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Born in 1968, Amr Hamzawy is an Egyptian political scientist and activist. He is the founder of the liberal Egypt Freedom Party, established in the aftermath of Egypt’s January 25 Revolution.
Until February 2011, Hamzawy was a senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, serving as research director at the organization’s Beirut office. His research focuses on issues of political reform and political Islamist movements in the Middle East. Hamzawy’s profile in the Arab world rose in 2006, when he became a frequent political commentator on pan-Arab media outlets, including influential satellite news network Al Jazeera.
He currently teaches political science at Cairo University and the American University in Cairo. Hamzawy received his PhD from Free University of Berlin.
Before the Revolution
Before the revolution, Hamzawy was known for his research and analytical writings that examined the role of Islamist political movements within the context of democratic change in the region.
In 2007, Hamzawy co-wrote a Carnegie paper criticizing the constitutional amendments proposed in 2006 by Mubarak with the stated aim of “liberalizing” Egypt’s political system. Hamzawy and his co-authors contended that the amendments would effectively serve to limit political freedoms while misleadingly conveying the appearance of liberalization.
A few weeks later, Egyptian state-owned media launched a media campaign against Hamzawy. One state-owned newspaper claimed that Hamzawy had played a role in opening channels of communication between the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the US government. Hamzawy denied the allegations in a written statement, which was later republished on the MB’s official English website.
According to Mustafa Al-Fiqi, a former aide to Mubarak, Hamzawy was previously affiliated with Mubarak’s now-defunct National Democratic Party (NDP). He only left the ruling party, Al-Fiqi said, after it became clear that he would not be able to rise up the party’s ranks. Hamzawy insists, however, that the extent of his involvement in the NDP was his attendance at a few meetings of the “Egypt and World Committee” in 2003. Hamzawy said he found the meetings pointless and thus decided to drop out.
Hamzawy was also a vocal critic of apparent efforts by the former regime to groom Mubarak’s influential son, Gamal, to succeed his father as president. In a 2008 interview, Hamzawy described the younger Mubarak as “lacking legitimacy.”
A few days before the eruption of the January 25 Revolution, Hamzawy told a BBC interviewer that the Tunisian revolution would not be replicated in Egypt, since the circumstances of the Tunisian middle class, which spearheaded the uprising, were completely different from those of their Egyptian counterparts.
The Revolution and Beyond
During the 18-day uprising that ultimately toppled Mubarak, Hamzawy became the spokesman for the “Committee of Wise Men” set up during the revolution to mediate between anti-Mubarak demonstrators and the regime. News reports state that Hamzawy had been offered the post of youth minister in the Ahmed Shafik government, but that he declined it.
As a Washington-based researcher, Hamzawy’s work served to refute Western misconceptions about Islamist movements in the Arab world and their stated commitment to democratic change. Ironically, as he took a more active role in Egyptian politics after the revolution, his liberal orientation put him on a collision course with local Islamist groups.
In a famous debate at the American University in Cairo last spring, Hamzawy got into a heated argument with MB spokesperson Essam Al-Erian on the legitimacy of the SCAF-proposed constitutional amendments, which Hamzawy opposed. During the debate, Hamzawy accused Al-Erian of adopting the same condescending approach that the Mubarak regime had used in its dialogue with the opposition.
Hamzawy also came under attack from the Islamic Group (Al-Gama‘a Al-Islamiya), whose leader, Nageh Ibrahim, accused Hamzawy of collaborating with Mubarak’s NDP and the US government. Ibrahim also asserted that Hamzawy had opportunistically jumped on the revolutionary bandwagon, while having made no previous contributions to Egyptian politics.
Hamzawy participated in the founding of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, but later left it to protest a party statement issued in condemnation of the military’s use of violence against Tahrir Square demonstrators on 9 April. Hamzawy complained that the party had failed to consult him in the drafting of the statement.
In the aftermath of the incident, Hamzawy said he rejected attempts to instigate conflict between the army and people during Egypt’s critical transitional phase. Six months later, Hamzawy stated that the country’s military leaders were no longer impartial arbiters in Egypt’s ongoing political battles, but rather a bona fide party to the conflicts in question.
Hamzawy currently heads up the Egypt Freedom Party. The party had briefly been a member of the Democratic Alliance, a Muslim Brotherhood led electoral coalition, but withdrew in early August. The party later stated that it had pulled out of the alliance because alliance members had seemed unserious about developing consensus among its constituent organizations regarding the principles that would ultimately guide efforts to draw up a new constitution.
The Egypt Freedom Party was subsequently involved in the Egyptian Bloc, a rival electoral coalition founded by secular-leaning parties. But, once again, Hamzawy’s party withdrew from the bloc, citing a lack of transparency in the candidate selection process and concerns that some coalition members were fielding candidates once affiliated with Mubarak’s dismantled NDP.
In upcoming parliamentary polls, the Egypt Freedom Party plans to field twenty-two candidates, including Hamzawy, through the “Revolution Continues” electoral coalition. According to its members, the coalition comprises an ideologically diverse set of political actors, including liberals, Islamists and socialists.
In the run-up to Egypt’s fraught electoral season, Hamzawy emerged as a strong advocate for the adoption of a party list electoral system, and a critic of SCAF’s insistence on allocating a proportion of parliamentary seats based on single winner electoral contests. In the end, however, he decided to run in a single winner parliamentary race in the Cairo district of Heliopolis. Hamzawy claims he did not run on a party list himself because he wanted to make room for young candidates to run on the “Revolution Continues” list.
Hamzawy will be running against Egyptian Current Party leader Asmaa Mahfouz, even though both are members of the same electoral coalition.
[Developed in partnership with Ahram Online.]
From Jadaliyya Editors:
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