Politics over principles
It was immature and dangerous to the revolution that those who accepted to participate in the presidential elections and lost then called for the result to be annulled, writes Azmi Ashour
The Egyptian revolutionary marketplace will not calm down until it vents everything that it has in store, keeping everyone confused and on their toes in the face of the rush of events and sudden changes. Still, the best and most exciting feature of this process is its ability to sort fact from fiction and to expose all who attempt to distort the revolution towards their own ends. No one is immune. In this respect, it has had a great levelling effect. Every political party and camp is equal, whether they count themselves among the revolutionary forces or among the forces associated with those in charge of the interim phase. The unprecedented freedom and openness of the media and the perspicacity and sagacity of the general public has compelled all to face the test of truth, which is no longer easily concealable. And one truth that we can recognise a year and a half after the revolution began is that the political dynamics no longer seem to be working in favour of the values for which the revolution was waged, namely freedom, social justice and democracy. In fact, certain actions and stances, some of which mimic the demonstrations and sit-ins that characterised the opening days of the revolution, clearly work in the opposite direction. The following are some examples of such positions that appear to contradict the principles of the revolution:
- After the mechanisms were put in place for the presidential elections and all 13 candidates agreed to the rules of the game, which implicitly meant accepting the results of the first round, the public headed to the polls. All were aware that if one of the candidates succeeded in winning a simple majority of the vote he would become president and that otherwise there would be a run-off between the two candidates who received the highest number of votes, which naturally meant that the other 11 candidates would be out of the running. No one challenged this arrangement before the polls. Yet as soon as the results were announced and it became clear that Mohamed Mursi and Ahmed Shafik would head to the run-offs, supporters of the next runners up -- Hamdeen Sabahi and Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh -- along with supporters of Khaled Ali took to Tahrir Square to demand the annulment of the results and the appointment of a "presidential council" instead. Only days earlier, these candidates had nothing but praise for the electoral process and cautioned against attempts to postpone the polls.
Elections are one of the basic instruments for implementing the principles that the revolution called for. Democracy, after all, is a system of government in which the people participate in decision-making processes through their representatives and their leaders, which they choose through their own free will. Over the past year and a half, millions of Egyptians exercised this right in four major polls: the 19 March referendum, the People's Assembly elections, the Shura Council elections, and the presidential elections. This series of unprecedentedly free and fair polls constituted the inauguration of the application of democratic principles and the rule of law in Egypt. So when the losers suddenly turn against the process, they are guilty of nothing less than a flagrant display of double standards. Ultimately, such hypocrisy does less to harm the principles of democracy and rule of law than it does to damage the reputation of those individuals who have revealed themselves to the public eye as willing to pursue courses of action that contradict the revolutionary principles they claimed to champion.- One of the hallmarks of democratic government is that it institutionalises the rule of law in order to protect the weak from the tyranny of money and status and the influence that money and status can wield. However, putting this principle into effect requires effective mechanisms on the ground, not just slogans or even legislative texts. Herein lies the significance of the prosecution of the former president. The Egyptian collective consciousness is now indelibly imprinted with the image of Mubarak in the defendant's box standing trial on criminal charges, just as any ordinary citizen. Clearly, the value of this unique event is not in the final ruling that sentenced an octogenarian to life. Rather, it resides in the entire judicial process, which extended over several hearings in the course of the past year and that marked the triumph of the principle of justice over the immunity of the pharaoh. This was a great symbolic victory for the revolution.
Yet, no sooner did the court pass sentence against the president than the significance of this landmark ruling was shunted into the background as supporters of the presidential candidates that lost in the elections and supporters of one of the candidates that will be heading to the run-offs seized upon the portion of the glass that was half empty and sought to turn it to their political advantage. The outcries were a blatant affront to the courts and the principle of justice, which the revolution called for. If there were reservations against some of the court's other rulings, then there are avenues for legal recourse. The rulings can be challenged and other charges can be brought by those who believe that the rights of the people have not been fully addressed. At the same time, the accused should continue to enjoy the right to defend themselves, and the judge should be expected to issue his verdicts on the basis of evidence brought before the court. Such principles form the essence of justice, not the various whims and ideological biases of the loudest quarters of society.
- As forthright and forward-looking as the youth and revolutionary forces have been, they seem to have lost sight of an element of objectivity. They have become dogmatic. The truth is what they say it is. They are as faultless as angels because they made the revolution. They have no time to spare for those who differ in opinion and outlook, and they have issued an unquestionable blanket condemnation of all associated with the old regime, to whom they have affixed the label "remnant". Have they ever stopped to think that all of Egypt was the "old regime" and that this includes the revolutionary vanguard who were most likely educated at the expense of their parents, one of which, or at least a relative or two of one of which, probably worked in one of the institutions of the state they now term the old regime? Therefore, hurling the charge of "remnant" not only jars with reality but also seems reckless. Another principle of justice is that no one should be condemned on the basis of accusations hurled here and there, willy nilly. If someone is to be tried for crimes against society, let him be brought up on concrete charges of wrongdoing; let the evidence be produced to establish guilt, and let the law be the judge.
In order to help the revolution remain on track, a little introspection seems in order, as well as a conscious effort to be as objective as possible. It would also be useful to bear in mind how important it is to sustain the continuity of the institutions of the civil state and the harm that could arise from their collapse. At the same time, revolutionary forces, above all, should avoid behaviour that might make it appear that the revolution is acting against its own principles, which would call into question the nature of the change it has brought.