Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1141, 28 March - 3 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

The fate of democratic reforms

Speaking to opposition figure Amr Hamzawy and Muslim Brotherhood sympathiser Moatezbellah Abdel-Fattah, Dina Ezzat attempts to explore scenarios for the future of a country that is looking at escalating violence in the eye

Al-Ahram Weekly

Political scientist at the American University in Cairo, Amr Hamzawy is excluding a scene of civil war but is warning of pushing the country towards the point of being ungovernable — if not a worse scenario — that could lead to the “madness” of summoning the army back.

Concerned over the poor political management on the side of both the state and the opposition — to which he firmly subscribes despite disagreement with some factions within the National Salvation Front (NSF), a loose umbrella of anti-Morsi secular opposition forces — Hamzawy is firmly warning of an upscale endorsement of violence “in a very disturbing way”.

The scene of bloodshed in the midst of confrontations between supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood rule and the opposition demonstrators around the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters in Muqattam last Friday is not a scene that stands alone according to Hamzawy. It is rather, he told Al-Ahram Weekly, “yet another scene of ongoing and escalating violence”.

Hamzawy is particularly shocked by the reaction of society to the protracted violence. “I find it very disturbing to note that society is taking these scenes lightly; there is clearly some serious change in the collective sight of people to scenes of political violence and bloodshed.”

Hamzawy’s reading of the situation is that violence seems to be getting the upper hand on all sides: the state is resorting to coercing opposition and the opposition that has been subjected to violence is now reacting and “we are getting into the trap of violence and counter-violence.”

This, Hamzawy said, is a situation whose consequences are hard to assess, much less to control. “When a nation gets into a state of ‘violence talks’ it becomes hard to predict what is coming next but what we have been seeing is a series of acts of violence that started at the presidential palace against peaceful demonstrators who went to express opposition to a presidential constitutional declaration that really breached the limits that should be observed by any democratically elected president.”

What happened next to the presidential palace and the assault of women activists near the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters two weeks ago, for Hamzawy, provide no excuse for the bloody show of anger last week.

Then again, Hamzawy added, what happened on Friday “devastating as it was” should not have been responded to “especially by the president” with his speech of Saturday whereby the head of the executive unleashed direct and indirect threats against the opposition and the media.

“This is again another form of the perpetuation of violence; that was not the kind of language that one would have expected of the head of the executive who for the best part of his presidency has been acting as head of intelligence, at best, and seems now to be diverting more towards a profile a Mafioso,” Hamzawy said.

The deep trouble into which Hamzawy sees Egypt falling is not strictly the mistake of a misguided president but it is also, even if not equally, the mistake of an opposition that has “failed so far and despite the many challenges to offer a cohesive alternative and is confining itself to criticising the performance of the president and to appease the masses without attempting to offer serious solutions for consideration”. “I am not at all suggesting that the opposition should overlook public opinion but I am saying that it is not enough to appease public opinion,” Hamzawy said.

The failure of state and opposition to shape up, Hamzawy argued, is coupled with the “degeneration of state establishment” and as such the public is neither offered a coherent political roadmap nor for that matter some very basic services including security.

“This devastating combination of violence, failure of state and opposition and state establishments degeneration means one thing in all likelihood: we are taking this country to a point where it could well be ungoverned and unfortunately could end up being a failed state,” Hamzawy stated.

Excluding a scene of civil war “which requires more deep-rooted ethnic divides” that Egypt does not have, Hamzawy is determined to argue that a civil war is not the only thing that this country should worry about. “Polarisation is also a very worrying matter and we have been hijacked by polarisation that is now being coupled with deteriorating living conditions and degenerated state establishments,” he said.

If the current situation is left unattended, Hamzawy said, then Egypt could end up with some horrifying challenges that could eventually leave the country with serious socio-economic and political tremors.

“And I honestly and clearly think that it is absolutely mad to suggest that the army could be the saviour; if we are at all serious about democracy then we should do everything we can to keep the army fully away from politics,” Hamzawy said. This elimination of any political role of the military, he added, should not exclude a mediation among the political players — something that the army had offered to do. “No, the army should neither host talks between government and opposition nor even be invited to such talks; the army should stay away from politics and this is not just about the past bad experience of state management under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces in the interim period but it does have to do with the undeniable fact that army intervention can never serve the call for democracy,” he added.

This said, Hamzawy is convinced that there is one and only one way out of the current political quagmire: “political negotiations”.

“Unfortunately, I think we are past the point of national dialogue and we need to think of negotiations to which an invitation should be offered either from the regime or the opposition provided that it is done upon a clear agenda and a serious will to reconcile differences and not just to pursue political bargaining,” Hamzawy said.

The leader of the Misr Al-Horriya Party who joined the NSF upon its launch last autumn is not denying disappointments by the reluctance he faced from within the NSF to his attempt to initiate a call for a roundtable that he thought should definitely include the Muslim Brotherhood and its political army the Freedom and Justice Party.

“But of course we have to talk to them; how else are we going to resolve the situation if we don’t talk to them? Why should anyone think that if we just ignored them they would no longer be there. I am not at all suggesting that we should be talking to them in a vacuum; I am saying that we should talk to them on a clear basis,” Hamzawy stated.

Today, Hamzawy is still seeing a U-turn further down the road. In his opinion, the president should make a clear statement to the nation to express dismay at the havoc of the past few months and to apologise for every single Egyptian woman and man who had been hurt during these months — those who were attacked at the presidential palace and also those who were attacked in Muqattam last Friday. This public appeal by the president, Hamzawy added, should be followed by the beginning of a process of national dialogue that should lead to a consensus on key matters. “It is a tough task but not an impossible one; we could all make concessions and agree on a roadmap rather than to let the country fall into serious disrepair.”

“And the sooner we act to contain the current crisis the better because I fear we are running out of time,” Hamzawy said.



Moatazbellah Abdel-Fattah, director of the House of Wisdom think-tank and professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, sees no signs of a breakthrough in the current political stand-off.

“I do not foresee a civil war,” says Abdel-Fattah. “Technically speaking, a civil war is possible in a country with overlapping political cleavages but this is not the case with Egypt.”

He dismisses the parallels many are now drawing with Sudan, which passed through a devastating civil war before the secession of South Sudan.

“Egypt is not Sudan. We don’t have that sharp cutting edge between a Muslim north and a non-Muslim south, with whatever privileges are enjoyed by those who live in the north denied to those of the south.”

“[In Egypt] you don’t have a Muslim-Christian divide. You have a divide between some Islamists on one side and non-Islamists, including Christians and other Islamists on the other side”.

What Egypt could “unfortunately be set to face is the kind of protracted guerrilla war often associated with a hyperactive society and a high level of political demands at a time when political institutions are lacking”.

It would have been possible to avert escalating violence, believes Abdel-Fattah, had the post-revolution leadership acted to pursue a wide national consensus.

“If Egypt had had a Nelson Mandela figure things would certainly have been different.”

Abdel-Fattah does not expect a U-turn in President Mohamed Morsi’s political approach, which leaves, he says, “the next scene of the political drama unfolding in Egypt open to many scenarios”.

One scenario Abdel-Fattah fears is that the Islamist regime and its allies will pursue a push-come-to-shove approach, provoking angry reactions from protesters who for four months have been demonstrating against what they see as Morsi’s increasingly dictatorial stand. “We could be set to see more and more widespread and bloody acts of violence that may be terminated by a wave of oppression,” he warns.

A second possible scenario involves violence escalating to the point where the viability of the state is threatened. “There are already early signs that we are walking the failed state path. I am not at all saying we are there. What I would argue is that we could be heading in that direction and if we move further along the path there is a chance that the Armed Forces will intervene.”

To avoid either of these two scenarios Egypt’s opposing political forces must begin to act to assuage each other’s fears, even if only partially. “Neither side should feel that the country is being hijacked, or that there are attempts to hijack it, by the other side.”

To move towards a more accommodating scenario, Abdel-Fattah argues, is not that difficult to engineer, on paper at least: what it requires is for the president to make concessions and for the opposition to reciprocate positively. The itemized ingredients, he suggests, include forming a national unity government and holding fair parliamentary elections. There must be coherent moves to address Egypt’s economic problems and a halt to demonstrations as the most divisive issues — “be it the fate of the Morsi-appointed prosecutor-general” and amendments to some of the most controversial elements of the constitution, “potentially more democratic than the previous one although less liberal” — are addressed.

The same recipe, says Abdel-Fattah, would ensure the survival of the Morsi presidency.

“If Morsi manages to get through the next six months and ends with a functional government place that can address the most pressing economic and security concerns, a fairly elected parliament in place and is willing to undertake the reconciliatory moves necessary to dispel the fears of Copts and the judiciary, then he will survive the political quagmire.” Otherwise, says Abdel-Fattah, early presidential elections might be in order.

While Abdel-Fattah is unwilling to even try and predict what Morsi will do, he concedes that Egypt is suffering from “a leadership deficiency”.

But what does this mean for the democratic transition that started with the 25 January Revolution?

“Not much good,” answers Abdel-Fattah. “Though let’s face it, if you asked an average Egyptian today if he or she is willing to forgo democracy in return for security and economic stability the chances are they will say yes. This is where growing calls for the return of the army come from.”

Whatever the actual details, the return of the army is unlikely to be anything other than a setback for democracy. “Unless,” says Abdel-Fattah, “you subscribe to the very remote scenario of the minister of defence turning civilian and running for elections in a fair and free contest.”

Along with democracy, Islamist involvement in the political scene would be undermined by the army’s return to politics though “we are not at all talking about the kind of elimination we saw under Mubarak.”

“Whether Islamists survive the current test under Morsi or not will determine how much popularity they retain. Their continued political participation, however, is guaranteed even if Morsi’s presidency is interrupted.”

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