Monday,18 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)
Monday,18 December, 2017
Issue 1372, (7 - 13 December 2017)

Ahram Weekly

In-Focus: Clubs elections and political activism

The recent flurry of sports club elections, and the outcome, should give lessons to Egypt’s political actors, if they’re astute enough to look, writes Galal Nassar

اقرأ باللغة العربية

The middle class played a crucial role in political, economic, social and cultural struggles across the Arab world since the end of the 19th century. It had a remarkable role in confronting foreign colonial powers, in modernisation, democratisation and evolving national culture. The late thinker Ismail Sabri Abdallah said this class was the breeding ground for all intellectual trends and modern political forces – nationalist, liberal, Islamist and socialist. While it usually conveyed a message of enlightenment and progress throughout modern Arab history, at other times it took conservative and even regressive positions. It campaigned for Arab nationalism and Arab unity, while others in its ranks called for another identity: Pharaonic or Phoenician or Mediterranean. Meanwhile, there were those who called for a return to Islamic fundamentals.

An explanation for such contradictions in its positions and political, social and cultural roles is due to its diversity in composition and interests. Some academics prefer not to call it the middle class, but rather describe it as a middle stratum, since the scientific definition of class is a group of people who are linked to society by a relationship to production: as owners of production tools or workers on these tools. In between the bourgeoisie and working class are many social strata that have many interests, which makes them a key platform for opposing and varying ideologies and political preferences. In fact, its members often change their positions and outlooks, sometimes by 180 degrees, due to changes in living conditions or general changes in society. 

Political and social experts agree social activism occurs in this class because it is capable of change and progress, and its interactivity, vitality and evolution are key indicators of conditions within society.

In Egypt, this class is a main indicator of our society’s political and social condition. It is the class that led revolutions and produced figures who led political, party and economic movements and eventually the entire region during an era known as the Arab tide and Arab nationalism. Sometimes there was pushback in what is known as the Islamic tide, but the majority remained silent on both sides as economic conditions smashed them in a bitter existential battle not to fall to the lower classes. This class chose to be silent, and sometimes is referred to as “the couch party” because they did not take action until the 30 June 2013 Revolution when they felt the country’s identity was under threat, while a segment of this class wants them to remain there amid a storm of fanatic religion.

This class suffered due to Egypt’s difficult economic conditions since the 25 January 2011 Revolution and their living conditions further worsened after floating the pound in November 2016, since the majority are on fixed incomes that dropped in value by more than 50 per cent overnight. Meanwhile, the political street is dormant and all political parties have mysteriously vanished, lacking participation and wise opposition to government policies and regime decisions. Also gone are the notions of participation, ideas, innovation and creating alternatives.

Analysts and observers saw activism at elections for sports and social clubs and sports unions in November as unprecedented, since these entities are true representatives of all three tiers of the middle class in Egypt: upper, middle and lower.

The race was heated since the start and the bid for the hearts and minds of members was frantic. Platforms and slogans were designed to catch the eye of voters, and fulfil their dreams and demands that would be unavailable outside the walls of these entities. They used every tool to convince, sometimes to the point of annoyance, and invented creative new ones.

These elections also revealed the flaws of this group and climate of activism in society, including campaign overspending, conflict of interest, businessmen in power, influence inside major clubs or movement behind the scenes to support certain candidates, and corrupt funding paid as bribes to entities or individuals to buy their vote. They chased them on the street, in the printed press, online, on television and on social media.

The battle for the clubs is over and the people voted for their representatives within the walls of these entities, but the impact of some of these results has gone beyond these walls and opened a discussion about the high turnout, campaigning, conflicting platforms, funding, values and principles, and even some abrasive behaviour such as verbal abuse and thuggery. Why did this class become so involved in elections at their clubs or unions while shying away from activism beyond these walls?

The simple answer is: transparency, sincerity and a belief that one’s vote will actually count, and that choosing is a responsibility that will directly impact them and their families. Also, that principles and values are more important than money and politicking, and the value of the institution is above the value of the individual. That respecting the mind and intellect of the member is how to win votes and support, and the ballot box is what counts in the end and no one can counterfeit the will of the people and their unanimous decisions.

Will players on Egypt’s political scene learn the lessons of these elections and apply them to activism on the street; to mobilise this class to genuinely participate, and for the laws and political climate to encourage them to be involved and protect their will and freedom to choose? The core and goal of democratic activism will always be freedom of choice.

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