Egyptians Fear Arab Spring Progress Is Slipping Away

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Best-selling Egyptian novelist and political activist Alaa Al Aswany talks to Steve Inskeep about whether the Arab Spring gains are being eroded by Islamists and the military.

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Now let's consider Egypt, where a crackdown security forces on Coptic Christian protesters in recent days is a sobering reminder of the challenges that remain after the revolution there.

A military government is preparing to hold elections later this year. But novelist Alaa al-Aswany, a leading liberal voice, is concerned.

DR. ALAA AL ASWANY: The only goal of the revolution which was achieved is bringing Mubarak to justice. But you have the old police, you have the judges who supervised rigged elections, and they are still in their posts. You have the old regime people everywhere. And there is a contradiction here, because the revolution happened to eliminate the old regime. It's like you are asking the old regime to eliminate itself, which will never happen.

INSKEEP: Are you also worried about the increasing, or what appears to be the increasing power of Islamists in Egypt?

ASWANY: It depends, because you have three groups of Islam.

INSKEEP: Mm-hmm.

ASWANY: You have three groups. You have the Muslim Brothers, who are right-wing politicians with Islamic background. I disagree with their ideas completely, but they are (unintelligible).

INSKEEP: In other words, they're willing to work within a democratic system as it evolves.

ASWANY: Yes, yes, yes. Absolutely. Absolutely. The two other groups, you have the Salafi group, who are Wahhabi people, and they are against democracy, as a matter of fact, and they never participated in the revolution. But the problem is that they are absolutely supported by the Saudi regime, and they have a lot of money.

You have a third group who's not really much better, because these people are extremists, people who committed already crimes. They killed Anwar Sadat, our ex-president, and killed tourists and killed Egyptians and they spend in prison 20 years, and they are now in politics.

INSKEEP: Well, if I can imagine you as a pro-democracy activist in the middle of a crowd, the goal for this year for people like you was to open a little space for yourself in that crowd before these elections come. Do you feel that what's happening instead is that you have the military elbowing in from one direction and Islamists elbowing in from another direction on you?

ASWANY: No. I think the only responsibility is the responsibility of the military cults. You see, because in a democracy I should accept everybody including these three groups of Islamists. But even if the extremists will have a place in the coming parliament, I see this as a positive thing. Why? Because you need to learn once and forever that religion is different from politics and religion should be kept away from politics.

INSKEEP: I want to repeat what you said to make sure that I understand it. It sounds like you're saying that you have hope that even if more Islamist or extremist forces do very well and win a lot of seats in parliament, that this will force them to face their own contradictions and expose them for what they are. You're hoping it would be a positive thing.

ASWANY: Absolutely. And I believe now that extremists are losing ground after the revolution, and they are not really being more popular.

INSKEEP: Do you expect that the military is going to allow fair elections?

ASWANY: I'm not talking about the army now. I'm talking about Egyptian people. Egyptians, after the revolution, will never allow anybody or any president to make rigged elections anymore.

INSKEEP: Meaning that maybe the old regime would like to rig the election, but you don't think they'll get away with it.

ASWANY: No way. It will never work.

INSKEEP: Dr. Alaa Al Aswany, thanks very much.

ASWANY: Thank you, sir.

INSKEEP: Alaa Al Aswany is an Egyptian novelist and activist in Cairo. You're listening to MORNING EDITION, from NPR News.

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