"I was in a pickle today about joining the sit-in in Tahrir
Square, or coming to you," Kamel said. "But the chance to meet you here was
even more important than a protest in Tahrir."
He spoke of his great optimism for Egypt, and about how Mubarak's
system still persisted even though the president had departed; the country,
Kamel said, needed dedicated and sustained effort to reform. A civil state
would protect the rights of Salafists as well as Christians and secular
Egyptians, he argued. Until now, the people of Egypt had been failed by their
"Every time I travel and meet with the poor people in this
country, I am the one who learns and is educated, not the other way around,"
Kamel said, to rousing applause. Afterward, many audience members posed for
pictures with him.
The public event over, Kamel's entourage and the local
activists drove across town to the Social Democrats new provincial office, a
crammed fourth-floor walk-up in an building full of doctors' offices overlooking
the railroad tracks. "What a great view," Kamel said. "What a wonderful
There were a few chairs and two desks inside. The
electricity was out, as is often the case in the provinces, and the party
members huddled around two flickering candles.
The hurried discussion revolved around tactics. Sweat
dripped onto the floor, and a single communal glass of water was passed around.
Kamel wanted the local activists to quickly divide their province into target
areas, draw a map that depicted existing levels of support for all the
competing political parties, and recruit new candidates. There was lots of
arguing about arcane but critical questions of party governance, like the
drafting of bylaws and the scheduling of internal elections.
The leaders from Cairo explained that they wouldn't use
handouts, like medical supplies, "to buy loyalty," and said they were counting
on the initiative of local activists in places like Kafr Sheikh whose local
structures are dominated by the Islamists and the former ruling National
So far the party has signed up 50,000 members. "Our demands
are the demands of the street," Kamel says.
An engineer and artist named Khaled El Barky, a lifelong
leftist who now supports the Social Democrats, complained that the party was hampered
by its elitist roots, despite the egalitarian intentions of Kamel and other
with all the liberal parties is that they still don't know how to work with
people in the street," El Barky said. "Here in the Delta, the working people
face economic hardship and they don't like change."
At the late-night tactical meeting, he warned his companions:
"We need to work fast in order to gain power on the streets. We're wasting time
on these internal matters."
That sense of urgency is lost on none of the liberals,
especially as they contemplate the formidable power of the old regime, the
military junta that governs Egypt, and the spectrum of Islamists.