Awdat al-Ruh?


A pair of Egyptian parliamentarians has formed a new liberal party that stands for "a free-market economy, respect for the rule of law, good governance, women's empowerment, freedom of expression and an open relationship with the West."

The party is called Hizb al-Ghad, or the Party of Tomorrow, but it is actually reaching back to a past period of Egyptian liberalism. From 1920 until the catastrophic rise of Nasser and his poisonous variety of Pan-Arabism, Egypt enjoyed a period of secular liberalism under the Wafd party. The new party, which features as its general secretary a Harvard-educated woman who is also a Copt, is specifically evoking the Wafd's tradition. (The social context of the rise of a liberal Egyptian nationalism is the subject of Tawfiq al-Hakim's classic 1919 novel, Awdat al-Ruh, or The Return of the Spirit.)

Unfortunately, Egypt's political parties must be licensed by the state. That country has been under "emergency" rule for nearly 25 years, and is not interested in licensing a liberal party. But the point for Egypt's long-beleaguered liberals (at least for now) is that such a party exists whether the state recognizes it or not.

Some related items dealing with Arab liberalism: Ali Fadhil and Mohammed Fadhil, the brothers who run the Iraqi blog, Iraq the Model, decided earlier this month to take their liberal values into politics, and will run for office. The blog Across the Bay, which regularly exposes the pathologies that continue to poison so much of the region's public discourse, recently ran a pair of especially powerful entries dealing with Arabism (here and here). IraqPundit found the silver lining in the mess in Najaf.

NEXT: The New Coca

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  1. Woah! This rocks! First we win our first gold in over 3 decades (wrastling) and now this? Finally a reason to be proud to be an Egyptian for an accomplistment this side of Christ’s birth.

  2. Great news. I hope it catches on.

  3. This is good news.

    I just mailed a copy of “For a New Liberty” by Murray Rothbard to a customer in Egypt. I don’t know if that will help the emerging Liberal movement in Egypt, or derail it.

  4. Holy crap. CBSNews reporting a high-level Pentagon analyst, with close ties to Wolfowitz and Feith, passing classified policy info to Israel via AIPAC.

  5. I think it’s nice of Rick to use his real email address, so that people can send him their apologies directly.

  6. Here’s a bit of self-promotion to add to Mr. Freund’s gracious and much appreciated plug in:

    The first had touched on the Egyptian party.

    The second, just out, expands on alternatives to Arabism.

  7. I’ve read that the Islamic Brotherhood, of all things, is in the forefront of pushing liberal reforms in Egypt, since they’ve been so ruthlessly repressed by the government. These two would make strange bedfellows indeed, but they would seem to have a lot of mutual interests.

  8. zorel,
    There has been major uproar in Egypt because Mubarak has refused to name a “vice president” (in English, we call it a successor) and his health has been sketchy. The CW in Egypt is that he’s prepping Gamel (his son) to take over after he’s gone, which is part of the reason of the uproar in the Parliament. So technically there’s no #2 and there is the potential of conflict after Mubarak goes. The weird thing is that Mubarak essentially has absolute power, but this, of all things, is the major hangup.

    Supposedly, Gamel is the more liberal than the 3 other post-colonials, but it’s not a popular move. I hope this liberal movement is more than just a smoke screen. I’m going to call my father this weekend and see what he thinks of the whole thing. He’s pretty up to date with the opposition parties out there and reads the underground papers (thank God for the internet, since many are illegal).

    BTW, I didn’t intend to take credit for Christ, just happy about one of the few positive moments in the AD era for Egypt. However, Chrisitianity as it is known today was born in Egypt, so there is that claim. 🙂

    Islamic Brotherhood may be pushing for more freedom of association, but it’s hard to root for that outcome. They’re pretty vicious in attacking anyone they feel is an infidel. I’ve heard they attacked Egyptians in Western dress with bowls of acid as well as being responsible for the deaths of over a hundred tourists probably exaggeration, but I heard it there, FWIW). Liberalisation will not happen if they are on the forefront. They have little public support outside the religious fanatics and the power centers are far from those groups. Think of it as the Klan pushing for free speach rights.

  9. This is wonderful news! Does anyone have any suggestions as to how we may assist our Egyptian brothers and sisters in liberty? Ok, I’m getting a little carried away but this really is good news. Maybe we could call the Egyptian embassies and consulates and tell them we wish the best for this party so that the Egyptian government will feel the pressure to license the party, if that’s what they want. Mo, do you have any ideas?

    “They cannot defend the present US administration’s heavy handed policies and at the same time they do not want to cut themselves off from all that is positive in the West…”i

    This is refreshing nuance. Compare with the neocons telling us that were in a war with fundamentalist Islam.

  10. Great post Charles, especially the cool mention of historical Arab liberals and a possible future for them. But I wanted to note that the Wafd’s tradition is not a great one to emulate insofar as its leading light, until he died, was Saad Zaghloul, who was in many ways the model for Nasser, though not pan-Arabism. Egypt’s liberal phase is probably best represented by the Liberal Constitutionalist party, which was not quite as corrupt and demagogic as the Wafd, largely because they were not as powerful. The moving legacy of the great Egyptian liberals is almost exclusively in the cultural field and represented by guys like Taha Hussein and Ahmed Lutfi al-Sayyid–both of whom attacked Saad as a tyrant in the making. Egypt has had plenty of Wafd-inspired politics the last 80 plus years–popular demagogues who went against the rule of law whenever it was convenient, from Nasser to Hassan al-Banna and any of the more contemporary amirs of Gama’a Islameya and Gama’at al-Jihad, and I am hoping the Ghad doesn’t have this in mind.

    Incidentally, regarding someone else’s question about the Muslim Brotherhood: yes they have been brutally repressed by the Mubarak government and of course they want liberal reforms, especially a revocation of the emergency law and human rights. It’s worth noting however that, as someone else pointed out regarding the Islamists throwing acid in women’s faces, the MB has never been interested in any one else’s human rights or freedom of assembly. They have some members of parliament which they got by collaborating with the current Wafd party, but it is very unlikely that any self-respecting liberal movement would ever cooperate with the Muslim Brotherhood. American liberals may think these guys are “legitimate resistance” movements who just want freedom for their own people, but Arab liberals know better. This is why Arab liberals are not talking about democracy–i.e., free elections–but rather liberalism, rule of law, individual liberities, etc.

    yrs, Lee

  11. Concerning the high-level Pentagon analyst, with close ties to Wolfowitz and Feith, passing classified policy info to Israel via AIPAC, This is all just makes sense:

    The fact that the official under investigation works for Mr. Feith has also made the case politically sensitive for the Bush administration.

    Before the war in Iraq, Mr. Feith created a special intelligence unit that sought to build a case for Iraq’s ties to Al Qaeda, an effort that has since been heavily criticized by American intelligence professionals as an effort to justify the war.

    Mr. Feith has also long been known as a major supporter of Israel, and while he was out of government in 1996 signed a paper, titled “A Clean Break,” issued by a Jerusalem-based policy group that called for the toppling of Saddam Hussein in order to enhance Israeli security. Before he came to the Pentagon, Mr. Feith was also a partner in a law firm with L. Marc Zell, a lawyer with a firm now based in Israel.

    The investigation is likely to give rise to questions about whether Israel may have used the information to influence American policy in the Middle East.

  12. As part of our reporting, I have come into possession of information that points to an official who is the most likely target of the FBI investigation into who allegedly passed intelligence on deliberations on US foreign policy to Iran to officials with the pro-Israeli lobby group, AIPAC, and to the Israelis, as alleged by the CBS report. That individual is Larry Franklin, a veteran DIA Iran analyst seconded to Feith?s office.


  13. Mo, I’m under no illusions about the ultimate ends of the MB. But in a sense, their very vileness, their innate hostility to the goals of freedom and democracy and human rights, would lend legitimacy to a “Popular Front” type coalition with genuine liberals like the Party of Tomorrow, since the message of civil rights and liberties could no longer be dismissed as the self-serving posing of a narrow movement.

    On the Pentagon spy: for the first time since this fiasco began, I find myself open to the possibility that the Bush administration may not have lied, as the left and paleo-right have been saying, and may actually be the dupes their defenders have been casting them as.

  14. Mo,

    You can take credit for Moses, but probably not for the birth of Christ (wasn’t he born in Israel?)

    Anyway, congrats on the potential good news RE: Egypt. I wonder if the US Govt would consider giving the new party a small part of their $2 billion annual aid to Egypt!

    I have read that Mubarak is grooming(?) his son to take over after him; but there was another military general who is like #2 now and is likely to succeed Mubarak. Do you know if one is better than the other? Do you think this liberal party has any chance?

  15. joe,

    I know that among the paleo and libertarian critiques, there is also to be found the opinion that Bush himself was conned into the war by others, both within and outside of his administration.

  16. This party has zippo chance of going anywhere except one of Mubarak’s dungeons or the guillotine.

    Egypt is a one-party kleptocracy the likes of which causes Latin caudillos like Chavez to ejaculate in the middle of the night. The only permitted opposition is the Fundamentalists who are so loony that any Egyptian who walks erect supports the government.

    The reality of developmental politics is that unless a Third World nation gets a tough, occasionally brutal, ruler with a devotion to honesty, education, free markets, and the rule of law(see Pinochet, Lee Kuan Yew, Ataturk and arguably Putin), it is doomed to disaster. A few brie eating and chablis drinking, Westernized Egyptians won’t change a thing, so long as the vast majority of Egyptians remain illiterate, unskilled, impoverished and devoted to the moral cesspool that is Islam.

  17. Bart-

    Before you sing more praises for brutal rulers, you might want to read an interesting article in the latest issue of Foreign Affairs, “Why Democracies Excel”. I don’t claim that they have all of the answers or the definitive last word on the subject, but it presents data that challenges the assumption that “development first, THEN elections” is the only way to go.

    Anyway, you might find it interesting. There are obviously good counter-arguments to their claims, but they provide food for thought.

  18. Thoreau.

    I will take a look at it. But as I have to travel around the world, I get to look at countries in various stages of development. Having been to both if the Buchananites ever take over the States, I’m going to Singapore and not Israel.

    The issue is more than mere development. Lots of countries get World Bank loans and throw money around. You need to have a judicial system that respects peoples’ property rights and a environment that is conducive to allowing people to create businesses. Brutality without this leavening is even worse than democracy before development. Argentina is the textbook example.

    At the risk of sounding Spenglerian, I think you need to have a strong figure running the show for a period of time before the democracy can start operating. However, Lord Acton is of course correct when he says that ‘Power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely.’ It is much easier for the Caesar-man of a Third World craphole to devolve into Mubarak or Chavez than to be Lee or Pinochet.

    I would also dare you to mention a ‘democratic’ state that has gone from Third World status to First World status. South Korea and Thailand certainly needed periods of authoritarianism and Japan in 1945 was already a First World country. Now that India has brought back Congress, the Indian miracle is over and we’ll be back to seeing what Shashi Thakoor has sardonically called the ‘Indian Rate of Growth’ again.

  19. Bart:

    “I would also dare you to mention a ‘democratic’ state that has gone from Third World status to First World status.”

    South Korea and Taiwan. Also, Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand…the latter three with very little government intervention, but with laws that respect property rights and a free enterprise friendly environment making it easy to start businesses and move capital and material to their most productive uses. See:; In Defense of Global Capitalism. by Johan Norberg. Ch. five. He has very interesting thing to say about the incredible success story of Hong Kong as well. One of the most economically free, (at least before the transfer to China) places in the world.

  20. We better wish this new Egyptian party all our best. The Egyptian government has gone gaga for torture. It’s disgusting that these thugs get our tax dollars:

  21. Rick, Part of the reason they get our tax dollars is precisely because they torture. We need someone to do our dirty work for you. Also, keep that in mind when some prisoner or another is taken to Egypt for “questioning”.

  22. Bart,

    You put quotes around democratic, also I was asuming that your request for a list was not “order sensitive”. Third World nations certainly don’t “need” brutal rulers with vision to develop. But it is true democracies can generate their own brutality on markets. The important thing is economic liberty.

  23. Mo, that’s depressing. Perhaps we can use the fact of torture for political pressure to, at least, reduce the aid. The aid got started as a payoff for the Israeli government. Now the Israelis claim, and perhaps with justification, that some of it winds up as weapons smuggled into the occupied lands.

  24. It would be nice if this party has any amount of success. It’s unfortunate that there must be a comparison made to the Wafd party, which was secular but basically made ineffectual by the British. I am in the process of reading a book by Karen Armstrong called the “The Battle for God” which examines fundamentalism in the 3 monotheistic faiths. It shows that in the past 100 or so years there has been some thought by Muslims to bridge the gap between Islam and modern society…..difficult but not impossible. It also discussed the Muslim Brotherhood, founded by a guy named Banna early in the 20th century. The Brotherhood wasn’t truly secular by any means, but wanted Muslims to be educated and be able to claim their place as equals in the larger society. Unfortunately there developed a violent subgroup in the Brotherhood as a response to the 1948 war with Israel and Banna became the total persona of the group which helped it’s demise after his death. Today’s Muslim Brotherhood is infected with Wahabist thought and really hasn’t much in common with the original movement. With Mubarak (a Nasserite who has made some concessions to Islamists) and an Egyptian population..especially the rural that is greatly influenced by fundamentalists thought the chance of a secular party in Egypt if allowed to exist will remain the domain of intellectuals and those Copts who will be brave enough to join it regardless of any backlash.

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