Zamalek is part of an island that sits in the middle of the Nile, west of downtown, and was in the pre-Nasser days, the Manhattan of Cairo – the area which was most popular with Europeans and featured the best night life. Home to most of the embassies, it still has a reputation for being one of the nicer parts of Cairo, being home to more Western style establishments. As with other parts of Cairo though, it is common to find a stylish, trendy restaurant, as lifted from a scene from Sex and the City, sitting alongside large rubbish tips in the middle of the street with stray cats roaming over them.
S, the journalist whom Fatma introduced me to, invited me for dinner with some of her friends with whom she worked on the student newspaper at her university. T was the instantly recognisable, Westernised Egyptian, sporting a Bart Simpson t-shirt and an easy going manner such that I knew I could insult him freely about working in finance and he would take it with good humour, which he did. We were shortly joined by a quiet, well dressed, though tie-less, fellow called I, who had the neat cropped beard and bruised forehead of a religious muslim. I explains that he is currently working for a management consultant firm so that he can learn about business before he wants to return to AUC to study political Islam.
As ever, politics comes up. In fact, it is usually me who brings it up, but I’ve yet to find anyone who tries to veer away from the topic, and as they were all journalists at university, we discussed the press freedoms and trends in Egyptian journalism. I then ask the standard question: what happens after Mubarak?
I, otherwise somewhat reserved, becomes passionate and discusses the unlikely succession chances of Gamal Mubarak and the role of the Ikhwan, the Muslim Brotherhood. More than that, he speaks with great detail about them. I quiz him about the fuzziness of the Ikwhan’s election platform and he admits that the party heads are inexperienced and bad communicators, something that he berates them for personally. But more than that he also feels that it is hard to come up with an election platform which has detail, specifically on economic matters, when there are no details about the economy, or when the few details that do exist require security clearance. I ask him about the Ikhwan’s commitment to democracy. If they won, would they stand down if they lost an election? Would they actually even win in a free contest?
I said he believes that under a free democracy, where there might be a chance for other parties to develop momentum, the vote would perhaps be more split than it is currently, given that he recognises that some people vote for the Ikhwan purely as a protest against the government. But should they win, and then lose, yes, they are committed to democracy, for do they not accept pluralism internally? Democracy, he continued, in the west has secularism, capitalism and liberalism as its foundations, people vote on self-interest. The Ikhwan want to mobilise popular involvement in democracy based on the interest of the ummah.