Al-Ahram Weekly Online   18 - 24 October 2012
Issue No. 1119
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Aborted politics

Egypt needs a new approach to politics. So far, we have witnessed the same old thing, bemoans Sameh Fawzi

Democracy can not exist without democrats. Revolution that toppled autocratic regimes may lead to an autocratic one. To sustain democracy and limit the foundations of autocracy the society must have "effective politics" rather than "aborted politics". The first embodies dynamism, consensus-building and participatory settings, while the latter refers to inability to lay the foundations upon which the new regime relies, constant fights between political actors and lack of transparency. All political forces, including Islamists, have adopted aborted policies under different slogans.

In theory, politics has multiple meanings. For many, politics are related to dirty tricks and unethical manoeuvres. There is no exception regardless of the raised slogans. Islamists, since their emergence in public life, have restlessly stood against this rampant meaning of politics, referring to their overwhelming ability to "humanise" and "idealise" politics by religion. For them, religion is a real power for changing humans and nations. Back to their flagrant slogan in the 1980s and 1990s, "Islam is the Solution", Islamists have strongly defended their outlook of Islam as introducing a holistic approach to heal all human pains. We always heard this rhetoric from them particularly when they were in opposition or during election campaigns. Now the situation has changed radically. Islamists are in power and it is time to put their unshaken belief in religion as a source of change, purity and prosperity in practice, but they haven't.

Over almost 19 months after 25 January 2011, Islamists have poorly functioned in public life. Last Friday was an example. They denied the right of their opponents to protest against their policies and dared to physically attack them and forcibly removed their stage at Tahrir Square, a place which inclusively accommodated all political groups during the 18-day revolution in 2011.

Against the dominant and unshaken belief among scholars, Islamists don't introduce a well-established coherent and consistent community. The dilemma of the Nour Party is an obvious example. Fractions among Islamic parties are expected to accelerate simply because the central dominant elite within the fragile party structures deal with politics from a perspective that contradicts the inspirations of the majority of their adherents. The problem happens in the Nour Party whose political and organisational legacy is extremely new. It happened before in the Wasat Party but on a limited scale. The Muslim Brotherhood, the strongest Islamic group organisationally and structurally, is expected also to undergo the similar divisive experience if conflicts between various factions and generations erupt inside the solid organisation.

Islamists still live on their traditional slogan "Islam is the Solution". In their belief, Islam can provide solutions to all the problems that plagued society, from poverty to economic recession and from sexual harassment in the street to liberation of occupied land from Israel. Nevertheless, when faced with an urgent economic dilemma the Brotherhood resort to the same old solutions, which were always put on the table during the Mubarak regime (1981-2011). Islamists, who refused in the past World Bank loans on the basis of their contradiction with religion, accept them now to cover the deficit in the public funds.

In fact, Islamists don't introduce a different behavioural model. Brothers reproduce the dissolved National Democratic Party but with an Islamic flavour. Their critics describe Islamists as tyrants with beards. But if we look carefully into the whole political spectrum, politicians from all ideologies introduced the same phenomenon. They all lack basic democratic values: respect for others, diversity, pluralism and fair competition.

Liberal groups also suffer from disarray and fragmentation. Efforts to form coalitions and amalgamation between civil parties are still a new phenomenon.

Liberals also don't carry a particular socio-economic agenda. They build their presence on an unceasing attack on Islamists to strip them of the public support they enjoyed in the last parliamentary and presidential elections. The more they hit Islamists, the experience shows; their adversaries gain support and sympathy from the conservative grassroots.

All political parties including "liberals" carry authoritarian symptoms. But, surprisingly because all political groups suffer from poor imagination and the lack of well-studied programmes, they have transformed the issue of the relationship between religion and the state into a central corner-stone for debates, conflicts and elusive consensus.

Since the downfall of the Mubarak regime, all the political forces have been involved in endless discussions about the role of religion in politics. This is mainly because of the inability of parties to address socio-economic issues. As such they have raised the "identity question" to overshadow pressing and unavoidable socio-economic questions.

For Islamists, who are now the political majority, the current situation introduces an opportunity to establish their long-desired Islamic state. Not surprisingly they have been working hard on the new constitution to bring it in line with their ideological understanding of Islam, which is surely different from other political groups' understanding, and is at loggerheads with Al-Azhar's interpretation of the presence of Islam in the public sphere. Liberals, on the other hand strive to limit the Islamists' infiltration of the state apparatus and mobilise the silent majority of Egyptians against the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Both groups -- Islamists and liberals -- overshadow their fragile composition and lack of development plans by constantly fuelling the battle over the identity of the state. If the battle ends, all the political forces will face hard questions about their socio-economic agendas.

One can say that both groups lack specific socio-economic programmes, and they consider politics as a battlefield to maximise gains and minimise losses. This is, of course, a major source of surprise for scholars and a cause of frustration for people. Intellectuals who are presumably fully aware of how the Mubarak regime impoverished, spoiled and degraded the position of Egypt regionally and internationally still seem to be less convicted of the desirability of democracy and development. The concept "the betrayal of intellectuals" is not as old-fashioned as we thought.

The writer is a political analyst.

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