If you missed our event yesterday on Egypt's tumultuous transition, Middle East Task Force Director Leila Hilal took a few notes. Here are her takeaways from the discussion that convened leading members of Egypt's civil society, including Ahmed Maher, the co-founder and chief coordinator of the April 6 Youth Movement, and Jawad Nabulsi, the co-founder of the Nebny Foundation.
1. Egypt's civil society leaders are looking long-term and continue to be optimistic; after the initial euphoria of Jan 2011 when masses of Egyptians filled the streets to end Hosni Mubarak's reign, Egypt is now a polarized environment; activists who have a vision of a pluralistic democratic Egypt realize now that they must build a platform for change and mobilize people behind it. Key will be reaching out to Egyptians outside of the capital.
2. The Muslim Brotherhood is losing political appeal but they are the party with the most experience and the deepest reach because they work through NGO service delivery and local networks; the opposition understands now it must adopt similar strategies; one of the challenges for the opposition is that former regime members are part of the coalition and that makes it difficult to build internal consensus.
3. The speakers said that they feel the US is less interested in supporting democracy activists now than before the revolution; they expressed disappointment with how the US is prioritizing its strategic interests in Egypt over values, pointing out that President Morsi is utilizing the old authoritarian mechanisms of the state and the US is engaging business as usual.
4. Nabulsi's organization adopted one street in a Cairo "slum" neighborhood and is working with the community to address employment and public service needs, but the challenges are immense. For instance, they have sought permission from the government to open a health clinic in the neighborhood for two years and just now got permission to do it.
5. The slow and messy transition in Egypt can be attributed to several factors: political polarization, Muslim Brotherhood posturing for control; lack of a clear road map for the transition; old ideologies; generational gaps and institutional weaknesses. Civil society is trying to work on all fronts and at all levels.
6. Regarding the upcoming elections (postponed without a new date scheduled) they field candidates but they don't have enough money to compete; need to build coalitions.