Together with the Danish Egyptian Dialogue Institute and the Netherlands Institute for Multiparty Democracy, DIPD has supported two Egyptian NGO’s in piloting long-term political education programs. The programs were started in August 2012, and the first trainees will have their certificates in February and March this year.
Simulating the Egyptian parliament
“The liberal, islamist and leftist participants negotiated their own constitution. And they actually all ended up voting for it!”
Rafeef Harbia’s eyes shine behind the purple classes, while she proudly explains about the accomplishment of the participants in the political education program at the Egyptian Democracy Academy (EDA). They have spent a session in the fall simulating the constitutional assembly where they have been acting as the people’s representatives for drafting the new constitution for Egypt. They discussed the publicly debated articles in mixed groups with young activists from the whole political spectrum, and they ended up with a a draft that they could all vote for.
Today they are discussing the issues of public transport in Egypt focusing on Giza governorate. The tinted windows send a yellow glow over the room, where the young trainer engages in discussion with the class of trainees.
For six month the 30 trainees have spent all their weekends in each other’s company at EDA’s office to obtain knowledge about local government, national budgets and many other themes that will prepare them to be even more engaged as critical citizens and political activists in the Egyptian transition process.
Clashes in the classroom
At the end of November, the Egyptian president Morsi declared that he was “authorised to take any measures he sees fit in order to preserve the revolution, to preserve national unity or to safeguard national security”. This statement led to severe clashes between the opposition and supporters of the president in front of the presidential palace.
These clashes were mirrored in the classroom of EDA in that period, where supporters of president Morsi received training shoulder by shoulder with his most severe critics. The EDA vice program manager Mohamed Fadaly facilitated a session where he acted as a representative of the president, asking the opponents to throw their arguments at him instead of at each other. In this way the overall present conflict was debated without the trainees turning against each other. Mohamed Fadaly says:
“Afterwards they were joking with each other as usual in the break. It is one of our most important mandates; to create a space where all the very different people of Egypt can stay in the same room and listen to each other’s opinions.”
Teaching for the sake of Egypt
“This kind of education is important for building up democratic institutions in Egypt. If people do not understand the budget they are not able to hold the government accountable.”
Dr. Abdullah Shehata states this when asked why he would spend his whole weekend teaching young people about the Egyptian national budget. Dr. Abdullah Shehata was last week nominated to be Deputy to Minister of Finance. He adds:
“I love teaching. To see that people understand. And this is a very active crowd!”
He refers to the trainees at the program called “Partners in Dialogue” – a political education program which is being implemented by the Cairo Center for Human Development (CCHD).
They are right now taking a break on a Saturday afternoon in the delta region of Egypt. They are eating their lunch while chatting energetically with each other. Some of them are volunteers in international NGO’s. Some of them are affiliated with political parties. One thing they have in common is their eagerness to influence the shape of the future state of Egypt.