A gentle, revolutionary matriarch from Egypt

Tuesday, 6. March 2012

They got engaged and it was during this period that a friend of her father invited them to a Moral Re-Armament (MRA) (now known as Initiatiaves of Change) meeting. Nagia was carried as a baby to MRA meetings in Cairo and Alexandria. She still has memories of visiting Caux, the Initiatives of Change (IofC) international conference centre in Switzerland, with her parents when she was almost six years old.

However, she did not really grasp the core and essence of IofC until the age of 14, when President John F Kennedy was assassinated in November 1963. This tragic event made her think deeply and reflect on disarmament. She came to the conclusion that one needs to remove hatred from the hearts, not just weapons from the hands.

In 1968, Nagia was invited to the world youth leadership course in Caux. At that time, John Caulfeild, a senior MRA mentor, told her two things that really affected her future life: ‘Nagia, if God guides you to do something and the whole world tells you not to, you go ahead and do it’; and ‘Egypt was the birth place and cross road of civilization, the cross road of imperialism, the cross road of revolution and independence. Will it be the cross road of moral renaissance?’ This inspired her to write the Multimedia show Egypt New Hope which was presented in Caux in 1973 and 2004.

During her college years Nagia was an active student, writing and publishing articles in the Egyptian Labour magazine. She introduced with a colleague of hers a wall magazine which they called Al Insan meaning the human being. The writings emphasized their shared values and common heritage. Nagia and some of her friends were pioneers of the British–Arab student exchange visits in the early 1970s.

Nagia says, ‘Our beloved country is going through a critical transitional period after the peaceful revolution on 25 January 2011. The revolutionaries demanded liberty, human dignity and social justice and to get rid of President Mubarak and his corrupt regime. Mubarak was ousted, the army sided with the people, Mubarak handed over the presidency to the Supreme Council for Armed Forces (SCAF). The national assembly, Shoura council, local councils, syndicate councils and labour union boards were brought down, accused of forged elections under the past regime. During the revolution, police forces resorted to violence resulting in the loss of life of hundreds of young protesters, with thousands wounded, many of them severely. The current situation is grave, demanding wisdom and self-restraint.’ Many challenges are being faced, perhaps the greatest of which, she says, is to fight corruption and achieve justice without residual bitterness.

The majority of Egyptians expect instant changes. They are frustrated when the transitional government has still not succeeded in responding to the growing litany of demands. However, Egypt has recently completed the parliamentary elections. The Presidential elections are due soon and SCAF is expected to hand over powers to the newly elected President. A lot of debate is going on now regarding the selection and composition of the committee to be entrusted with drafting the new constitution.

In March 2011 Egypt held a referendum regarding constitutional amendments. In June, the Grand Imam of Alazhar, Rev Dr Ahmed El Taib, invited a group of 30 Muslim and Christian Egyptian intellectuals, men and women, to draft an important document regarding the future of Egypt as a modern civil state. This was planned to be a preamble to the new constitution.

[[{"fid":"4583","fields":{"format":"iofcimg_medium","field_teaser[und][0][value]":"Protesters walk over a picture of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy)","float":"left"},"view_mode":"iofcimg_medium","attributes":{"title":"Protesters walk over a picture of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy)","alt":"Protesters walk over a picture of Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak (photo: Hossam el-Hamalawy)","class":"media-element file-iofcimg-medium"},"type":"media"}]]Unfortunately, though the revolutionaries and political parties, new and old, had earlier agreed on the goals, they have differed on the means to be adopted. The majority of the people have become impatient. They want to see the fruits of the revolution instantly. They want a magic formula to eradicate corruption, instant measures to regain stolen public money, instant economic reform, prompt trials for the accused and punishment for the proven guilty.

Nagia is the Vice-President of the Egyptian Moral Re-Armament Association. She and her MRA family in Egypt have been trying to keep in touch and seek guidance from God as to what their role should be at such a critical phase. They try to observe, absorb, reflect and take the necessary actions. Some of them have been on the ground among the revolutionaries in Tahrir Square, while others contribute to the relief efforts. Some have acted as human shields, separating the police from the protesters, and some have been analyzing the situation and searching for solutions.

They have found inspiration in Rajmohan Gandhi's remarks at the Caux Forum for Human Security, on foundations for democracy. He acknowledged the bravery, non-violence and commitment of the young Tunisian and Egyptian revolutionaries. He related highlights of the Indian struggle for democratic rights since the time of his grandfather, Mahatma Gandhi, and the lessons learnt that could aid the Tunisian and Egyptian people to consolidate their remarkable gains and keep the momentum of the revolution going.

The Egyptian MRA Association and team have a long experience in reinforcing the national social fabric, trust-building and community development, based on shared moral values reviving hope and human dignity.

The upsurge and Arab Spring have raised new challenges: achieving justice, fighting or eradicating corruption and promoting integrity, healing the past and forging the future, preventing Fetna (disruptive confusion, dispute and provocation) and building bridges of trust, raising public awareness and contributing to laying a firm base for democracy and sustainable development.

The moral perspective, equipped with community strategic management tools and skills, is a key element in recognizing priorities, putting public interest before personal, private or special interest, preserving human rights and fighting greed and exploitation, which need both personal and institutional change.

The Egyptian MRA team believes that it has a great role to play now more than ever, especially in terms of reconciliation, trust building and reviving human conscience. They find that achieving a break-through in a deadlocked situation and building national consensus necessitates the following:

Adhering to principles while getting rid of prejudices, reaching out to understand other points of view, struggling for justice without bitterness, calming down to be able to think with focus and clarity, overcoming grief and sorrow in order to be able to look up to the future, losing the fury but not the fire—losing the anger not the enthusiasm—finding a common ground and basis for agreement, respecting the fact that all are partners caring for the safety, unity and prosperity of their dear country and that everyone is needed and has a role to play.

Nagia and an Egyptian MRA team prepared and presented a paper to the Human Rights International Conference, held in Cairo, December 2011. The paper draws on the reconciliation and bridge-building experiences of Initiatives of Change, using case studies from South Africa, Nigeria, Lebanon and Egypt.

In July 2011 Nelson Mandela of South Africa sent a deep and inspiring message addressed to the people of Egypt and Tunisia, encouraging them to benefit from the experience of his country. In it he said that ‘the administration of justice is much more difficult than to demolish the injustice.’

Nagia states: ‘Egypt in the transitional period after the 25 January revolution needs, more than ever, the IofC/MRA perspective and experience. So do other Arab countries. The Egyptian MRA team is currently embarking on an initiative to launch a multi-purpose campaign for abolishing illiteracy while promoting shared moral values, reinforcing national unity and the social fabric. Dr Latifa Fahmi, who is spearheading this venture, had this thought when she was in Caux two years ago.

The team has been working on a tool to be used in abolishing illiteracy, and organizing teaching classes in different schools. This is along the lines of The Other Three Rs, developed by MRA teachers in Britain, promoting responsibility, relationships and respect for life. The focus is on promoting shared values, trust-building and dialogue. 

A second tool that is in the process of implementation is a documentary film confirming a common interfaith heritage, the MRA experience in Egypt and reviving hope for a better future. Nagia is also working to update the multi-media show, Egypt New Hope, in the light of the Arab Spring.

Nagia says: ‘We need a miracle of the spirit. We need to approach and appeal to the good side in each of us and revive our conscience. We need to repent, forgive and reconcile. We need to lose the fury but not the fire, in order to find guidance and direction. ‘We need to train ourselves to struggle for justice without bitterness’, as a Sudanese leader once put it. Bitterness and hatred only bring negative energy and are counter-productive.

A profound statement by the late most respected Muslim Sheikh Mohammed Metwally Elsharawy emphasized that ‘A true revolutionary revolts to bring down corruption and then calms down to build glory.’

Nagia give a final benediction: ‘May God Almighty help us meet our challenges and fulfill our aspirations, Amen.’