Understanding Kefaya: The New Politics in Egypt

By Shorbagy, Manar | Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ), Winter 2007 | Go to article overview
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Understanding Kefaya: The New Politics in Egypt


Shorbagy, Manar, Arab Studies Quarterly (ASQ)


THE EGYPTIAN MOVEMENT FOR CHANGE (EMC) also referred to as Kefaya (enough) was announced in 2004. Almost immediately its importance to Egyptian political life was recognized, though not understood. Both Egyptian and Western analysts have mischaracterized the movement. Interpretations have been either too narrow, focusing on specific details and ignoring the movement's broad vision or too broad, mistaking Kefaya for a generic social movement in the Western mode. All such approaches fail to grasp Kefaya's real contribution. This paper argues that Kefaya's significance lies in its transformative potential as a broad political force of a new type that is uniquely suited to the needs of the moment in Egypt. It is at once a cross-ideological force that has the potential, in the long run, of creating a new mainstream and, at the same time, a movement of a new kind that is creating a distinctive and promising form of politics for Egypt.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, Egypt's political system has reached a dead end. The opposition political parties are locked in their headquarters, unable to communicate with the public. Virtually acquiescing to the siege of an arsenal of restrictive laws, those political parties have for years suffered from an increasingly diminishing membership, lack of operational funds, and internecine internal feuds.

The "illegality" of the Muslim Brothers (MB) has paradoxically liberated that organization from restrictions that come with governmental licensing. However, the ideology, posture, secrecy and political tactics of the grassroots-based MB all engender the mistrust of many political forces, including some Islamists. At the same time, the secularist-Islamist polarization hinders the possibility of reaching any meaningful consensus on critical issues. This blockage is not lost on the regime, the clear beneficiary of such divisions among its adversaries, and it does not augur well for the future of the Brotherhood in a lead role in shaping Egyptian political life.

With seething political discontent on the one hand and ideologically based mistrust among oppositional political forces on the other, Egypt needs today, more than ever, a new form of politics that pulls together diverse forces from across the political spectrum to forge a new national project. Amidst this political disarray, a new generation of Egyptians holds the promise for transforming politics in Egypt. They have found a home and an instrument in Kefaya and, in the process have invented a new form of politics. Their innovations are historically grounded in the specifics of Egypt's political life in recent decades. Unique Egyptian circumstances have shaped their experiences, aspirations, and vision for the future.

Throughout more than a decade, this group of activists and intellectuals have interacted across ideological lines to reach common ground. Kefaya emerged as one manifestation of these efforts and an important illustration of the possibilities of this new politics. While such collaborative work across ideological lines is not unique in democratic experiences around the world, Kefaya represents the first successful effort of that new kind of politics in modern Egyptian history.

This essay is based on primary sources including open-ended interviews, statements, newspaper articles and reports, as well as unpublished documents, is composed of three main parts. The first part explains in more detail the reasons why Kefaya has been widely mischaracterized; the second illustrates why and how Kefaya represents a new force with the potential of creating a new mainstream; and the third explores the new politics invented by Kefaya.

In any assessment of Kefaya, analysis must proceed on two levels. The first deals with Kefaya as a protest movement and the second looks at it as a manifestation of a more important phenomenon, namely the new form of interactive politics across ideological lines that is behind it.

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