The People’s Democratic Movement: A holistic vision for change

The Emergency Law, which has given the Egyptian government sweeping powers to detain citizens for the last three decades, has been extended for two more years. International human rights organizations routinely condemn Egypt’s record on political prisoners, freedom of expression, and violence against women. Over 40 percent of Egyptians live at or below the international poverty line.

It is little wonder that reform is on so many people’s minds. The topic pervades the media and everyday conversations, and it is perhaps why many see the potential entry of Mohamed ElBaradei into the political scene as a breath of fresh air. Amid this political climate, grassroots organizations and movements are emerging to unite like-minded people around a common goal: fixing Egypt.

One example of this trend is the People’s Democratic Movement for Change, which brings together representatives from labor groups, academia, political parties, and concerned citizens with the aim of establishing a comprehensive program for political, social and economic reform.

“It is a program for a vision that is not specifically related to one particular field,” says Aida Seif el-Dawla, a member of the People’s Democratic Movement and the director of the Nadim Center for the Rehabilitation of Victims of Torture.

To date the movement has attracted about 100 members, from the ranks of numerous organizations including the Karama Party, the Revolutionary Socialist organization, and the independent Union of Real Estate Tax Authority Employees. Even some members of parliament, like Karama Party founder Hamdeen Sabahy, have joined.

The movement began to take shape six months ago with a series of meetings, culminating with a 35-page mission statement offering a new vision for Egypt and listing several key demands.

“Real change must come from the base,” the document says. “From the farmers, workers, youth, employees, fisherman, and professionals, both women and men, both Muslims and Christians.”

Participants say that the movement sets itself apart from other pro-reform groups with its holistic approach that emphasizes the interdependence of various political, social and economic issues.

“We are putting together a vision for a different, holistic system, and not just focusing on one particular field,” says Rabab el-Mahdi, a movement member and professor of political science at the American University in Cairo. “So we’re bridging the political with the social with the economic–because they all go hand in hand.”

For el-Mahdi, Egypt’s most significant problem lies in socio-economic imbalance. The solution, she says, lies in dividing the country’s wealth more equitably.

“Socio-economic rights are critical, and a more just economic system is critical, within which there wouldn’t be a huge gap in income and lifestyle,” she says. “Then comes political freedom and individual liberty.”

Most recently, the group has focused its efforts on mobilizing against the extension of the Emergency Law and pushing for a national minimum wage of LE1200.

“We think of change as a holistic thing. It’s not just about political liberties, socio-economic rights and civil rights,” explains el-Mahdi.

While some remain skeptical about what the movement can achieve in a country where dissent is often stifled before materializing, Seif el-Dawla is optimistic.

“A movement like this can succeed in mobilizing people around a comprehensive vision for how we would like the country to look, both in terms of democratic reform, but also social and economic reform,” she says. “It is a movement for mobilization, not a political movement.”

Strategies for mobilization, Seif el-Dawla adds, will vary among different groups and no single group will be treated as more important than others.

“Tactics among workers will be different than among farmers and women. These things have to be developed through the different groups involved, all on equal footing,” she says. “What would I give up, the rights of women, the rights of Copts, or the rights to a social vision?”

Related Articles

Back to top button