Closing In On The Egyptian Presidential Elections

Political tensions are rising in Egypt ahead of the presidential elections later in May. Deadly protests in the capital are jeopardizing the already fragile transition process that started a year ago after the ousting of former President Hosni Mubarak. Robert Siegel talks to Egyptian parliament member Amr Hamzawy for more.

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ROBERT SIEGEL, HOST:

Amr Hamzawy belongs to the Egyptian Freedom Party, a small liberal, secular party. He's a member of the Egyptian Parliament and won election to his seat after he helped lead the revolution that overthrew former Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak.

Hamzawy was in Washington this week meeting with U.S. officials. And I asked him if he agreed with one common reading of events in Egypt, that at least for the near term his country is in for Islamist political dominance.

AMR HAMZAWY: I disagree. Of course, that assumption comes against the background of the results of the parliamentary elections in which Islamists managed with over 75 percent in parliament. However, that win, to my mind, was the peak of popular support to Islamist parties and movements. And Egyptians are learning a different reality now. They are learning the reality of the people's assembly, of parliament, where much of what was promised to them by Islamists is not be delivered.

And on the other hand, liberal forces, secular forces are doing much better in terms of organizing. And it's becoming more of a competitive political scene.

SIEGEL: Should Egyptian liberals, though, be reconciled to the fact that their appeal might be largely to a more educated, younger slice of the population, and that, frankly, that's going to always be a minority of the population?

HAMZAWY: Well, you know, I one in the District of Heliopolis in Cairo in the first round. And I could win a total of 54 percent of the voters. Yes, naturally we appeal to educated Egyptians, two well-off Egyptians, two urban middle-classes. However, if we continue to perform better, I am sure that our appeal will expand.

And secondly, we should not fall into the trap of doing politics against Islamists. We can agree or disagree with Islamists but we have to define our agenda independently...

SIEGEL: In a positive way, you're saying.

HAMZAWY: In a positive way, it should not be in relation to Islamist. It should not be a definition of by a negation what Islamists do not say we say.

SIEGEL: Are you confident that the ruling military council is going to yield power to civilian government, as they have said they will?

HAMZAWY: In the last 48 hours, I have been meeting administration officials from the National Security Council as well as from the State Department. And I have been sending out the message that the U.S. administration needs to make it very clear to SCAF...

SIEGEL: The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.

HAMZAWY: ...Supreme Council of the Armed Forces that the handover should happen and should happen on time; that will not expect any delays in the timetable.

SIEGEL: You're saying the U.S. should make clear to the military...

HAMZAWY: Yes.

SIEGEL: ...that we don't think it's a good idea for them to...

HAMZAWY: To delay, to delay the timetable. And as far as Egyptians...

SIEGEL: You're obviously concerned about that...

HAMZAWY: I am concerned, yes. I am concerned. And of course, I get even more concerned when I see and hear about the violent incidents going on in Cairo in the last 72 hours. I mean that scenario of armed thugs attacking demonstrators hasn't occurred time and again in Egypt throughout the last 17 months. And it makes the environment extremely volatile. And it opens up the possibility or the potential for delaying the presidential elections, which I do not wish to see.

SIEGEL: Well, when you've expressed this to Americans in the administration and in Congress, do they agree enthusiastically? Or do they ask you, well, what happens if there is an Islamist president who has gone very far right to satisfy Salafist voters? What if the military said, no, we can't let that happen?

HAMZAWY: No, in honesty and objectivity, I did not hear that. I heard the clear commitment, stick to the timetable. We need an elected president regardless of the identity of that president. It's definitely going to be much better to have an accountable president, an elected president, accountable to the people as opposed to what we been having since February 11, 2011 - a military that no one can hold accountable for anything.

Secondly, the military will not be out of Egyptian politics. I mean the handover of power does not mean that their role in Egyptian politics will be a past phenomenon. No.

SIEGEL: So you've come to Washington, you're about to leave Washington still confident about Egypt's democratic future.

HAMZAWY: It has been a messy process. It's bound to continue to be a messy democratic transition. But by no means would I describe what we are looking at now as a failed democratic transition. It takes time.

SIEGEL: Amr Hamzawy, thank you very much.

HAMZAWY: It's a pleasure to be here.

SIEGEL: Amr Hamzawy is a member of the Egyptian Parliament. He belongs to the liberal Egyptian Freedom Party.

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