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Egyptian law students revel in revolution's success, look ahead with optimism

Thursday, February 17, 2011

LAWRENCE – Hazem Sherief feels reborn.

The Egyptian native and KU Law doctoral student was among tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators rallying in the streets these past several weeks for the freedom of their homeland. Now, after a lifetime under the rule of President Hosni Mubarak, the dictator’s departure hardly seems real to Sherief.

“It ends an era of tyranny and autocracy,” Sherief said in an e-mail from Cairo, where he is writing his dissertation. “It revives the feelings of nationality and confidence again in the hearts of Egyptians. Tomorrow, definitely, will be better for Egypt and Egyptians. I don't think that I will ever forget this moment all my life.”

Adham Hashish can relate to that sentiment. Hashish, too, is a KU Law doctoral student from Egypt. He has been in Washington, D.C., as these historic events have unfolded in the country where his family and friends live and where he will return to work after completing his education.

Hashish was born the year after the assassination of Anwar Sadat, so he has only known one president.

“I was told that Mubarak did a great job during his first 10 years. He brought Egyptians back together when the country was divided due to Sadat's policies,” Hashish said. “I do not remember when exactly Egypt became a police state. It may have happened after some active opposition groups became violent as a reaction to being ignored politically and harassed by police's excessive use of force.

“But what I clearly remember is my father repeatedly warning me from getting involved in any sort of political activity.”

The revolution has been a long time coming, Hashish said.

In 2008, the April 6 Youth Movement emerged as an Egyptian political Facebook group, following tactics of similar movements in Serbia, Georgia and the Ukraine. Comparable Facebook groups soon followed.

In February 2010, Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace laureate and one of the country's leading democracy advocates, returned to Egypt as a potential candidate for the 2011 elections. But the Egyptian constitution, as amended in 2005, imposed draconian restrictions on both partisan and independent presidential candidates – a move allegedly tailored to guarantee that either Mubarak or his son would be the next president.

The Egyptian parliamentary elections that took place in November 2010 were reportedly the most fraudulent ever, Hashish said. Mubarak’s party won more than 90 percent of the seats.

The Facebook groups called for a “day of anger” on Jan. 25, the date on which Egyptians traditionally celebrate National Police Day. The peaceful demonstrations were intended to protest the state police’s use of excessive force and manipulation of elections. The reaction of the police to these demonstrations – which resulted in several hundred deaths – led to the events that lasted 18 days and ended Mubarak’s 30-year regime.

Mubarak stepped down on Feb. 11, and the country is moving forward under military power.

“All the people in Egypt now believe that we will retain our position as one of the main important countries in the Middle East again,” Sherief said. “All of us are intending to work hard and to rebuild our country. After the end of the demonstrations and the removal of the president and his regime, all of the protestors went to clean and paint Tahrir Square – the heart of the demonstrations. Every person is trying to decorate his street to push the wheel of development in Egypt.”

When the protests first began to unfold, Hashish felt very anxious in the United States because the Egyptian government shut down Internet and cell phone service for a week.

“I could not communicate with my family and friends,” he said. “Later on, as the services came back, I had many conversations with my family and friends. Despite the ban on judges getting involved in any political activity, many friends of mine insisted on participating to show their respect for those who died while peacefully protesting in Alexandria. Another friend helped organize a march from Cairo University Faculty of Law to Tahrir Square to support the cause.”

Today, Hashish is cautiously optimistic.

“I know that democracy will not be there overnight,” he said. “I am worried about the institutions. They are already there, but they have been weakened for over 30 years. I hope that the same spirit that ended a 30-year regime in 18 days will stay strong to cure these institutions and build a true and meaningful democracy.

Sherief and Hashish are enrolled in the KU School of Law’s Doctor of Juridical Science (S.J.D.) Program, designed for future academic and government leaders, judges and others with a strong interest in the interplay of legal scholarship and practice. Twenty-two students representing 10 countries are currently enrolled in the S.J.D. Program.

Hashish is a lecturer at the Alexandria University Faculty of Law and a former delegate judge on the Administrative Court of Egypt. He published an article last year on the role that Islamic groups will play in an Egyptian democracy, “Ijtihad Institutions: The Key to Islamic Democracy Bridging and Balancing Political and Intellectual Islam,” in the Richmond Journal of Global Law & Business, Vol. 9, No. 61, Winter 2010.

Sherief is a teaching assistant at the University of Cairo School of Law and a district attorney for the Ministry of Justice in Cairo.