Monday,16 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013
Monday,16 July, 2018
Issue 1136, 21 - 27 February 2013

Ahram Weekly

National unity is what we need

Politicians on both sides of Egypt’s deep political divide will be unable to confront the present crisis in the absence of urgent efforts to build national unity, writes Ibrahim Nawar

Al-Ahram Weekly

Political forces of the 25 January Revolution are colliding head to head. Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, Salafis and Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya are on one side, while seculars or civil forces, including liberals, nationalists and leftists are on the other. The people of Egypt are lost in-between. While the whole country is severely bleeding and loosing faith in the political process of rebuilding the country, political clashes between these two camps can go on forever furnished on ideological and religious grounds. Politics is now taking the back stage, giving way to violence and instability, as hawks of both political camps are accusing each other of being responsible for the eruption of the current wave of violence that started at the second anniversary of the 25 January Revolution and resulted in the loss of dozens of innocent souls and a lot of economic damage. In order to find a way out of this dilemma, those who are in power bear the responsibility of calling for a power sharing strategy, considering their partners as equals, not as second-class passengers in a vehicle running out of control. On the other side, those who are now in opposition should exhibit their ability to act as positive forces for stability. The role of the opposition in leading political protests should be balanced with a role to take part in the rebuilding of the country as equal partners. In other words, opposition should work as a stabilising force rather than finding victory in destabilising the whole country. All of these forces, Islamists and seculars, came together to Tahrir Square, though not at the same time on 25 January 2011, and sought partnership. Despite their differences, they all agreed on one goal, to bring down the regime of Hosni Mubarak by destroying its National Democratic Party, and eliminating the power of the Ministry of Interior, mainly the State Security apparatus and the Central Security Forces. But on the whole, there was no agreement on the political nature of the future regime after toppling Mubarak. Moreover, even within the structure of each camp, the Islamist and secular camps, forces are divided about issues related to the future. Of course, divisions within the secular camp are more visible and dangerous, especially regarding foreign, economic and social policies. While differences between Islamists are less visible and less severe, they created an organisation that works for judging differences and streamlining political positions of nearly all factions of the camp. The Islamic Legitimate Body of Rights and Reformation, headed by professor Ali Essalous and frequently attended by Khairat Al-Shater, works as a frame of reference for the Brotherhood, Salafis, Jihadis and the rest in matters related to Islamic Sharia. On the other side, and just recently, seculars or civilian political forces agreed to come together and formed the National Salvation Front (NSF) to become the political umbrella organisation for its members. Hopefully the NSF will help secular Egyptians to come closer to each other politically and be better prepared for the forthcoming general elections. NSF leaders have started forming committees in order to oversee the main issues on the political agenda and try to reach a unified position on these issues. If it succeeds, this will be the first step towards forming a shadow government representing all NSF members against the other camp. The trouble is that very few believe and act accordingly in a direction leading to a nationally united position to tackle either urgent or long-term challenges. Each of the two camps is busy building a strong political castle to defend each one’s position in a fierce political war. This is not the way. The way is not to build two isolated political castles but to build a strong and durable bridge in order to reach out to each other. I believe, based on given facts, that no one camp will be able to achieve an absolute victory against the other. We now see the situation as Islamists in power incapable of moving the country to the stability it desperately needs in order to recover from decades of neglect and corrupt policies. Imagine the opposite scenario with liberals or civil political forces in power, what do you think may happen? Sadly, they will be seen as incapable too as their opposition, now Islamists, will take to the streets with their loyal crowds destabilising the whole country! The same wisdom will also apply, that they should call upon their opponents to come forward as partners not as foes to become a stabilising not destabilising force. To that point, I may say that some of our politicians think that politics is black and white. They pick up the colour they desire and think it is the right one. Successful politicians act considering that real politics lies in the “grey area” between black and white. They also support their approach to politics by believing and acting on the basis that the “ideal” is necessarily the “practical”. While practicability is one of the main features of right policies, many politicians in Egypt think that their views, though clearly impractical, should still be pursued even at the expense of the people they think they represent. In order to be able to build bridges not castles, our politicians should rethink politics and realise that politics is played in the “grey area” between black and white and that they keep making themselves busy searching for “practical” solutions rather than fighting from behind walls in their own castles, because “the ideal” is not necessarily “the practical”. The Egyptian people are now sick and tired of this kind of muddy politics played by their politicians. They are suffering from “political fatigue”, listening, day after day, to promises that have not materialised or calls for more protests that have exhausted the fighting spirit of the nation. Though they are brave fighters, they need to rest assured that their political leaders are leading them to a “better” not a “bitter” life. They are the ones who pay for the failure of any government or any corrupt or incapable political regime and have always been the least to benefit from good policies. For these people, politicians should work and they should not shy away from that responsibility. My question now is: is it only politicians who should work together in order to create a great stabilisation power and a dynamic growth engine for the country? The answer is no. Not alone they will be able to do that without the help of the business community and civil society organisations. These also have a huge responsibility. Look, for example, at the state of our industry, agriculture, tourism, trade and consumer goods markets, they all are in chaos. It is not acceptable that price increases of foodstuffs exceeded 15-20 per cent in one week! It is not acceptable that workers in some industries are demanding wages by far exceeding the value added of labour. It is not acceptable that some of us are deliberately trying to bury our great tourism industry in caves or ruins. We, as a nation, should consider the historical moment we are in and come to an agreement on a “social charter” clearly identifying a code of social conduct at least for the three coming years. A code of conduct that guarantees a freeze of real wages and prices, that profoundly and strongly roots out corruption and ensures the rule of law for all of us. Egyptians should feel the change. The vast majority of Egyptians, the poor and the middle class, have been sacrificing and paying the hefty price of the revolution and long decades of wrong policies and corruption before that. They should not be asked to keep sacrificing for more. Rather, these people should feel that they are the primary beneficiaries of the revolution. Their stomachs cannot live on three pieces of bread a day for each family member and their cars cannot run to work on five litres of petrol a day! In order to feed our stomachs and our cars, the nation desperately needs a national unity strategy, goals, structure and dynamics. Such a strategy can definitely be built on political partnership, power sharing, nationwide political participation, inclusion not exclusion and the spirit of transparency. The writer is chairman of the Arab Organisation for Freedom of the Press.

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