Prominent engineer and industrialist Mamdouh Hamza played a key role during Egypt’s January 25 Revolution. Hamza is likely to continue influencing the political scene for the foreseeable future due to his close ties with various youth groups.
Born in Damietta, Egypt, in 1947, Hamza graduated from Cairo University`s Faculty of Engineering and went on to obtain a doctorate in mechanics and civil engineering from London`s Imperial College. In 1979, he founded Hamza Associates, a major engineering company to this day.
Before the Revolution
Hamza’s relationship with the former regime soured because of his constant criticism of former Housing Minister Mohammad Ibrahim Soliman, who is now facing corruption charges. Hamza claimed that Soliman was deliberately obstructing him from conducting business with the Ministry of Housing and that the former minister instead gave contracts to his own relatives. In 2004, Hamza was arrested in the UK on charges of plotting to assassinate Soliman and other Egyptian officials, including Fathi Sorour, then-speaker of the People`s Assembly, and Kamal Al-Shazli, the National Democratic Party (NDP) whip. Hamza was later acquitted.
Until 25 January 2011, Hamza`s interest in political life went unnoticed. But as a young man, he was politically active and served as head of the Student Union in Cairo University’s Faculty of Engineering in 1968. He was also a member of a student delegation that met with former president Anwar El-Sadat to discuss student demands in the early 1970s.
The Revolution and Beyond
Perhaps more than anyone else, Hamza provided logistical support for participants in the sit-in in Tahrir Square as of 28 January 2011. During the eighteen days that followed, he organized the delivery of food, loudspeakers, blankets, tents, and waste collection trucks.
His role in politics became more pronounced when he formed the National Council (NC), an initiative that started out on a good note but was latter plagued by acrimony. The NC, a loose coalition of parties, movements, syndicates, NGOs, and public figures, organized the first post-Mubarak conference. The country’s major political players, except the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), attended the conference. The MB refused to attend because of a dispute concerning when the constitution should be written. Many NC members support writing the constitution before convening elections, while the MB and other Islamists call for holding elections first.
The NC, of which Hamza was the official spokesperson, comprised of 124 members representing major political groups and independent public figures. The NC drew frequent criticism from individuals who refused to join, as well as those who were not invited. Critics said that Hamza`s strong views hindered the NC`s ability to reach a consensus. Although the NC did not disband, it has lost much of its initial momentum.
Hamza maintains strong ties with young political activists in the April 6 Youth Movement and the Justice and Freedom Youth. He backed protestors in Tahrir during a three-week sit-in that lasted from 8 July to 1 August 2011. His role in this sit-in proved controversial. He was criticized by politicians who argued he was being too disruptive and self-important. Some even accused him, quite unfairly, of being on the payroll of the United States government.
Some young activists seem to have developed a grudge against Hamza because of statements he made to the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) in connection with the case of journalist and activist Rasha Azab.
Authorities were questioning Azab for writing a critical article about the SCAF. In the course of her testimony, she narrated the events of a meeting with SCAF members that Hamza had attended. Hamza claimed that Azab`s version of the story was incorrect. This alienated activists who thought that Hamza, intentionally or otherwise, was undermining Azab`s case.
Nevertheless, Hamza remains influential in Egyptian politics. His top demands include the restructuring of all state institutions, an end to military trials of civilians, establishment of minimum and maximum wages, and a reversal of the ban of strikes and demonstrations.
Due to his continued support of various youth groups connected with the January 25 Revolution, Hamza is likely to have some influence on the course of the upcoming elections.
[Developed in partnership with Ahram Online.]
From Jadaliyya Editors:
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