STEVE INSKEEP, host:
It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. I'm Steve Inskeep.
DEBORAH AMOS, host:
And I'm Deborah Amos.
When Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice traveled to Cairo two years ago, she described how democracy was taking hold in the region.
Secretary CONDOLEEZZA RICE (State Department): The day is coming when the promise of a fully free and democratic world, once thought impossible, will also seem inevitable. The people of Egypt should be at the forefront of this great journey, just as you have led this region through the great journeys of the past.
AMOS: As part of our series on democracy movements, we're looking today at what happened since Secretary Rice's speech.
Amr Hamzawy works at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace. He says opposition to Egypt's president, Hosni Mubarak, has lost much of what the U.S. government thought was momentum.
Mr. AMR HAMZAWY (Carnegie Endowment for International Peace): We had parliamentary elections in 2005, which was characterized by violence, manipulation, and intimidation of different opposition groups. We still have the regime using its same intimidation and repression instruments against Islamists and non-religious opposition movements. So Egypt has been backsliding since then.
AMOS: And in broad terms there are, as I understand, three kinds of opposition. There are the Islamists, the Muslim brotherhood. There is a candidate who actually challenged Mubarak in the election, Ayman Nour, who is in jail. And then there is a broad social group called, Kefayah - enough. Of those three, what group is most likely actually to be able to challenge?
Mr. HAMZAWY: The one group which really commands popular support is the Muslim Brotherhood, the major Islamist opposition movement, which is banned.
AMOS: Why are they so popular? What are they able to do?
Mr. HAMZAWY: Well, they are popular out of two reasons. One, they have been delivering social services to poor segments of the population and to the marginalized. The second reason is definitely that they have a platform which appeals to many Egyptians. Egypt is becoming a more religious society, has become a more conservative place. And the platform of the Brotherhood appeals to many Egyptians.
AMOS: President Hosni Mubarak has been elected president five times. How does he do that? How does he keep the opposition from challenging his rule?
Mr. HAMZAWY: Well, this is very interesting because Mubarak plays opposition against each other, the Islamists against the secular, liberal and leftist groups, and the other way around.
Secondly, the regime of Mubarak has sustained very high levels of fear. Egyptians are afraid of protesting, afraid of becoming politically active because they face severe repression by the regime - intimidation, imprisonment. Just a few days ago, four editors of chief of independent newspapers were sentenced to prison simply for defaming the president and allegedly circulating false news about his health condition.
AMOS: The speech of Condoleezza Rice at a university in Cairo was the high-water mark of the Bush Administration's push for democracy in the Middle East. They've retreated from that position. Is there anything that a U.S. administration now can do to promote democracy in Egypt?
Mr. HAMZAWY: There is a lot. The Bush Administration has been retreating from democracy promotion allegedly because they need Mubarak and his regime with regard to different key regional issues - Iraq, Lebanon, Palestine, Iran -while pressing Mubarak to democratize internally.
And the U.S. has a great tool. The aid package, means the military of the economic aid package - I'm not saying cut the aid package, I'm just saying condition the aid package to vital significant political and economic reforms.
AMOS: Amr, I have seen quotes from some of the democratic opposition in Cairo that say U.S. get out of the way, that if you touch us, you discredit us.
Mr. HAMZAWY: It's quite a double-sided picture. The images of the U.S. is at an all-time low. On the other side, he knows that there's only one actor which can push the regime to democratization. So what it really means for American democracy promotion is you have to play it in a low profile way. I mean, the U.S. does not have to announce every time it pressures Mubarak to release a political opposition figure. This is a better way to promote democracy in Egypt.
AMOS: Amr Hamzawy, senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace.
Thanks very much.
Mr. HAMZAWY: Thanks for having me.
AMOS: Our conversations continues tomorrow with a look at opposition groups in Iran.
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