Amr Hamzawy was once the toast of the town among Egypt’s liberal elite.
A prominent political scientist and scholar, he rose to fame following the launch of the 2011 revolution, emerging as the spokesman for the “Committee of Wise Men,” an ad hoc coalition of public figures formed to mediate between protesters and the Mubarak regime.
Hamzawy went on to help found two liberal political parties before winning a seat in Parliament, soundly beating a Muslim Brotherhood candidate in one of the strongest showings in the 2011 elections. His liberal politics often put him at odds with the Brotherhood and other Islamist groups during their time in power. He was a frequent guest on television talk shows and a regular public speaker.
But it was Hamzawy’s outspoken criticism of the army’s overthrow of elected president Mohamed Morsi last July that set him apart from his liberal counterparts.
Now, three years after the revolution began, Hamzawy finds himself politically isolated. He is vilified by his former colleagues, branded a traitor and a “fifth columnist” in the press and barred from travel after prosecutors charged him last month with insulting the judiciary.
“It’s hard to be with no allies and no friends, but it’s always better to understand where people stand and what they think in order to mind future steps and maybe fashion new alliances,” Hamzawy said in a recent interview in his small office at the American University in Cairo, where he is a professor of public policy.
In the aftermath of last summer’s coup, while much of the political elite fell over one another to praise the military’s role in ousting Morsi and the ensuing brutal crackdown on the Brotherhood, Hamzawy emerged as a rare non-Islamist critic of human rights abuses by security forces, the quashing of dissent by the interim government and the re-entrenchment of the military into public life.
“I was shocked by how little nominally liberal voices were willing to speak out,” Hamzawy said. “I was shocked at the fact that liberals were willing to endorse what is to me a freeze of democratic mechanisms.”
Hamzawy took part in the massive anti-Morsi demonstrations on June 30, he said, as a “democratic demand to get to early presidential elections.” He points to the Brotherhood’s political decisions as the primary cause for the unrest during their time in office. “In a way, the Brotherhood did not want to really promote democratization,” he said. “They decided to ally themselves to networks of power, of financial and economic power, within the state bureaucracy, in a way very similar to what Mubarak and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces did. They wanted to preside over a state without reforming it.”
Yet on July 3, three days after the demonstrations, as massive crowds in the streets cheered on the military, Hamzawy was arguably the only prominent liberal figure in Egypt to oppose the army’s role in removing Morsi from office.