Cairo, Egypt (CNN) – Around 50 Egyptians packed into a small, fluorescently lit room in a nondescript building in Cairo, learning the lessons they say will be needed in their new world.
After the euphoria of toppling former President Hosni Mubarak, now many say comes the even harder task of establishing a democratic Egypt.
At the Egyptian Democracy Academy the ‘students’ armed with notebooks and audio recorders, are learning everything from how to evaluate a political candidate to how to use new media.
“It’s like a classroom, which is what we need after 30 years of no teachers and learning,” said 33-year-old pharmacist Amr Hafez as he walked into the Egyptian Democracy Academy.
EDA, a non-profit organization, was set up in 2009 by human rights and democracy activists to foster a culture of political participation in Egypt.
Since spring 2010, people have gathered at the academy’s Cairo office on Thursday nights
for “Liberal Corner” to hear speakers on topics from advocacy training to the role of women in politics.
In the days following monumental protests in Cairo’s Tahrir Square that prompted Mubarak’s resignation, civic groups like EDA are relishing the historic moment but say the gap between the death of a 30-year regime and the birth of democracy is simply too vast for celebration just yet.
“We discovered that making a revolution is much easier than democracy building,” said Basem Fathy, political activist and projects director for EDA. “Democracy is a not a moment or event, it’s a continuous practice and process about understanding.”
Ali Zakaria, 21-year-old pharmacy student at Cairo University and manager of Elma 7rosa, the EDA’s internet radio station, gathered with his friends to discuss the two questions he says are on everyone’s mind: “What’s next and what should we do?”
“I’m here to talk and listen because I’m still afraid for the future. We made the hard part, but harder part is next. We’ve never had anything like this before,” he said. “I’m 21 and it’s the first time to see all this in our country.”
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, the military council that has ruled Egypt since Mubarak’s ouster, has mapped out a timetable for laying the groundwork of a democratic Egypt.
Egypt’s military council plans to hold a referendum on reforms to the constitution on March 19 and parliamentary elections in June, followed by a presidential election.
But the EDA says that is too short a time to teach democratic principles and for new groups to build the organizational capacity to lead.
“We are working with a heavy burden and little time to get people politically literate and engaged,” said EDA media director Esraa Abdel Fattah.
Fattah, named one of Arabian Business Magazine’s 100 most powerful Arab women in 2011, has earned the monikers “cyber dissident” and “Facebook-girl” for helping organize online Egypt’s April 6 Youth Movement in 2008.
She was arrested by Egyptian security that year, and soon became a symbol of defiance against the Mubarak regime.
The months ahead, Fattah says, might be the most challenging yet.
“We only have three months to educate the people in and outside Cairo about pluralism, active citizenship, tolerance, how to evaluate the platforms of candidates. We don’t have enough time. We need to work, work, and work,” she said.
Meanwhile Fathy, arguing for a longer transition period, said political groups are still waiting for the removal of Mubarak-era limitations on forming parties.