With Mubarak Gone, Politics Is New For Egyptians

The recent uprisings in Egypt toppled the 30-year rule of President Hosni Mubarak. The autocratic leader tightly controlled comments about the government. Egyptians are now learning how to express themselves politically.

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STEVE INSKEEP, host:

The protesters who forced their way into the state security offices last weekend include Ibrahim al-Houdaiby(ph). He walked out with files that contained a profile of his grandfather, who had been a senior figure in the Muslim Brotherhood. Houdaiby himself has left the Brotherhood but at age 27 remains politically active. And in spite of those files from the past, he says he's more focused on the future, which is what we'll talk about next.

We sat down with Houdaiby in a Cairo restaurant and brought him on the line with another observer of Egypt's drama. Issandr El Amrani is a noted blogger who has been covering the effort to set up a new government - an effort led by generals from the old regime.

Mr. ISSANDR EL AMRANI (Blogger): You have at the head of the supreme military council a man who has been minister of defense since 1992. He's obviously associated with the former regime of Hosni Mubarak. And this is why I suspect that the military is eager to go as quickly as possible to set up a civilian regime that may have more credibility to handle some of these transitional issues.

But right now it's a very unstable situation still in the sense that the population is not clear where to look towards authority, especially since the government has little authority, the police has zero authority today. It's a bit of an uncertain time in that respect.

INSKEEP: I was interested, gentlemen, to see to see another development of the past 24 hours in Cairo, which is that women demonstrated in Tahrir Square, which is so world-famous now for the demonstrations that brought down Mubarak. They were protesting and apparently there was a counter-protest by people who believed that the women were in some way protesting against Islam. And some people were - were roughed up. Is that a signal of divisions within the opposition?

Mr. IBRAHIM AL-HOUDAIBY: There aren't divisions. There are just disagreements. And they are natural and they're healthy, actually, as long as they're properly managed. And to be properly managed we should have a presentation, a parliament where these disputes are brought onto discussions.

We have learned to express our views, but 30 years of oppression has taken away a great portion of our ability to listen to each other and to accept each other's views.

INSKEEP: Issandr El Amrani?

Mr. AMRANI: I think, you know, I agree with what Ibrahim said. You have to keep in mind that this regime for a long time, for decades, infantilized the population. It had a paternalistic approach. And people are just now learning to - how to express themselves politically again, especially outside of the country's elite. People aren't used to having their voices heard.

INSKEEP: So we're in a situation where within less than two weeks there's going to be a vote on a constitution and then possibly parliamentary and presidential elections after that. What are the dangers of the coming days, gentlemen?

Mr. AMRANI: I think that there's a risk of going too fast. You know, the military would like to hold elections for parliament in June. Within that time there's no real chance for new political parties to organize. And you are left with the remnants of the former ruling party - the National Democratic Party -and the Muslim Brotherhood as the two forces that are the most capable of doing well in the election within three months.

And I don't think that that's going to be very representative. The results could disappoint a lot of people, especially if the former ruling party becomes, you know, essentially you get the same outcome - electoral outcome -that you had last year or five years ago. I think that's the big risk.

INSKEEP: Is it going too fast, Ibrahim?

Mr. AL-HOUDAIBY: I do realize that there are threats with moving forward too fast, but I think that what Churchill said about democracy applies to moving fast in this case. Because if we don't move fast, the challenges are even more. I mean, you're either giving the military even more power - and power is tempting - and they will decide to stay. Or you're going into endless conflicts.

What we should do is try and organize and mobilize the people to make sure that everyone will be represented in the next parliament.

INSKEEP: Ibrahim´┐Żal-Houdaiby is formerly a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and has been involved in the protests in recent weeks.

Thanks for taking the time to speak with us.

Mr. AL-HOUDAIBY: Thank you.

INSKEEP: We also spoke with Issandr El Amrani, whose blog is called The Arabist.

Thanks again for talking with us.

Mr. AMRANI: You're welcome.

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