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Williamsburg-CSIS Forum explores the challenges of post-revolutionary Egypt

From April 21 – 25, 2013, the quaint streets of Colonial Williamsburg played host to not just re-enactors of history, but also those in the middle of making history around the world.

“The New Egypt: Challenges of a Post-Revolutionary Era” was the first major international conference of The Williamsburg-CSIS Forum, hosted by the Reves Center for International Studies in cooperation with the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS) and The Colonial Williamsburg Foundation (CW).

Egyptian politicians, diplomats, business leaders, academics, military experts, economists and media representatives joined American experts on the Middle East for four days of private discussions and public panels designed to explore the dramatic events following the fall of the Mubarak regime and the future course of Egypt’s transition to democracy.

“We believe our own history and the principles of citizenship and self-government can provide a valuable starting point for discussions about the establishment of democratic institutions and political and economic development today,” said Colin G. Campbell, president and CEO of the Colonial Williamsburg Foundation in a press release last fall.

William & Mary faculty members Ahmad A. Ahmad, the Sultan Qaboos Professor of Middle Eastern Studies, and Tamara Sonn, William R. Kenan Distinguished Professor of Humanities participated in the events held in Williamsburg and in Washington, D.C., with both involved in the “Post-Revolutionary Eras: Lessons and Challenges” panel.

Ed Crapol, Pullen Professor Emeritus in the Lyon Gardiner Tyler Department of History and Debra Shushan, assistant professor of history, acted as observers throughout the conference.

Two public panels brought crowds of local community members, William & Mary students, and the occasional tourist to the Hennage Auditorium of the DeWitt Wallace Museum of Decorative Arts on April 23 and 24.

“The Future Role of the Military in Post-Revolutionary Democratic Egypt” featured panelists General Anthony Zinni, former Commander in Chief of U.S. Central Command (CENTCOM ), General Sameh Seif Elyazal, a former Egyptian army general, current chairman of the Al-Gomhourya Center for Political and Security Studies and member of the Egyptian Council for Foreign Affairs and Dr. Amr Darrag, a member of the Egyptian Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) Executive Board and chairman of the FJP Foreign Relations Committee. Dr. Jon B. Alterman, director of the Middle East Program at CSIS, acted as moderator.

Dr. Joshua Statcher, a fellow at the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars and author of Adaptable Autocrats: Regime Power in Egypt & Syria, served as moderator of the public panel “The Arab Spring: Prospects for Democracy.”

Darrag was joined by Dr. Manar El-Shorbagy, former Deputy Secretary General of the Egyptian Constitutional Assembly and associate professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, Dr. Amr Hamzaway, president of the Egypt Freedom Party and former Member of Parliament and Dr. Samy Atya, the International Cooperation Coordinator for FJP and a member of the Party’s Foreign Relations Committee.

During both panels audience members were encouraged to write questions for the panelists. Discussions ranged from the relationship between Egypt’s elected civil authorities and unelected civil servants to potential limits to civilian oversight of the military were explored, women’s inclusion in the revolutionary process, the treatment of Coptic Christians in Egypt, and the efficacy of an opposition boycott in upcoming elections, among other topics.

"The inaugural Williamsburg-CSIS Forum on Egypt's democratic revolution was a great success," said Stephen E. Hanson, vice provost for international affairs and director of the Reves Center for International Studies.

"Our conversations highlighted the unexpected parallels between the challenges facing the American revolutionaries in the eighteenth century and those confronting Egypt's ruling party, opposition, activists and entrepreneurs today. All of us came away with a deeper understanding of democracy itself."