It is testament to the democratic paucity among Egypt's political elites that those without a popular base are seeking to bind the next president, regardless of popular will, writes Abdel-Moneim Said
It's probably time to turn down the political heat a bit, at least until the presidential elections run-off in which the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Mursi will be facing Ahmed Shafik who, theoretically, is running as an independent and representing only himself, but practically speaking is representing all the forces of the Egyptian "state" -- even after the changes it has undergone in the 17 months of revolution and upheaval. This might also be an occasion to examine the signs of what will come after the Arab Spring, which generally begins with a revolution that overthrows an existing regime and then moves through a "transitional period" which is meant to engineer the transformation from the old order to another system that is presumed to be new in some way and that will be expected to solve the problems and dilemmas that its predecessor failed to solve.
On Friday 25 May, the Muslim Brotherhood called for a meeting the following day in which "patriotic forces" would unite against the "remnants" of the old regime. Significantly, the Muslim Brotherhood issued this call at a point when the outcome of the first round of the presidential polls was fairly certain but before the results had been officially announced. The invitation was aimed at the political forces that were now presumed to have been defeated, but that were still fired up with campaign fever. What it meant was that the Muslim Brotherhood expected Hamdeen Sabahi and Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, who won nine million votes between them, to throw in the towel, give up their aspirations for office, and come under the wing of the Muslim Brothers. The response of the third and fourth runners-up was immediate. Not only did they turn down the invitation, they pointed out that the electoral battle was not over yet. The reason they cited for this was curious in its own right. They claimed that 900,000 soldiers from Central Security and the army had been added to the voter registration lists even though they do not have the right to vote.
More curious yet, those who did attend the meeting did something unprecedented in the history of politics. They proposed that as long as there has to be national unity against the "remnants" then Mursi, who came in first in the polls, should step aside in favour of Sabahi, who came in third with a margin of a million votes between him and Mursi. Moreover, not only was Sabahi not present at that meeting, he had declared his opposition to both the tyranny of the state (Shafik) and religious tyranny (Mursi). Interestingly, not that long ago Sabahi had joined Mursi's party (the Freedom and Justice Party) in the "Democratic Coalition" that enabled Sabahi's party -- Karama (Dignity) -- to attain seats in the People's Assembly and Shura Council. Evidently, the Muslim Brotherhood's religious tyranny had stopped at that point, but then returned following the electoral defeat of Sabahi, who nevertheless declared "victory" as "the people's president" in the old Nasserist way (as long as the old regime exists and a candidate supported by millions of people is there, then he must be victorious, even if the rules of the game say that only the first and second placed candidates in the polls will head to the run-offs and the rest are losers).
In all events, the "National Coalition" did not succeed because the list of demands upon the Muslim Brotherhood regarding membership of the Constituent Assembly and the selections for vice-president, prime minister and other cabinet members, advisors and the presidential council might make one think that Mursi had lost the elections.
When the official results were announced, it emerged that the 900,000 "extra votes" were fiction, not least because the total number of Central Security soldiers is around 100,000 and because more than half of the others whose names were added to the registration lists were women, and so far women are not included in the draft under Egyptian law. As for the rest, they were either below voting age or over 60, which is to say beyond the age of conscription.
In all, there were 36,000 of the right age and gender, and not a single one of them is a member of the army or Central Security. Even so, Khaled Ali, the Socialist Party candidate who won 134,000 votes out of the more than 24 million cast, could not resist proclaiming fraud and heading off to Tahrir Square to lead demonstrations, which gave impetus to a wave of anger that was exploited by "persons unknown" to set fire to Shafik's campaign headquarters.
At this point, "rational minds" stepped in to calm the situation so that democracy could take its course, oblivious to the fact that 54 per cent of Egyptians who have the right to vote preferred not to go to the polls and to stay at home and watch the results on TV. Then these sensible folk, who are a mixture persons trying to stake a role for themselves and losers in the elections, decided to play on the winners. They formed committees for the "national charter" or "national consensus" in order to present a set of demands virtually identical to the ones mentioned above, minus the demand to concede. The upshot of these demands was very simple: we would have a president who would be captive to a large collection of people of different political whims and factions so that Mursi could shed the blight of the Muslim Brotherhood's drive to a theocracy and so that Shafik could rid himself of the bane of affiliation to the military state.
Thus, the primary guarantee that we would have for a modern civil democratic state would be to have no state at all. When you have a president that is handcuffed by a group that has no cohesion, that can never terminate discussions on any subject, and every member of which threatens to resign if his opinion is not put into effect, as occurred with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Advisory Council, then you have a head-of-state who can not act effectively. Instead, you have one who is left to face the "million man marches" that take to Tahrir to accuse him of incompetence, inaction and failure to fulfil the demands of the revolution.
Fortunately, neither of the candidates issued any commitment to these oddities that, in any case, came from individuals who have no mass following or votes that can tip or alter the balance. Still, everyone knows that such things have become a part of the current hubbub, which only reflects the democratic paucity among political elites who lack the courage to choose, or hope to avoid its pains, because they know that whatever choices they make will affect the future of the country which, after having experienced the exhilaration of spring, now has to return to reality.
But do not despair. Democracy like any way of life requires education and training. Perhaps it's high time to put it into the curricula of our schools. If that happened, it might be a real revolution that could lead to a lasting spring; a spring whose flowers would not wilt and that would not be smothered by sandstorms or drowned out by the noisy curiosities of persons trying to make a name for themselves.