Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1128, 27 December 2012 - 2 January 2013
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1128, 27 December 2012 - 2 January 2013

Ahram Weekly

The options available

Ibrahim Farouk asks what opposition forces are planning following the endorsement of the constitution

Al-Ahram Weekly

What does the National Salvation Front (NSF) have in its favour? What plans or perceptions does this nascent front, which has gathered a broad range of opposition forces under its umbrella, have for managing the crisis, now that the draft constitution has been approved by plebiscite and gone into effect? What are its strong points? What leverage can it draw on to confront the designs of Islamist political forces?

True, the NSF issued a statement in which it vowed to overturn the new constitution that was drafted by an Islamist-dominated Constituent Assembly and hastily pushed through a referendum that was riddled with “fraud, violations and organisational shortcomings”. The statement added that the NSF would challenge the referendum results in the courts and that it would take escalatory measures. It did not specify what those measures would be or the means or methods it will follow in the political battle, but simply stated, “we will continue our struggle with the Egyptian people so that this people can obtain their rights and freedoms.”

Already the NSF has acted on the pledge to challenge the referendum results, filing some 50 charges with the Administrative Court. With respect to the broad, open-ended and ongoing “struggle with the Egyptian people”, a more realistic formula has been offered in a press conference by Abdel-Ghaffar Shukr, chairman of the Socialist Popular Rally Party and one of the spokespersons for the NSF: “The referendum is not the end of the road. It is one battle”.


THE NSF AND THE BALANCE OF POWER: The NSF is only 36 days old. It was born in the wake of the constitutional declaration issued on 22 November by President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood. The declaration galvanised many liberal, socialist and other left-wing political forces and figures into joining forces. Although they all share similar principles and the same commitment to the concept of a civil state and, therefore, oppose the political Islamists’ domination of government, they had not, until this point, worked in an organised unified manner. Instead, they had worked separately, struggling to advance their respective positions and to draw on their respective strengths, whether in terms of popular voter support or visions and ideas that contrast starkly with those of the Islamist trend who, for all practical purposes, have rallied together under the Muslim Brotherhood’s old campaign banner, “Islam is the solution”, and now seek to establish a form of Islamic theocracy. However, tensions and discord steadily mounted during the process of drafting the constitution, which drove most liberal forces to withdraw from the Constituent Assembly. Then the polarisation heightened with the president’s two constitutional declarations so that by the time the referendum was held, the country was sharply divided into two political camps. On one side stand the Islamist forces, who now formally control the government through the president, the “immunised” Shura Council and their new constitution. On the other stands the NSF, with its rainbow of liberal, leftist and secularist forces.

However, as is evident to all observers, there are many facets to the balance of power in this new polarised socio-political state. Some are obvious and clear cut while others are more ambiguous and lay below the surface. The situation is further complicated by factors that contribute to shaping the stances of or triggering internal rifts in some powerful institutional establishments, not least of which are the judiciary, the press and media, as well as the army which, as complicated as its position is has issued a series of statements affirming that it sides with the Egyptian people. In addition, there is the Ministry of Interior, which recently came to face a test of a new and different order in the form of confrontations with the militias of some Islamist and Salafist forces, as occurred following the attack against the Wafd Party headquarters on the eve of the first round of the referendum by a gang alleged to belong to the supporters of Sheikh Hazem Salah Abu Ismail, and then again following the brutal assault against Counsellor Ahmed Al-Zend, chairman of the Judges Club.

If the NSF continues to be shaped by the demands and exigencies of the current phase, and if the views of its constituent members vary on some issues, there can be no doubt with regard to its core principles. It is committed to translating the revolution’s and the people’s demands into realities on the ground. Above all, it is dedicated to the cause of the modern civil state that embraces all components of society without discrimination on the basis of religious, ethnic or political affiliation, and it is dedicated to the realisation of the cause of social justice. On the basis of these principles, it opposes the faction that has sought to monopolise power and the law, and that is not genuinely open to the participation and inclusion of other political and social sectors of society, regardless of its pretence of calling for “national dialogues”, the last of which was issued yesterday, Wednesday.


THE MURKY FUTURE: “The constitution has been approved. Let’s look forward,” some say. Others counter that the new political openness in Egypt is soon to collapse against the backdrop of economic and political deterioration. Some are even more dire in their prognoses. They foresee a dark and extremely dangerous phase in which the worst scenarios are possible, including civil war between the political Islamist forces and the popular current that sees the hopes and aspirations of the revolution being crushed. Among the pessimists is another body of opinion that agrees that there is little hope for the present but that the current turbulence is part of the convulsions of a society that is exorcising the ills and remedying defects of the past. They maintain that this is a gradual process that may take 10 to 20 years, at which point the continuing revolution will begin to mend the major rift, reap the fruits of aspirations, and propel the whole of society forward towards progress and prosperity.

Moreover, among this body of opinion are some who bring a deeper perspective. They argue that, while on the surface there is a sharp polarisation between religious and secularist forces or between two political camps one of which imprints its politics or its outlooks with a religious stamp, essentially the country is experiencing a long repressed social conflict that gushed to the surface after years of stagnation and deterioration in the quality of social and cultural life in Egypt. They add that the major facet of this conflict is a generational conflict that is playing out between the old traditional or conventional political and social forces and the new youth generation that formed the driving force and the spirit of the Egyptian revolution.

When we take all these views and prognoses together and place them in the context of the coalescing outlooks of one of the sides of the current equations, namely the NSF, we reach the conclusion that this opposition front, which features many prominent figures who enjoy widespread respect and support among large swathes of the general public, is also evolving and growing. It is now moved beyond a single focus — the constitution, the unwarranted haste with which it was passed, and its numerous flaws — towards greater dynamism as a unified movement with a common agenda and mechanisms that can be brought to bear to contend with the forthcoming challenges.

In the immediate future, there are the legislative elections with regard to which the members of the front are fully aware of how important it is to work together in the upcoming electoral battle in order to create a balanced parliament. They further realise that they must set aside the qualitative differences within the front and overcome the temptations of self-advancement or internal partisan interests. It will not be easy going. They will need to work hard in order to unify more, to connect with popular bases and with the revolutionary youth generations, and to stand firm against the oncoming deluge that is politically, financially and organisationally supported by ultra-rightwing Islamist forces.

The NSF does have advantages that will help it to prepare and plan for an effective future. It has mass strength that will enable it to enter the elections with confidence. It also has effective moral support abroad for the principles of a civil state with proper safeguards for judicial autonomy, freedom of opinion and belief, civil rights and liberties, and the rights of women, children and minorities. In addition, there is the moral strength that derives from the people’s faith in the Armed Forces and its commitment to the welfare of the Egyptian state, and there is effective support in such powerful institutions of the state as the judiciary and the media. 

However, all these hopes, expectations and visions are contingent on developments in the forthcoming days, the evolution and effects of the current polarisation, and the dynamics of the Egyptian street and, especially, the youth movements.

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