Popular Egyptian actor Amr Waked has become one of the symbols of the 25 January revolution. It was as the protests began in Tahrir Square that the rebel within Waked broke out and led him onto the streets to join in. He admits that at first he thought it was just another protest. However with the escalation of events, he gained faith in the movement.
Not only was he involved in the protests, but he is also one of the founding members of a political front, helping to raise political awareness. Despite his involvement he will not run in the parliamentary elections.
Here Waked talks about his involvement with politics and his work as an actor.
Ahram Online (AO): Why did you establish the National Front for Justice and Democracy, and not a political party?
Amr Waked (AW): Political parties group people together with the same political ideology, whilst the front has certain goals, without going into the details of ideology in terms of economics, politics or citizenship. We are looking for those who can achieve our goals, regardless of their ideological leanings and we will support their political agendas.
AO: Do you think the political parties that are forming now will be freer and less restricted by the state?
AW: Of course. The political field has changed drastically, and now it is the turn of the citizens. Every individual should participate in a political party or front. The people should determine their future and if that takes place, then Egypt will progress in the next ten years. Also the different opinions that will filter through from a lot of the parties will only lead to more political awareness.
AO: What are the goals of the front in the upcoming period?
AW: Our goals are to maintain democracy, while fighting corruption and working to achieve social justice. Also we want a presence in the parliamentary elections and we will keep up the pressure to have a free and independent political sphere, while guaranteeing every citizen safety and stability.
To get our message across to the people, we plan to use different means, such as the media. We also intend to connect and form a platform for dialogue with all existing political forces across the country.
AO: There’s always suspicion when it comes to the funding of any political organisation. How is the front financed?
AW: The members support the front. We are ordinary citizens and political figures. If there’s a project that costs LE10000, then each pays as much as they can. Some pay LE30, while others LE1000.
AO: Who are the members of the front and how do you communicate with each other?
AW: The members are from all sections of the Egyptian community. As for communication, we used to meet up in groups, but lately the numbers have increased so drastically and reached the thousands that it has become hard to keep track.
AO: Could you give us an idea of the organizational structure of the front?
AW: There are some primary committees, such as the committee for political analysis, the media, and outreach. I am a member of the coordinating committee. There are thirteen members and we are going to take on a representative from each governorate. This committee is only temporary until the parliamentary elections, and then members will be elected.
AO: How will you get through to people from different regions and backgrounds?
AW: We are currently establishing headquarters in ten governorates and there are plans to extend on a monthly basis and open headquarters in every Egyptian governorate.
AO: Amid the many loud voices in the political arena do you think that the front will be able to get through to the people?
AW: Our voice is also very loud. We have thousands of members who believe in a better future for this country and this will be accomplished through the cooperation of the people, within the political organisations.
AO: Would you consider running at the parliamentary elections?
AW: (laughing) Not at all. Being an MP takes up a lot of time and I don’t think I could give up acting completely.
AO: What are your predictions for the Egyptian Parliament of 2011?
AW: It will be a lot better than the rigged 2010 Parliament!
AO: Do you think that Egyptian electors will accept new, younger faces in parliament or will there still be the culture of bribery with ‘a kilo of meat and LE100’?
AW: I don’t think people started the revolution for a kilo of meat and a hundred pounds. Besides, people have become more politically aware and like I said before the people’s will should be the determining factor.
AO: Many fear that the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis will control the country. Do you share those fears?
AW: This is said just to scare people, deepen sectarianism and create a feeling of despair, so people will think the revolution has ruined the country. And let me tell you, the Muslim Brotherhood is a highly organised group with great political knowledge. They have not been allowed to be active in the political arena and when they finally got the chance, they went out on the streets to release this suppressed energy.
After all the Brotherhood are Egyptians and they were there helping us out during the notorious battle of the 'camel' in Tahrir Square on 2 February. But if Egyptians feel any threat from them I’m sure they will fight against it.
AO: Many political analysts have said that the Muslim Brotherhood have affected the voting results in the constitutional referendum.
AW: This could be true, but the Brotherhood were out on the day the president was ousted and talking to the people in the streets. This is the difference between an organised group, with political awareness, and a group that is still taking its first steps in the political field.
AO: But that way they will have substantial influence over the results of the next parliamentary elections.
AW: I don’t think so. Despite their large political presence, I think that the majority are not with them.
AO: Who do you think is the best presidential candidate? Are you supporting the Mohamed Baradei campaign, as has been claimed?
AW: I still don’t know who I’ll vote for president. I’ll decide when I hear their plans for the presidency.
AO: From your point of view, what should be the minimum legal age for a presidential candidate?
AW: Forty is an appropriate age. A president should step down after the age of 60. And honestly, I find it strange that a country doesn’t apply its retirement laws to political figures, yet they are forced upon employees. If the state thinks that a president can hold the position after the age of 60, then it should be applied everywhere.
AO: It has been claimed that you asked someone from the previous regime for help to release your brother, who was detained on 25 January.
AW: This is untrue. After my brother was arrested, the television show host Mona Shazly called me and asked me the whereabouts of my brother. I told her that I didn’t know anything about him, so she offered to call me during the show and I welcomed the idea. During the call I asked why my brother, who has two Masters degrees and is preparing for his PHD, had been arrested just because he had gone out on the street to express his opinion?
Two hours later, they released him and he came back home.
AO: During your television interview with the writer and political analyst Mohamed Hasanein Heikal, he said that people should continue their protests and strikes until all their demands are met. What do you think about the law issued by the Supreme Military Council, that protests and sit-ins are now illegal?
AW: I agree with Haikal and I am against that law.
AO: Does your involvement in politics affect your work as an actor?
AW: It does. However, when the groundwork of the front is in place, I will focus on acting again.
AO: Why did you release your film ‘The Father and the Foreigner’ with all the instability in the country?
AW: Because it had already been released in Europe, and was being pirated online. We didn’t have a choice.
AO: The Arab character you play is very mysterious, yet triumphs against western ideals.
AW: That was intentional. Western culture usually depicts a certain image of Arabs. Throughout the film it wasn’t clear whether I was a drug dealer or a terrorist, but at the end you’re surprised by the triumph of my character and the effect on western thought, as seen in the relationship between the Arab and the Westerner.
AO: As a producer, how is the market after the revolution?
AW: It would be better than before if it wasn’t for the current instability.
AO: What do you think about abolishing censorship?
AW: I am for it. This idea should’ve been put into action a long time ago.
AO: So are you working on projects related to the revolution?
AW: Not exactly about the revolution. But I’m working with the independent filmmaker Ibrahim El Batout, on a film about three individuals. Two are romantically involved and the third is a State Security officer. The events occur from the young man’s confinement by State Security until the uprising.