Founding Fathers and Mothers of Egypt’s Reborn Democracy

Liberal Muslims and Christians, banding together under the banner of al-Wasat, or “the Center”, are poised to help build Egypt’s new democracy.

I had the extreme pleasure and honor to be at a gathering tonight in the poshest of neighborhoods outside Cairo (so posh, even one of the sons of “he who will not be named” lived in this neighborhood).

In attendance were 27 men and 5 women (mostly Muslim, with a few Christians) who gathered at a home to hear the head of al-Wasat, Abul Ela Madi, and his 2nd in command, Essam Sultan, talk about their party’s mission, goals, and objectives.

Mr. Essam (a lawyer, and a former Muslim Brotherhood [MB] member who defected to al-Wasat) arrived first and he spoke at length about the differences between the MB and al-Wasat. (Note: the MB just announced yesterday that they would be forming a new party called Hizb al-Huriya wa al-Adaala, Freedom and Justice Party.)

Mr. Essam made it very clear that he and al-Wasat objected to the MB policy about women and Copts not being allowed to run for President of the Republic, and saw that this policy – even if it changes in the future, for political expediency purposes – is anti-democratic and shows the MB to be what it is: an out-of-touch, conservative, male-dominated and Muslim-only organization, and thus an anti-democratic party.

“Christians and Muslims fought together in Tahrir; they bled together; they died together in Tahrir. They can all serve together in our new Democracy, without distinction between them based on religion!” (Essam Sultan)

Mr. Essam distinguished al-Wasat from the MB even further saying the MB focuses on al-da’wa (“the call”) first, seeking to spread the message of Islam, and secondarily focuses on politics. He seems to suggest that he would prefer if they simply focused on their core mission of al-da’wa, and leave the politics to the rest of Egyptians. A question from one of the attendees asked: “Were they [the MB] terrorists?” Mr. Essam said, “no! But they do espouse very conservative views.”

He spoke of al-Wasat’s 15-year struggle to get registered (which finally happened days after Mubarak resigned) and was proud of the fact that al-Wasat has “a lot of Christians” in their ranks, even in leadership positions.

As I said above, I feel honored to have been present at this meeting, which represents just one of many such gatherings across Egypt (though surely this is one of the most elite gatherings I can imagine taking place, and all for the cause of a liberal, multi-faith, democratic party). I feel as if I am witnessing history as Egyptians gather across their land, debating differences between parties, finding common ground, seeking approval of ordinary (and extraordinary) citizens and voters.

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