CAIRO: Sixty-two percent of an audience of 150 supported the motion that “the Egyptian revolution was failing” at the New Arab Debates last Tuesday, a significant climb from 54 percent in a poll conducted before the debate began.
“Is the revolution failing? … It’s the only revolution in the world that hasn’t honored those who did it but gave military salutes to the killers,” said the speaker for the motion, Egyptian activist, blogger and former parliamentary candidate Mahmoud Salem, who also goes under the alias ‘Sandmonkey’ on Twitter.
“We had a referendum whose objective was not clear, ‘democratic elections’ that are completely fraudulent,” he continued, “if you don’t have democracy, dignity, accountability, then how is it working? Revolutions take time, but this revolution is getting aborted.”
Salem was then asked by the moderator, former BBC presenter Tim Sebastian, if he would have thought differently had he won in the election, to which he replied that running had “nothing to do with winning,” and that the only reason he ran was “for young people to run.”
“People went out in the millions how are you saying it is failing?” Sebastian then asked Salem, to which he replied that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) had created a new model for the new Egypt. “We have a system that’s corrupt but still functional, it only looks right.”
“The legitimacy [of the elected members] is now in question, until the lawsuits are settled and violations are investigated, which they won’t be,” Salem said commenting on what he described as fraud in the elections.
“I would like to object first to the title of the debate,” said the speaker against the motion, Khaled Kazaz, a mechanical engineer and key member of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party’s (FJP) public relations team. “I don’t think people came with that same attitude towards Eastern Europe after the fall of the Berlin wall.”
He said that people had an expectation of a new Egypt transitioning into democracy, and the success of the revolution came at the cost of “people dying and giving up their lives in order to move on into a phase of new Egypt,” with people “standing up for what they believe in,” even against SCAF.
Kazaz then noted that the revolution brought dignity back to Egyptians worldwide, and cited the example of Egyptians burning passports in front of embassy in Lebanon.
“Where is the dignity when people are being beaten and kicked on the streets?” he was then asked by Sebastian. “You’re speaking now after street battles that cost 14 lives, the same last month, what steps are you taking to remove their [military’s] corruption?”
He replied that the FJP voiced their condemnation and filed reports and complaints against specific individuals, and that the recent events were definitely unacceptable.
“I believe the revolution was successful in the first phase but now we’re building our democracy,” he said.
The opening arguments were then followed by a Q & A session with the audience, in which TV presenter Shahira Amin asked Salem “if the revolution was still salvageable?”
“We focused too much on political aspects of the revolution than social and cultural aspects,” Salem said, arguing that revolutions required social and economic changes in addition to political ones, and that there should’ve been campaigning for the rights of women and Christians, and against human rights abuses.
Another question came from Yehia Hazem, a third-year law student from Cairo University, who found the motion unacceptable, and that the “election was the beginning of the path,” despite what he said were “bad decisions” since Mubarak stepped down in February.
“I find it unacceptable to have gone on with the election when people were dying on Mohamed Mahmoud St. and many candidates suspended campaigning,” Salem said, asking “How could you have done it and went to vote when people were dying?”
“Why should I trust those authorities to bring people to court when nothing changed from last year till now?” asked Mohamed Tolba, a member of the Costa Salafis group, remarking on Kazaz’s argument that FJP filed complaints and even participated in protests as on Nov. 18.
Kazaz replied by asking to “trust the Egyptian people,” and that whoever is in power will be removed by them if they don’t trust him.
“Why does the Muslim Brotherhood disappear from violence and blood? Isn’t it even humanitarian to show support?” asked Salma Foda, a Cairo University economics graduate who works for the Arab Bank.
Kazaz replied that “People might not agree with our approach,” to which Sebastian asked what it was, “We never accept bloodshed and respect the people who died … How would you ask the people in power to put themselves in question again?” he said.
“We ask for a body to be created to question them, we demonstrated against [Deputy Prime Minister for Political Affairs Aly] El-Selmi Selmi’s document because it added two clauses that give military full power without held accountable,” Kazaz said.
He was however interjected by Salem, who said “I believe her question was why does the Brotherhood mobilize when they want and disappear when they want,” which Kazaz again maintained that people may disagree in their approach, but it is nevertheless directed towards taking action.
The New Arab Debates are a new series moderated by Sebastian, modeled after his previous Doha Debates, and broadcast by German network Deutsche Welle and local providers around the region.