The Program on Arab Reform and Democracy at Stanford’s Center on Democracy, Development, and the Rule of Law is pleased to welcome Egyptian academic and Former Member of Parliament Amr Hamzawy as a visiting scholar for the 2015-16 academic year. Hamzawy, who teaches political science at Cairo University and the American University in Cairo, brings to the program a deep knowledge of Middle East politics and specific expertise on democratization and reform processes in the region. A former Senior Associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, Hamzawy’s research focuses on questions of political change, human rights, and the rule of law in Egypt. He is a daily columnist for Al-Sherouk, an independent Egyptian newspaper, and writes regularly on the role of civil society actors and parties in Egypt’s often restricted political arena. Hamzawy is a former member of the Egyptian National Council for Human Rights, and was elected to serve in Egypt’s first parliament after the outset of the January 25 Revolution before it was dissolved in the summer of 2012.
Hamzawy will spend his residency at CDDRL working on a research project on the liberal elite and reemergence of autocracy in Egypt. His residency is generously funded by a grant from the Carnegie Corporation to support scholars from the Arab world. In the interview below, Hamzawy describes his current project and research plans. Hamzawy will be sharing his research findings with the CDDRL community in a seminar on October 27.
What are your research goals and priorities?
While at CDDRL, my research objective is to analyze contemporary liberal discourses on democracy and human rights in Egypt. The fact that the majority of Egyptian liberals called on the military establishment - prior to the July 3, 2013 coup which deposed the elected president Mohamed Morsi - to interfere in politics and terminate the emerging pluralist dynamics warrants an in-depth examination. Equally puzzling, is the readiness of Egyptian liberals to allow the former minister of defense and current president Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s rise to power, to accept a subordinate role in an increasingly restricted public space, and to tolerate without any noticeable resistance the emergence of a new autocracy in Egypt.
What has your research uncovered?
The research journey has been going in some fascinating directions and yielding some interesting answers. For instance, one set of factors pertains to the formation of the modern Egyptian state and the long-standing dependency of liberal elites on successive autocratic rulers and governments. Another revolves around historical legacies of mistrust and fear towards religious-based social movements and political actors. These legacies have contributed to the tendency of liberals to side with autocrats against popular opposition currents. Finally, the predominance of rent-seeking tendencies inside the state bureaucracy and among economic elites has limited the integration of liberals into Egypt’s social fabric. While there are fascinating historical analogies between the current moment and previous experiences in Egypt from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, my research will remains focused on the contemporary era.
How is your experience in Egyptian politics informing your current projects?
Throughout the last four years, and while putting on different institutional hats and operating in very different contexts, I have collected first-hand insights on liberal narratives on the formation of the Egyptian state and state-society relations. These experiences also deepened my understanding of liberals’ discourses on their historical encounters with religious forces, their social and political preferences, and their views on the wider public—which some key liberal figures have been willing to disenfranchise to avoid Islamist victories in the polls. These insights, as well as my own experiences as an elected member of the Egyptian People’s Assembly of 2012, the first legislature that was elected freely and without government manipulation, will inform the research.
What are the most important factors that undermined the movement that supported the January 25, 2011 Revolution in Egypt?
That is a tough question. It is easy to state that neither the military establishment nor the vastly entrenched security apparatus wanted the January 25, 2011 Revolution. They feared that it could lead to a democratic transition in which their roles, benefits, and privileges would have been limited or at least subjected to greater scrutiny. Also, there is no doubt that the rent-seeking economic elites and various forces of the Mubarak regime were heavily invested in blocking an orderly transition to democracy. These are facts that have been well documented and researched.
However, no less significant is the recurrent retreat of liberal elites from pluralist processes and procedures. It appears as if Egyptian liberals have never been ready to support a democratic opening that could bring Islamists to power. Liberals have also been reluctant to shoulder the burden of standing against the autocratic ways of the military and the security establishment, or to help civil society and human rights groups garner more popular support. To explain the root causes and impacts of Egypt’s illiberal liberals is the task of my current research project.