Wael Nawara, President of Arab Alliance for Freedom and Democracy
Arab Spring: One Year On
Speech by Wael Nawara, President of Arab Alliance for Freedom and Democracy
Esteemed Friends, Colleagues, Liberals, Democrats, Ladies and Gentlemen
I am pleased and honored -- to appear before you today in Barcelona, I cannot think of a better place -- to discuss European-Arab affairs and cooperation -- and speak about the Arab Spring. About Revolutions of the People. My presentation today, however, does not celebrate the glories of the revolutions of the Arab spring. We hardly have time to celebrate! For since the very early days, of the Egyptian revolution, to give but an example, we started to see plots and conspiracies. Alliances assembled to steal the revolution, from the people. Divert its path towards a new form of power monopoly, religious fascism â€“ from originally pointing towards liberty, Social justice, human dignity, prosperity, democracy and rule of the people. The very ideals which the people spontaneously used in their chants Are still under attack as they were before the revolution. We started to see plots from those who always doubted the universality of these great values. From those who share not these values. From those who wanted to re-produce and re-erect an old regime of tyranny under new titles and disguises. Beneath new faces and props.
In Egypt, the plot was apparent in the crooked road map, which placed parliamentary elections before the constitution, signaling the start of a race before the rules of the political process were laid.
Parties which were 3 or 4 weeks old had to field candidates in hundreds of districts where they hardly had offices or membership. Facing mature organizations a 100-year old. Liberal parties in Egypt managed to earn around 20% of the seats, despite huge parity in funding and organizational capacity. Many feel disheartened by the results of the elections in Egypt. But where others justifiably see reasons for frustration, I see signs of hope. Because where Egyptian voters found credible alternatives, they chose moderates, democrats and liberals. But in many cases, such alternatives did not exist. Voters had to choose from what is available. Democracy is not about elections. It is about choice. And we must make such liberal choices available in future elections.
Liberal lists which had support from campaigns with any level of financial viability managed to get votes and seats, despite all odds. But this is not the time to massage each others hearts with such comforting thoughts. We now have to face the challenges and look to the future with unwavering commitment and resolve. This is the time to make promises to ourselves. This is the time to choose. We are at crossroads.
Will we let our world slip into a fateful path, where fanatics, right wing extremists, hate-mongers, even fascists, steer our nations towards more hatred and conflict, or do we pledge a new commitment to restore honor to the values of liberty, justice, equality, cooperation, solidarity, legitimacy, sustainability, balance and friendship?
The Egyptian Revolution and the Arab Spring, is not just about Tunisia, Egypt, Libya or Syria. It is about our future. The future of our children, not just on both sides of the Mediterranean, but possibly all over the world.
The Internal Challenges we have are enormous. Monumental. But together. We can match these challenges. If we choose to work together and learn from the mistakes of the past. To give an example of success and hope, I must borrow the experience of - and salute some important liberals fellows, the Egyptian Bloc in Egypt and the Free Egyptian Party, which managed to put a tremendous fight and make significant election gains, despite all odds, despite sectarian propaganda, resource parity, complete control of Islamists over polling stations. When my party decided to pull out from the Egyptian bloc, I almost felt like having a heart attack. I had invested hundreds of hours â€¦ months of sleepless nights, working with the leaders, local members and operatives, candidates, youth and campaign members, of the Democratic front party, Free Egyptian Party, Social Democratic Party and Tagamoa. Drafting platforms, bylaws, procedures, working on message development, training campaign managers, developing campaign strategy, media kits, slogans, positioning strategy, etc. But I am glad that it was not all in vain. Some good came out of it.
But the bigger gain is the lesson which I hope liberals and democrats in Egypt will learn.
The challenges facing liberals and democrats in Egypt are numerous:
â€˘ Organizational: how to build strong effective organizations in a short time, organizations that would support election machinery throughout the country.
â€˘ Consolidation: where we once had 2 islamist candidates and 120 liberal candidates, we should pull ourselves together. Smaller parties joining forces to achieve election results.
â€˘ Logistics: managing and mobilizing volunteer organizations and voter masses specially on election day.
â€˘ Funding: as hundreds of millions of dollars pour from Gulf states to support Islamists --- liberals and democrats must find ways to organize local fund-raising campaigns.
â€˘ Message: focusing on priorities of the voters and not on sophisticated ideological subtleties. Internalizing principles of the revolution to the lives of the voters and getting away from abstracts.
â€˘ Leadership: even a leaderless revolution would need to find human faces to present to the voters to elect. Voters cannot elect ideas. We must develop and leverage leaders, young and old, men and women, both at the national level and in every district and municipality.
Liberal Parties in our region, must brace themselves and prepare for being in opposition. Losing election does not mean â€śholidayâ€ť â€¦ Go home and sleep for a year or two till the next election comes. Being in opposition means preparing for the battle ahead. Being in opposition does not mean sabotaging ruling parties while dancing to the screams of the growing pains of the people. On the contrary. Being in opposition means presenting alternatives when government plans do not seem to work.
But having spoken of the Internal Challenges --- what Arab Liberals and Democrats must do at home, we also need to speak frankly about the role of Liberals and Democrats in Europe and beyond. I see that the Islamist movement gets its biggest boost from abandoning liberal values, tolerating injustice, using double standards. Closing an eye on human rights violations, when it is committed by â€śa friendâ€ť or when ignoring them serves some short term â€śinterestsâ€ť or some domestic election gains.
Let me tell you this: there is no more urgent set of interests, than to secure the future of this planet with the values of peace, balance and justice. Those who are not with us today, because they sacrificed their lives for the cause of freedom, in Our region as well in Europe and all over the world.
They Deserve that we make this commitment. Swear to this pledge. In honor of Those who have willingly sacrificed their lives for the greater good. They challenged status quo. Welcomed the uncertainties and risks for the hope, they might â€¦ just might ... bring.
They deserve that we make that commitment.
And while Arab liberals and democrats must build the capacity of liberal and democratic parties in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, etc., we should also step back and have a look at the bigger picture â€“ the larger trend.
We might then realize the rise of Islamists as a reactionary movement. To decades, of colonialism, occupation, humiliation and injustice. Rise of Islamists came as the liberal world â€“ between brackets - failed its own values â€“ failed to live up to its own creed. Under the excuses of realism, and short term interests. Forgetting that liberal values are the embodiment and guaranty of attaining and sustaining, long term interests, for everyone involved.
In the 60s, Cold War politics led to US backing conservative Saudi Arabia and blindly support of Israel on the expense of progressive Arab regimes. Weakening the progressive movement and strengthening the conservative tide. In the 70s Sadat used Islamists to curb Nationalists and Socialists. Offshoots of the same Islamist groups which he brewed, ended up assassinating him in 1981. But instead of learning from past mistakes, the US in the 80s, used Islamist movements in recruiting Mujahedeen fighters to combat soviet forces in Afghanistan.
For decades, and to this day, the United States insists on using its Veto power in the security council to shield Israel from consequences of its own doings, against Israelâ€™s own long term interests, rendering the International Justice system a mockery. Europe, at best, stood in apathy. When a European country like Turkey, despite years of negotiations and persistent efforts in harmonizing codes and systems with European standards, never qualifies for EU membership, another boost is given to Islamist extremists. supporting a paradigm of dividing the world based on religion and we sabotage an alternative paradigm which is based on common humanity, shared values and principles.
Failing the beautiful values we hold dear - little by little we let ugly behaviors prevail. And before long, the world turns into an ugly place. The effects of foreign policy is accumulative. Whatever is done will come back and haunt everyone involved. Bad Karma. This is the essence of post-realism.
I do not need to tell you that Politics â€“ is just the other side of economics.
So, for instance, when Egypt was cornered into a long conflict of attrition, and hence poverty, Egyptians started to travel to make a better living in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf â€“ they come back with TVs, ACs and Stereos, but they also have some other luggage. Wahabist ideology. Their women came back dressing differently. Their children brought up in a more conservative environment, and before you know it, a small story which started with someone traveling to the Gulf to improve his familyâ€™s income, turns over decades to a process of cultural transformation, replacing moderate Egyptian Islamic traditions with extremist dry, desert fundamentalist wahabism.
Why should Europe, while having plenty of its own financial and fiscal problems, get seriously involved in development efforts in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya and other countries of the Arab Spring, extending opportunity, propagating social justice, weaving threads of friendship and common interests between the lives of People on both sides of the Mediterranean â€“ building bridges not just between governments and regimes --- but between peoples â€¦
Why should Europe use its leverage to find a just solution that will restore Palestinian rights?
I hope you already have answers to these questions and I am happy that HE FathAllah Sijilmassi, secretary general of UfM --Union for the Mediterranean is with us today.
After many years. of trying to change the world. I can tell you that we do not â€¦ really change the world!!
We change ourselves. And before long, the world becomes a different place.
Will we be able to see beyond realism â€¦ Post-realism. See beyond â€śMight makes it rightâ€ť.
â€śPower and force, can reward aggression with land and possessions and recognitionâ€ť.
Can we See that equality, justice and balance, are not just principles or perspectives, but are behavioral solutions that our ancestors learned over 1000â€™s of years in their journey of social evolution. That these words described how societies managed to thrive and survive through cooperation, interconnectedness, justice and harmony. That these are the very laws of survival, perhaps once forgotten, but there has never been a time, where remembering is more crucial.
We may be living on separate islands. But when the water rises, we will all go under.
Many look at the results of the recent elections ad wonder about the future of democracy in Egypt and the middle east. Will the revolutions fail?
But during this last year, millions of Arabs, Friday after Friday â€¦ month after month, would assemble in Tahrir, or Loloa Square, in the streets of Tunisia, Morocco, Syria, Jordan, waving their flags, chanting demands of the revolution. And one by one, these demands are being met.
In this revolution, Tunisians, Egyptians and Arabs, discovered themselves. Realized their own collective power. And that: is the greatest achievement of the revolution. That: is the absolute guaranty that the revolution will prevail.
In that rare moment of self-discovery, Tunisians, Libyans, Egyptians, Yeminis, Arabs looked fate in the eye, and changed the course of history, often with their bare hands.
The Arab Spring, the Tunisian, Libyan, Yemeni and Egyptian revolutions, are not just about Egypt or Tunisia. It is about ordinary citizens. Young and old. Men and women from every faith and conviction. Simple individuals connected and empowered by technology, now challenging status quo. With thousands and millions of others gathering around a common cause. Developing collective mind of consciousness. A mind capable of change.
When I find myself here with you in Barcelona today. Hearing these wonderful proposals of economic cooperation on both sides of the Mediterranean. Of research and development programs extending between north and south. Proposals suggesting easing of borders and removal of modern day barbed wires. Realizing that we share -so many ideals. And that we as liberals, do have solutions â€“ that work and deliver to the people. That we have so much in common. I know that together we will continue to challenge status quo. Deep in my heart. I know that together we can â€¦. and we will â€¦ once again - change the world. Thank you very much.
Barcelona, March 2012