Amr Hamzawy: Egypt's liberal star



CAIRO, Rana Moussaoui- He's young, handsome and a defender of women's rights. Amr Hamzawy, a leading Egyptian liberal, withstood an Islamist landslide in Egypt's election to emerge as a leading light for the movement.
The 44-year-old academic stood for parliament from the wealthy Cairo district of Heliopolis where he trounced his main rival, a candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood, with 53.7 percent of the vote.
The victory had a symbolic value for the foreign-educated professor at the University of Cairo and staunch critic of former strongman Hosni Mubarak, who was overthrown in February after an 18-day uprising.



Amr Hamzawy: Egypt's liberal star
Heliopolis, a suburban home to upmarket apartment blocks and restaurants, was the former constituency of the autocrat, who used to vote there during the deeply flawed elections held during his 30-year rule.
The opening round of the first elections in the post-Mubarak era wrapped up on Tuesday, revealing a thumping victory for the more moderate Islamist movement of the Muslim Brotherhood coupled with a surge by religious hardliners.
In total, Islamist parties picked up 113 seats out of 168 up for grabs in the first round of voting for the new parliament, state media reported on Thursday.
"Islamist currents were already present on the political scene and in Egyptian society," Hamzawy told AFP from his office in Heliopolis. "I was under no illusion about the prospect of a victory for liberals."
At least in his own constituency, he picked up three times the number of votes of his Brotherhood rival, he notes, attributing it to a clear and well-organised campaign.
Elsewhere, secular liberals who played a key role in the uprising against Mubarak were divided and disorganised, outmanoeuvered by the Islamists and unable to get their message across.
In the voting for parties in the first round, they won 33 seats, a total split between at least six different coalitions and other independents like Hamzawy.
Asked about the ultra-conservative Salafist movement, which advocates a fundamentalist interpretation of Islam, he played down fears the cultural heart of the Arab world and its most populous nation was turning into Saudi Arabia.
The Salafist Al-Nur party won a quarter of the party vote in the first round.
"I don't worry about their entry into parliament. On the contrary, it's better that they take part, it will moderate their views," he says, pointing to the experiences of extreme-right groups in European politics.
"Egypt is neither Afghanistan nor Saudi Arabia. It's Egypt with moderate Islam," he says.
His own positions naturally clash with those of his conservative political rivals and he has emerged as a prominent spokesman for the liberals, appearing as a regular panelist on television.
During the January-February uprising against Mubarak, he also emerged as an eloquent figure among the protesters.
He advocates the idea of non-religious marriage in Egypt, a quota for women on the boards of companies, and is a defender of the rights of the 8-million-strong Egyptian Christian community.
"I'm in favour of a Christian woman being able to stand for the job of president of the republic," he says.
The gulf between his views and those of some of his Salafist rivals is huge.
A prominent leader said last week that Christians should only be able to hold office if Israel allowed a Muslim to become president, while another said even mixed sex workplaces were "unacceptable."
Hamzawy stood in the election as an independent as he waits for registration of his Egyptian Freedom Party.
He was initially part of the main liberal alliance, the Egyptian bloc, but left it due to differences over the choice and competence of candidates.
The new MP, who studied in Cairo, Berlin and the Netherlands, hopes that his fellow liberal colleagues can unite to become a powerful counterweight to the Islamist parties who are set to be the dominant force.
The elections for the lower house will end only in January when the country completes the voting process which is unfolding in three phases.
Hamzawy, whose tousled hair has become a sort of trademark, was research director and senior associate at the Carnegie Middle East Center in Beirut, and a prominent editorialist in Egyptian newspapers.
He used one of his columns in August to declare his love for his girlfriend, the well-known Egyptian actress Basma.
Many said the gesture was political suicide for a divorced aspiring politician with two children from his former marriage to a German woman. The ballot box has proved the contrary.
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Friday, December 9th 2011
Rana Moussaoui
           


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