As we prepare for Christmas, we celebrate a season of illumination, yet we also mourn many tragedies across the globe. This is appropriate, as Christmas is a time of endings as well as beginnings, and more subtly perhaps, it is also a continuation. The winter solstice is the shortest day of the year. It therefore represents an end as well as a beginning. The birth of Christ, over two thousand years ago represented the beginning of a new world religion, a continuation of revered Abrahamic beliefs, as well as the incorporation of ancient pagan, animist, and pharaonic traditions.
On this day, as we prepare for the 2013th celebration of the prophet whom we call Christ, I want to celebrate the life of one of the most influential politicians, activists, and scholars I have ever met: Dr. Samer Soliman. As I mourn his leaving this planet earth, I also am mourning the passage of a an ill-thought out, undemocratic constitution by the people of Egypt. I pray earnestly for the continuation of the Egyptian democratic opposition on this holy night. I ask all the people of Egypt, and of the world, to keep working to ensure that the promise of the Egyptian Revolution is fulfilled.
Samer would have wanted me to feel all of these feelings. Samer died after a battle with terminal cancer at the age of 44. He was a Coptic Christian, who was nonetheless a fundamentally secular person. He was a journalist, and a brilliant scholar who wrote The Autumn of Dictatorship: Fiscal Crisis and Political Change in Egypt under Mubarak. He was a Professor of Political Economy at the American University in Cairo, and a founding member of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party. Ahram Online bids writer, activist Samer Soliman farewell.
Yet these dry facts, as impressive as they are, do not do justice to Samer's life. I do not have space to eulogize his life as a devoted spouse and family man to his beautiful wife Mary Shenoda. Nor is there room to discuss his stature as a professor at the American University in Cairo. Rather, I will focus on his work as an activist and a politician, since Egypt is facing a political crisis larger than perhaps any since the January 25th revolution itself. Farewell Samer Soliman (Egypt Independent)
Samer had a vision for the new Egypt. Samer came from a political family, reared in Egypt's long tradition of secularism, which made Cairo the jewel of North Africa in the 1950s and early 1960s. He drew on these resources when he helped found the Social Democratic Party of Egypt shortly after the January 25th Revolution. I arrived in Cairo on January 25th, 2011, the first day of the revolution. While I tried to understand what was going on in my new home, Samer was on the barricades with students, farmers and workers, fighting valiantly to usher Egypt into a new era of democracy and human rights. He had long been involved in Egypt's historically strong labor movement. He reached out to the European social democratic parties, forged in Europe's struggle for democracy and labor rights in the 1920s, and revived after World War II in the 1950s.
Although Western news sources tend to focus on the Muslim Brotherhood, the Social Democratic Party, one of the few genuinely new post-revolutionary parties to emerge in Egypt, has made a huge mark in this time frame. In coalition with the Free Egyptians and Tagamoo, the SDP formed the Egyptian Bloc ("Kotla). In the new (now dissolved) parliament, the Bloc made an impressive showing for such a new party, winning 7 percent of the available seats. The Kotla became one of the top five parties, and the major party representing women, secularists, democrats, Nubians, bedouins, Copts, human rights advocates, and so many other underrepresented yet crucial segments of Egyptian society.
Inspired by Samer and the SDP, I decided that I needed to document the emergence of Egypt's emerging opposition. I spent countless hours speaking to Samer and other SDP members learning about this new political forces. Samer spoke to my leadership class on the budget challenges facing the new Egyptian government. He kept the fire burning bright that Egypt could be a democratic country that had room for all constituents, and all citizens. He championed human rights, civil rights, democracy, and social justice.
What would Samer think of the recent constitutional referendum? He would be dissappointed, I am sure, perhaps even frustrated and angry, but he would tell us not to give up. Samer received his doctorate in political science from the prestigious Science Po in Paris, France. As an intellectual and a scholar, he would remind us that the French Revolution spanned decades. He would tell us that like our French compatriots centuries before, we must keep moving forward, clear in our objectives, inspired by the ideals of the Enlightenment.
I like to think that he would be cheered that the April 6 Movement is planning a march on the presidential palace to oppose this constitution that does not truly represent the Egyptian people. He would applaud the fact that after nearly a year of disunity, the Egyptian opposition has finally been galvanized. Indeed, the National Salvation Front, composed of the Constitution Party, Wafd, the Social Democratic Party, the popular current party, and the National Association for Change have stated that they will run for parliament on one list.
I believe that tonight, Samer looks down on us from Heaven. I pray that we remember the message of his life, and all take steps to ensure that his vision becomes a reality. I pray that the Egyptian opposition seizes the moment to unite, and move the revolution, and Egypt's democracy forward.
Merry Christmas Samer. Egypt has lost a great leader, a lion of a man. Like the Lion of Judah, we hear your call. May we reach the mountaintop that you pointed us toward. May the peace of Christ be with you, always.
Your comrade in arms, Warigia