Sir-- The one side of the debate that has grabbed most of the headlines and air time has centred on why Islamists are doing so well in the parliamentary elections. But the question of why the liberals haven't done as well is equally important.
First, and perhaps foremost, there's the question of defining what the ideologies themselves mean to the people. The words "liberalism" and "secularism" themselves are framed as the antithesis of everything that a tradition-respecting Egyptian should call for. Liberals and seculars failed to project an alternative and proper public image and understanding, or create a uniform, clear, realistic and attractive message that could rationally appeal to a wide base of predominantly conservative citizens and voters. In fact, they often appeared to the public just as the opposition to conservative political forces, rather than entities with their own clear and unique message. This failure was both the result of the apparent lack of presence of such a consensual, consistent, coherent and presentable mainstream ideological construct from the start, as well as the difficulty of defining in clear terms the proposed delicate legal and de facto relationships between liberty and tradition in a society like Egypt.
And things were only further complicated following the formation of the nation's electoral alliances. While at first there were two major coalitions, with one of them (the Democratic Alliance) led by the Muslim Brotherhood yet still inclusive of household liberal names such as the Wafd Party (whose head later stated that the party was neither a "liberal" nor a "religious" party, but a centrist one, in an effort to appeal to the mainstream), and another more outright liberal bloc led by the Free Egyptians Party (FEP). By the time of the elections the Democratic Alliance had lost many of its mainstream parties, including the Wafd, and became more essentially a Brotherhood-based coalition. And with both blocs offering somewhat identical and very broad platforms and economic programmes, including the later-arriving Salafis as the third bloc, the debate further shifted to reinforce the perception that people were voting over the "identity" of Egypt rather than a range of public policies, with one bloc appearing to represent negatively-perceived secularism and liberalism, and the two others appearing to better represent local traditional values.
Sir-- This is the same result as in Iran 30 years ago. Secularists did all the legwork to remove the dictator, and Islamists then stepped in and reaped the spoils.
Sir-- Re 'The honourable citizen manifesto' (Al-Ahram Weekly, 22-28 December) it was really a pleasure to read your satiric and ironic article. But as a German living in Egypt and regular reader of the Weekly it was kind of weird to read (Sieg Heil) spelled wrong and not once but repeated throughout the article. In this age of the Internet and Google this mistake should have been avoidable. Nevertheless, thanks for this unusual view on Egyptians.
Editor's note: Most English websites write Sieg Heil the way it was written in the story. Perhaps in German the spelling is different.
Sir-- Re 'The year that shook the world' (Al-Ahram Weekly 29 December-4 January), the Arab Spring, European Summer and American Autumn have all petered out. I don't believe the revolutionary spirit can be revived soon. The Arabs chose Islam, Europe chose the euro and Americans chose their Thanksgiving dinner. But 2011 has certainly not been a failure. Far from it. It will be a year that shook the world, like 1789, 1848, 1918, 1945, 1968 and 1989. It's just that by the time the world sees just how it was shaken, we will all be dead! The men of 1848, for example, did not live to see their dream of a democratic Europe come true. "One-stop-shopping" revolutions fail. That's the lesson of 2011.