Liberating Egypt from its past
Egyptians must not remain the captives of past wounds and past pain if they want to build a brighter future, writes Mohamed Mustafa Orfy
The great writer and philosopher Paulo Coelho wrote in his novel The Zahir that when we have been able to clear our minds of the past this will automatically allow us to form a new frame of mind characterised by courageous moves towards the future. Inspired by this lesson from Coelho's novel, the new Egypt should not remain crippled by the shackles of its past.
In the weeks ahead, post-revolutionary Egypt will have a new president and will have put an end to what has been called the "trial of the century". As expected, the verdicts handed down on former president Hosni Mubarak and the former minister of the interior under the Mubarak regime and his subordinates did not satisfy the different segments of society. While some considered the verdicts to be fair, others claimed the whole case had been politicised and that the verdicts were inappropriate, given the numbers of those who died, especially in the early days of the 25 January Revolution. Not only this, but some critics see them as a flagrant attempt to abort the revolution itself.
Apart from the controversy over these verdicts, it might be argued that the long-standing socio-economic problems of today's Egypt dictate that the country's new leadership and the whole of the society should try to go beyond their political differences in order to alleviate the suffering of millions of Egyptians who are living below the poverty line.
Important as these political differences are, Egypt is currently facing huge internal challenges and a very tense regional environment, the latter being like a powder keg that is due to explode. Emotions are running high, anger is almost overwhelming, frustration is widespread, and the fear of an uncertain future prevails. In a nutshell, Egyptians today must not remain the captives of past wounds and past pain. If they do so, the future will naturally appear gloomy.
We need decisively and comprehensively to clear up three illusions in order to prepare our collective mindset to deal with the new conditions in the post-revolutionary era, as well as to achieve the desired balance between the vital need to consider and scrutinise the lessons of the past and the necessity of looking positively to the future and the challenges lying down the road.
First and foremost, we need to pay attention to the growing sense of melancholy that has been taking over society. In this atmosphere, everyone seems to be betraying everyone else, each person granting himself the right to question others' integrity, honesty and patriotism. In this scenario, everyone is prone to blame everyone else, and the ones doing the blaming see themselves as being honest, patriotic and revolutionary. In this context, there is no room for differences in opinions, which is why most ongoing discussions have proved to be fruitless. Not surprisingly, friends and relatives have quarreled with each other on various issues, as everyone has stuck to his opinions, claiming, perhaps also convinced, that he is the only one who can see reality for what it is.
Secondly, there has been an illogical and unreasonable expectation that the revolution will necessarily create an ideal society free of corruption and the disturbances of life. Falling into the trap of this perception, in fact misperception, would be to downplay the significance and importance of any achievement in the foreseeable future. What must be recognised is that the "utopian revolutionary" state did not exist in the times of the Prophet, and consequently there is nothing that can make us suppose that it will now come to pass in contemporary Egypt. We need to bear in mind that some measure of corruption is a part of human nature, which has been marked by contrasts since the beginning of life on earth.
The third factor that might undermine internal social peace is the repetitive calls that have been made for any senior official who worked for the previous regime to be effectively ostracised. Apart from the questionable legality of this, and its contradiction with the principles of justice, the calls are self-defeating. The previous regime lasted for 30 years, which means that all the country's expertise was gained by people who worked during this period.
There have been two major trends in Egypt recently. The first deems that we need to demolish everything, in order that we can lay solid ground for the pillars of the new Egypt. The second says that what has been achieved so far could not have been dreamed of on 24 January, 2011, and therefore the best formula for re-building Egypt is to follow a well-planned and gradual strategy that will dismantle the old and install the new at the same time. Should this strategy be followed, we could achieve the desired balance between the past and the present and overcome many of the present pitfalls, keeping the state safe from major disturbances. No country can afford to rebuild itself entirely from scratch.
As was demonstrated by the results of the first round of the presidential elections, the biggest bloc of Egyptian society would seemingly prefer a state that had a religious reference, whereas the second most influential bloc would prefer quick stability, even if this could only be achieved through the election of Mubarak's last prime minister. Apparently, the supporters of each group have been gaining ground over time. However, the final result will be subject to a complicated set of calculations and re-alignments between the various political forces, not to mention the legality of the new political exclusion law that might yet undermine the efforts of Ahmed Shafik's supporters.
It is in this context that Egyptians will choose their new president to lead the country for the next four years. This will be a transitional phase full of great challenges. What has to be fully recognised, and it is something that we should consequently prepare ourselves mentally and psychologically for, is that the new president, no matter how decisive and strong he is, will not be able to do anything he wants. This is because the political arena in Egypt is very tense, and political checks and balances will mean that he will have to pick a careful path to match his programme to the people's aspirations and ambitions.
Egyptians today are highly politicised, and they follow each and every aspect of political affairs on a day-by-day basis. It is for this reason that we should not fall into the trap of exaggerated fears of cloning the previous regime in the wake of the upcoming second round of the elections, albeit a modified and/or corrected version in the case of Shafik's winning over Mursi, or being tied in the clutches of a theocratic state in the other scenario of Mursi's victory. It is to be hoped that the Egyptians, being aware of the past and the dangers of religious states, will successfully manage to pass through this transitional period.
In conclusion, let us follow Paulo Coelho's advice by working hard to remove the mental space occupied by the past, with all its sorrow and regrets, in order to find the new space in our collective mind that looks out onto a promising future.
The writer is a political analyst.