-government protest in Downtown Cairo to celebrate its two-year anniversary; a demonstration viewed by many as a move to deny rumors that the movement is disintegrating.
Shortly before that protest, seven founding members of Kefaya allegedly withdrew their membership due to the mismanagement and “dictatorial attitudes of key Kefaya figures.
However, Wael Khalid, a Kefaya coordinator, argues that, while there are ongoing struggles within the pro-reform group, the media and press have neither been objective nor professional in presenting the impasse.
He told The Daily Star Egypt: “Yes, we are experiencing structural issues within the movement at the moment, but it’s less serious than what the media and press are saying. Kefaya is growing rapidly as a movement, so we need to institutionalize and restructure ourselves in a professional manner. We are simply having growing pains.
According to Khaled, Kefaya held an emergency meeting last week to establish a committee that will help them through the current bottleneck.
“We need our members to take on more active roles, said Khaled.
“Kefaya needs to focus more on long-term projects as opposed to short-term fixes such as protests and demonstrations.
Executive Director of Egyptian Organization for Human Rights Hafez Abu Seada, also a permanent delegate to the Arab League, believes that Kefaya’s main problem is that it lacks a solid political agenda.
“Kefaya is good at bashing the current political regime, but now they need to present their own solutions for how to ameliorate the Egyptian political and social systems. Criticizing the regime may have worked at the beginning but two years later, it’s not enough. The movement needs to figure out its next steps, Abu Seada told The Daily Star Egypt.
Khalid, on the other hand, attributes the current divide within Kefaya to increased crackdowns on the movement’s activists by state security – a common occurrence in the movement’s recent public events.
“State security is arresting our activists right, left and center. So members are starting to avoid protests and demonstrations for fear of detention, Khalid said.
On Nov. 12, Kefaya activist Mohamed Al-Ashqar was allegedly detained by police the day before he was to head the Giza Garbage Protest, a demonstration held against the Giza governor’s decree to add garbage collection fees to electricity bills. In early December, state security and plainclothes police officers in full armor barricaded Al-Mattariya Square to intimidate Kefaya activists reportedly planning to hold a second “garbage protest .
Very few demonstrators showed up at the event due to heightened security.
Interestingly, while Khaled admits that there are thorny issues plaguing Kefaya at the moment, George Ishaq, senior Kefaya coordinator, claims that the problems have already been solved.
“There is no problem now. The committee that was formed at last week’s meeting has addressed the issue. Everything is fine, Ishaq countered in an interview with The Daily Start Egypt.
When asked about the nature of the internal struggles within Kefaya, Ishaq refused to comment further.
He said: “Our members may have different opinions on how the movement should be run, but we are a movement strong enough to overcome minor issues like that. All I can say is that our committee is handling the problem. That’s all.
Abu Seada on the other hand, emphasizes that the lack of harmony between Kefaya’s members at the moment is one of the main reasons for these divisions.
“Kefaya needs to come together and determine its future direction, but the fact that its members belong to a variety of political currents makes it hard for the movement to decide its agenda, Abu Seada said.