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Opposition Movement in Middle East Fights for Voice of Change


Recent protests in the Middle East have been organized with the chant "kifaya", which is Arabic for "enough." The slogan has surfaced in Cairo where crowds have asked President Hosni Mubarak to move on after 24 years as uncontested president. Could this one-word symbol be a harbinger for change in the region?

"Kifaya" has become the chant as well as the name of a group calling for an end to the Mubarak government.

Evolving from an anti-Iraq war movement, the opposition group wants broad constitutional reforms curbing presidential powers and restricting the number of terms that any one person can hold the office. They also want the government to lift emergency laws that have been in place since former President Anwar Sadat's assassination in 1981.

"Kifaya", which translates from Arabic as "enough", includes members from diverging political views. There are socialists, moderate Islamists, human-rights activists, liberals, and professionals. Best-selling author Alaa al Aswani is a member.

"I think it is very significant because of this diversity," said Alaa al Aswani. "And it is totally in the street, it is not belonging to a political party."

The group's growth has been slow, partly because establishing a political party in Egypt requires government approval. Faced with rejection over the years, opposition groups have struggled to gain a voice.

To combat this, Kifaya has taken a more grassroots approach, hoping that their message will catch on. So far, five-thousand members have signed up through their Web site, which is partly funded by member Hany Anan, a doctor and businessman.

"I am a businessman, not a politician," said Hany Anan. "Most of us are not having any ambitions of practicing politics as a main career in a way. We are practicing our own careers - doctors, lawyers, engineers, consultants, businessmen. A lot us are just here because it is a tough time for Egypt."

But some say Kifaya is a little more than a media phenomenon, with no staying power. Mohamed Abdel Moneim Sa'id is the head of the Al Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies and a member of President Mubarak's National Democratic Party.

"If you look at the Ukrainian example and other examples in Georgia and other places, you have a mass movement that can be 10 times as much as any police force that could be mobilized," said Mohamed Abdel Moneim Sa'id. "The fact is that Kifaya could not include more than 500 to 1,500 at the maximum at their rallies, is actually a testimony of how much they are not as popular a group as they think."

In their last demonstration, on April 27, Kifaya tried to coordinate across Egypt. Thirteen cities participated, but protesters in many places were put under house arrest, intimidated and even reportedly beaten. One hundred twenty five people were detained, although all were released on the same day.

In Cairo, about 300 protesters were surrounded by rows of riot police. The street was shut down and passersby were not allowed to approach or join.

Kifaya members say that under these circumstances, to be showing up at all sends a strong message. They say their demonstrations have broken down taboos against criticism of Mr. Mubarak and asserted the right to protest in a country where political freedoms have been suppressed.

George Ishaq, a Christian education expert and long-time activist, is a Kifaya coordinator.

"You know, we are suffering for the culture of fear," said George Ishaq. "And we try now to break this culture. And I think we succeed a little bit to make this. The people now became more encouraged, more brave, and they come to the demonstration without any fear."

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