Are Egypt's liberals a spent force?
Egypt's main liberal forces have proven themselves utterly incompetent and unfit to lead. Thankfully a new, if small, current of young liberals with real principles is emerging, writes Khalil El-Anani
The 25 January Revolution failed to change the political composition of the Egyptian elite. The dominant groups on the scene either come from the Islamist far right (Salafis and former jihadists), the Islamist far left (Muslim Brotherhood members, independent Islamists, Sufis), or the dwindling leftovers of liberals and leftists.
The Islamists were the biggest winners from the revolution. They saw their chance to consolidate their social and organisational presence and they took it. By contrast, the liberals, not to mention their ethical failings, are still divided, splintered, and easily distracted.
Mohamed Mursi's victory in the presidential elections, as expected, threw the liberals for a loop. But the problems of the liberals run deeper.
On the surface, the liberals are trying to strike a rhetorical balance with the Islamists. But if you look deeper, you'll see the paragons of liberalism committing errors not only of judgement but also of character.
So far, all liberals seem to have taken sides, explicitly or implicitly, with tyranny. All solicited help from the remnants of the old regime in their fight against the Islamists. Sometimes they used their strong position in the media to do so, and at others they took sides with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and tried to turn it against the elected president.
Since the revolution, liberals have often sided with the military to spite the Islamists and hinder their political momentum. Some even called on the military to stay on in power for fear that the Islamists would take and abuse power.
In a nutshell, Egypt's liberals have cut a pathetic scene as they turned their back on democracy and pluralism. Their alliance with despotism and authoritarianism undermined them and tarnished their moral and philosophical integrity.
The more the Islamists gained politically and popularly, the more the liberals retreated, morally speaking, and lost public support.
Meanwhile, a group of parties described as "civil" have tried to form a so-called "Third Current". This desperate attempt to confront the Islamists has been doomed from the start, not only because of the ideological disharmony and common disregard for the ground rules of democracy, but also because of their political inanity.
What exactly is the allure of something called the "Third Current" or the "Civil Current" to the public at large?
It is hard to picture this "Third Current" making any progress in the foreseeable future.
First of all, there is no uniting idea, ideological or political, to keep all these "liberals" together. The only thing that unites them is their hatred of the Islamists and their ideas.
Also, the liberal current has attracted individuals who proved themselves, in the past few months, to be opportunistic, unstable in their views, and lacking in moral integrity, let alone with no public support.
There is no indication yet that the liberal current is going to turn into a popular movement with solid organisation and social backing.
Instead of building up a base of public support, the liberals have satisfied themselves with highfalutin speeches in fancy hotels and in venues not frequented by most Egyptians. What is this if not the same old arrogance and self-aggrandisement of the past?
After supporting, publicly or secretly, Ahmed Shafiq in the presidential elections, an error of no small consequence, the liberals have supported the constitutional coup that SCAF enacted when it dissolved the first elected parliament after the revolution. Their silence over the addendum to the Constitutional Declaration issued by SCAF, an addendum that gave the military the right to stay in power and even to legislate, was despicable.
Their latest error was their opposition to the recent decision by the president to reinstate parliament. Some liberals are now calling for the army (not just SCAF) to stage a coup against the president, claiming that this is the only way to protect the civil state.
What the liberals seem to forget is that SCAF and the army are now, at least theoretically, working under the new president.
Some the liberals still think that the military remains in power and that SCAF should be calling the shots. Granted, the boundaries of the powers of the new president and the army are still sketchy. But the army is not going to challenge the new president just to please the liberals.
The liberals reacted in shock when SCAF dealt calmly with the president's decision to reconvene parliament. Their shock was even greater when parliament came to session after the president's decision.
To sum up, the paragons of liberalism have made a joke of themselves and everything they claim to stand for. Their alliance with big businessmen, with men known for their crude capitalist practices, with people who don't care much for social justice or equality among Egyptians, did not exactly endear them to the public.
On the bright side, a new current of young liberals who believe in pluralism and diversity and in working closely with other currents is taking shape. This current is still tiny and will need time to strike roots. But it is carefully sifting through the old ideas and scanning the horizon for new dreams.
The writer is a researcher at School of Government and International Affairs, Durham University.