Thursday,19 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013
Thursday,19 July, 2018
Issue 1137, 28 February - 6 March 2013

Ahram Weekly

Get into the game

Reaching out to electors and knowing how to compromise are key political skills the regime and its opponents would do well to remember, writes Ibrahim Nawar

Al-Ahram Weekly

Five active variables are shaping today’s political scene in Egypt. First, there is the government in its wide structure, representing the presidency, the Cabinet and their loyal political forces. Second, we have the political opposition within the loose composition of the National Salvation Front. Third, we see angry leaderless crowds of people taking to the streets demanding “rights” and “change”. Fourth, there is the army or the armed forces that is quietly monitoring the messy situation surrounding the political process. This army with its history of patriotism left the political scene at the end of July 2012 with no political commitment other than a declared support of the legitimacy of the “people”. Fifth, we have a strong mood of political discontent amongst the general public because of diminishing expectations and the loss of hope for a better tomorrow. No one can say precisely which one of these variables can and will be the decisive political factor in the next few weeks.

Let us here discuss some assumptions and carry out a kind of mental exercise to examine scenarios or paint a picture of the very near future. As a first assumption, let us assume the eruption of a nationwide wave of angry political protest, led by angry and disorganised crowds. The question is whether this wave of national political protest can produce orderly change. In fact, the only expected outcome in such a case is chaos. Looting, destruction and killing will become the main features of such a scenario.

The playing out of this scenario should take into account two facts: one is that the state is weak and vulnerable, and second that almost all political forces, in power and in opposition, have lost credibility. More deterioration may push the armed forces to intervene supported by popular calls in the same direction from outside the armed forces. But sooner or later, armed forces leaders would need to resort to a political solution in order to hand power over to civilians. They would either create their own puppets, or resort to political forces on the ground. The conclusion of this scenario is that angry and disorganised crowds will produce chaos and add more confusion to the crisis we are in.

Let us examine another scenario, adding one variable to the first. Nationwide political protest becomes an organised force led by organised civil political forces now in opposition. That will fuel the whole situation and divide the nation to the extent of creating an effective civil war between the two main political camps, Islamists and civil currents. Each camp may claim to have endless resources that can guarantee its victory. None of the two camps will emerge victorious. The two will emerge as losers leaving the nation with no choice but to look for a real saviour. The best candidate to carry such an honour again will be the armed forces! The rest of the scenario has been stated in the paragraph above.

One sub-scenario here is that political figures of Mubarak’s regime, second and third level in the chain of command of the disbanded National Democratic Party, may appear again on the surface and claim leadership supported by the police and internal security forces who can easily move around thousands of thugs everywhere in the country. Of course, one can provide an unlimited number of scenarios and political assumptions to be examined. But looking at the composition of political forces and dynamics now in play, almost all these scenarios lead to the same conclusion.

An intelligent reader may have noticed that, in painting a picture of the future, I have deliberately avoided the option of one political power emerging as the clear winner of the current round of political conflict in Egypt. I believe that neither the ruling political forces in power nor the civil and political forces in the opposition will be able to score a decisive political victory in this round of political conflict. In all cases, the scenarios above are leading to chaos and more confusion. Therefore, the best way forward is to take the whole political process into consideration again; to rethink and reposition through a bridge of dialogue between “equals” that may lead to an agreed consensus on the political rebuilding of the country and then to move forward from there. In all cases, democracy will take us to the ballot box. Like it or not, the results of elections reflect the distribution of political power nationally. Be better prepared for it!

If you want to prove your skills and score a goal in a football match, you should play a game in the playing field, not outside. This is logic. According to this logic, those who claim their superiority in the game by playing outside the pitch are wrong. They will gain no recognition. The same applies to politicians who want to gain popularity and influence outside the playing field of politics. In a democracy, this playing field, the domain that decides winners and losers, is elections. Be prepared for it in Egypt; it is coming sooner or later!

Many of us who have taken part in the great political protest in Tahrir Square that initiated the revolution and resulted in the fall of Hosni Mubarak’s regime are trying to deny the fact that change is already taking place. Those who believe that “change” is a “state” of action in one time, not a “process” of interactions through time, are trying to find quick fix solutions to challenges of the transition to democracy. Political protest, not a policy of political engagement, is the preferred means to reach a desired end. But although political protest is something to keep alive on a peaceful and democratic political track, it is not the only means that may help achieve change. There are many other means.

It is true that the 25 January Revolution has not yet achieved its goals, but it is not going to reach there in one go. In fact, the revolution has so far achieved a number of good results. First, the revolution succeeded in defeating the fear that lived in every one of us for decades. Second, it succeeded in toppling Mubarak, destroying the political influence of his regime’s political party, banning its leadership from taking part in political life for years to come and also destroying the ousted regime’s security machine. Third, the revolution started a political process to move the nation from autocracy to democracy. And here we are trying to rebuild all political institutions on grounds of political pluralism, diversity, the rule of law, and respect for human rights. Within less than two years, we went through two referenda on the constitution, general elections for the two houses of parliament and a presidential election for the first time in modern Egyptian history. Results of elections and referenda have reflected the political balance of power in the country. It is natural that some of us should feel bad about the results while some others celebrate them. Meanwhile, all of us should accept the results.

In my view, the balance of political power in Egypt has not changed a lot in the last few months. However, the political mood of the nation has changed dramatically. Although this dramatic change in political mood is less visible in areas where Islamists scored highly in the last two years, it may cause some damage to their popularity in the countryside, especially in the Delta. That means if we hold election today, Islamists will win, definitely not with the same margin they achieved in the past, since the first referendum in March 2011. Two years on, Islamists are working hard to strengthen their political positions.

While they are infiltrating state institutions, central and regional, building on their prior electoral success, other political forces, though losers in past elections, are keeping themselves busy with political protest in Cairo and some governorates. Now it seems that the scene before the last parliamentary elections (2011-2012) is being recreated again. The clashes of Mohamed Mahmoud Street and around the office of the Cabinet in November and December 2011 made many of us believe that elections were never going to take place. The determination of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the readiness of Islamists helped them to happen and produce results in their favour. The political map inside parliament was talking for itself, almost 70 per cent to 30 per cent in favour of representatives of newly established religious parties.

The experience of the 2012 presidential elections showed that civil political forces suffer many deficits. The most obvious are the organisation deficit, the financial deficit, the political deficit and inability to reach out to their presumed masses. These deficits made civil political forces, new and old, unable to cash in on the people’s aspirations and desire for change. These deficits and inabilities were clear in Upper Egypt, the countryside and slums of big cities where ordinary people understand politics as way to achieve economic benefits and social services. The Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis are the ones who could deliver, and they carried out successfully their assumed duties in that respect.

Of course, you should not expect to have clean, free and fair elections on the very first day you start a democracy. This is the “ideal” that we may dream of, not the “practical” reality that we live with. Realism in politics teaches us to be cautious and to weigh positive against negative factors in our approach to dealing with the new political system that is under construction. But history does not wait until all ideal ingredients for democracy are set in place in their best order. As democracy is a “process” not a “state”, we should always work towards realising the circumstances for an ideal political system.

It is a shame to see some of our politicians, whether by chance or by choice, pushing the nation near to the brink of collapse. The whole nation is now bleeding politically, economically and socially, and it is enough. Therefore, the nation is crying for a breathing space of “stability”. But “stability” in its political meaning has become a very confusing word. Some think that stability means becoming statuesque. Wrong. Make no mistake; no power will be able to endure unless it responds positively to the demands of the people. Nor can the right grounds for law and order, orderly change and prospects for growth be established without stability. Those who laugh at the word “stability”, or who intend to manipulate it, need to rethink. Stability will not be achieved on ground far away from political consensus. Dialogue of politically equal partners can provide such a ground. But dialogue itself needs to be established on trust between parties.

Realising the urgent need for a positive move in order to change the political mood of the nation, those who are in power and in the opposition should come to an agreement on some confidence building measures that may help alter the mood and provide for a “feel good factor”. Both the president and opposition leaders have equal responsibility in that respect. I believe that the most urgent of these measures are:

- The release of all political prisoners and detainees that were imprisoned or arrested in clashes since the handover of power to SCAF and afterwards, except for those who are found to hold criminal records.

- To give the highest body of the judiciary, the Supreme Judiciary Council (SJC), full power to act in regard to victims of clashes who were killed, injured or harassed after the revolution. No matter how long it will take, the SJC should set up the right bodies and map out, in the most transparent way, the road to justice for all victims. The role of independent judiciary panels or committees should also extend to investigate other outlawed actions that have taken place recently, such as religious edicts to kill others or the besieging of public offices (including the premises of the Supreme Constitutional Court and the presidential palace). Some original reasons for public discontent are based on the state’s failure to identify those responsible for the killing of hundreds of people in demonstrations during and after the uprising of 25 January 2011. Egyptians should be able to rest assured that those criminals will not escape justice.

- All political parties, movements and groups should abide by peaceful means of political activities. They all should make it crystal clear that they refrain from using or threatening to use force or violent means in politics. This commitment should be declared before the start of the desired national dialogue.

- Commitment to an open dialogue of politically equal partners about an urgent economic recovery programme that may extend for three years based on justice, efficiency and proportional responsibility. Implementation of the agreed programme should be a shared responsibility of all partners. There are demands that can be tabled and talked about in the dialogue, such as reforming the government or amending election laws. But these demands cannot become preconditions for the start of a real dialogue. There is also a call for a “televised” dialogue. I see this as one apparent strong sign of a lack of trust between opponents.

I see these four measures — to release political prisoners and detainees, to give the SJC full responsibility to identify those responsible for killing, to denounce violence in politics, and to formulate an urgent economic recovery programme and its parallel political track — as necessary trust building measures that may help restore law and order and create a positive political atmosphere for the continuation of the national rebuilding process. No one should dictate with pre-set ideas. And above all, we should be clear that the results of such a dialogue would not satisfy for all partners. Politics is about practical compromise and elections are about winning. Be better prepared for both. Don’t play outside the playing field.


The writer is chairman of the Arab Organisation for Freedom of the Press.

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