Dr. Fatma Khafagy: Support peaceful coexistence

Dr. Fatma Khafagy: Support peaceful coexistence

Political parties in Egypt may need to build their skills in forming alliances in order to gain influence in a new democratic setting, says Dr. Fatma Khafagy, who is a prominent women’s rights activist as well as a founding member of one of Egypt’s new parties.

For years Dr. Fatma Khafagy has advocated the respect of human rights with a particular focus on the rights of women in Egypt. In the wake of the Egyptian revolution, she followed a calling to seek influence more directly as she became a founding member of the newly established party, People’s Socialist Alliance.

Interviewed when visiting Copenhagen to speak at the DIPD opening conference on 26 May, Fatma Khafagy shared her views on the immediate political situation in Egypt.

A member for many years of Egypt’s civil society, Dr. Khafagy admits she needs to build her skills in the field of political craftsmanship:

“In Egypt we have several political parties. Some are old, and many new parties are formed every day. They all face a common challenge in the fact that everybody has limited experience in performing as a party in a democratic society and need to gain experience from old parties elsewhere.”

The start-up

Asked what type of ‘technical support’ would be useful for Egyptian parties and political movements, Fatma Khafagy said:

“For instance in my own party, People’s Socialist Alliance, we have established so many new committees based on thematic as well as geographic divides. We want to do so much and have all the structures in place, but might have to review the number of committees.”

“So basically, we are currently contemplating, if a party should address all issues, or if we should focus on issues identified by our target groups? All these considerations are in our mind, but we do not have the time to properly address them, because we are so busy getting new members.”

“We would like to learn from others. We do not ask for a ready model, but it would be very beneficial to us, if parties abroad would share their experiences with us”, said Fatma Khafagy.

How to form alliances

“In the coming election we need inspiration on how to build alliances. There are more than 20 new parties, and we are all small and we need to come together. We share similar views on a number of issues, but we also need to stand out in our own right. The question is, how can we stand together while at the same time maintaining a profile for each of the parties?”

Most importantly, Fatma Khafagy stressed the importance of keeping Egypt’s transition to democracy alive in all aspects.

“We need international support in building a case and understanding for the fact that Egypt is going through a period of transition. But we also need the international community to keep up the pressure and an eye on the fact that rules of human rights and democracy must be respected.”

Fear of interference from outside

Pointing to a number of key challenges, Fatma Khafagy expressed concern how Egypt may face the grave dangers and challenges that leaves Egypt very vulnerable during the transition period:

“There is growing insecurity, partly due to the police who seem to be disciplining us in an act of revenge after the revolution. Examples include randomly stopping cars in the street as well as harassing people in the streets.There are also criminals who have more space to operate, because the police force is not functioning properly. Sectarian violence might, however, be the greatest danger right now”, she said.

On the question how the international community should respond to the looming challenges, Fatma Khafagy explained that recent events in the region nurture the fear of interference from outside.

“Young people are keen to show the world, this is an Egyptian revolution. They don’t want international pressure in such a manner that they appear to be supported by the international forces. We do not want to see the US or others intervene like we’ve seen elsewhere”, she said and continued:

“Having said so, it is not like they don’t want international forces to talk about Egypt – they just don’t want anybody outside putting demands on Egypt. It is important to understand that there are many challenges but also so much will power. The power of the sheer numbers helps in putting forward demands right now as people know now, that they are in power.”

Multi-party support is a prudent choice

Asked what Danish parties and DIPD may contribute to the on-going process, Khafagy called for a broad approach:

“Every day I see MPs come from all over Europe to listen and ask: what would you like us to help you with? This is good.”

She pointed to the discussions around the election where one side push for postponing the election arguing there is not enough time for all to organize and prepare. The other side, she said, wants to go ahead with elections as scheduled this fall.

“Danish MPs should go to Egypt but refrain from giving advice on when the elections should take place. Instead, they should discuss and ask what is needed in terms of technical support.”

Fatma Khafagy suggested Denmark should focus on listening, offering advice and training – not only to secular parties but to religious parties as well.

“Training of religious parties and secular parties jointly would be conducive in inspiring them to talk to one another, she said and explained:

“Many Egyptians have never seen how parties function elsewhere. They have never sat in on a session in a Western parliament, and they have no knowledge about how you raise an issue in a democratic setting or run a functional parliament. So study tours to participate in sessions, not only in Europe but also in the Arab world, would be very instructive.”

As if she was contemplating for a moment her own words, Fatma Khafagy went on to say:

“Actually parties are becoming more pragmatic right now. It seems like they try to find a new way to coincide, and I believe its because they want to make it this time. Multiparty approaches to offering technical support and advice might therefore be the best way to support us at this important time in the Egyptian transition.”

Portrait photo of Dr. Fatema Khafagy
Photo by DIPD/Thorkild Jensen