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Published in Al-Ahram Weekly on 02 - 02 - 2006

Effecting change
Never has there been so much uncertainty as to what, exactly, democracy in Africa and the Arab world is turning into. Last week's Palestinian parliamentary elections that illustrated the popular prowess of Hamas and a couple of months ago, parliamentary elections in Egypt highlighted the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood. Both Hamas and the Muslim Brothers of Egypt are Islamist organisations, in the case of Hamas often branded by the international media as militant. But, it is not so much their ideological orientation that counts, but rather the fact that they were widely perceived as opposition as distinct from establishment groups. Now, the two groups are to play a more prominent role in the decision-making process.
It is impossible to demonstrate a priori that the international media focus on the democratisation process in the Arab world is some United States conspiracy to secure its hegemony over the oil- rich region. Washington was instrumental in securing the tentative peace process in Sudan, and the signing of the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) between the Sudanese government and the Sudan People's Liberation Army (SPLA), which barely a year ago was the main southern-based armed opposition group in the country. Today, under the terms of the CPA, the SPLA is actively engaged in the running of the country -- reserving for itself high profile ministerial portfolios such as that of the Minister of Foreign Affairs (currently held by Lam Akol) and the Vice Presidency (Salva Kiir). It is hoped that the Darfur crisis would also be amicably resolved in 2006, and that the armed opposition groups of Darfur will be incorporated into the Sudanese political establishment.
In Iraq, too, the nascent democratic experiment is struggling to free itself of the stigma of US military domination. Faltering under the weight of the US-led occupation of the country, there is a yearning among the Iraqi people for genuine multiparty democracy.
Any publicity for the cause of Arab and African democracy is most welcome at this particular historical moment. Beyond has emerged as a publication dedicated to effecting change and to encouraging the twin vital processes of democracy and development.
The largest Third World coalition, the G-77 has championed development causes at international forums since its founding in 1964. Today, it must embrace the cause of democracy and political pluralism, freedom of expression, youth employment and women's empowerment. In the past too much aid money was spread around indiscriminately or wasted on grandiose and white elephant projects. A growing body of opinion in Egypt, Africa and the Arab world now stands staunchly for multiparty pluralism. At this historical juncture, social justice must prevail.
Seheir Kansouh Hab
Founder and Chief Executive Officer of Beyond
Defending democracy
Egypt has an intellectual infrastructure whose role is to influence public policy. As former, or current, international civil servants, our aim through "Beyond" is to create a platform where a continuum of thoughts, ideas and pragmatic solutions interact to stimulate the desired change towards lasting progress, prosperity, justice and security for the Egyptian people.
To effect this goal, our writers are not necessarily members of AFICS-Egypt, but include competent individuals concerned with the development and progress of this country and whose contributions address core issues of the national debate. The contribution of partners in development, such as the UN, also provides a welcome added value to our think tank.
While AFICS-Egypt, Al-Ahram Weekly and our partners of the UN system may or may not agree with the contents of articles, such articles are carefully selected to provide objective and unbiased analysis and recommendations for virtuous change. Our work remains independent and uncensored, albeit subject to peer reviews.
We hope that our esteemed readership will find this issue of "Beyond" of interest as it touches on a variety of matters of concern at this time in the history of Egypt. As a public policy journal dedicated to effecting change, this is just the beginning. Through feedback, we will direct our attention and focus on issues of wider concern that will trigger a participatory and creative dialogue to ultimately make a dent.
Gamal Nkrumah

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