Friday, March 9, 2012

The Long and Winding Road for Democracy in Egypt

Part 1: The Balance of Power 

It’s been once a common saying that a true democracy in Egypt might be as a possible as a human landing on Mars, the possibility was always there but the obstacles always outweighed the implantation of that dream. The obstacles for that goal can always be found in the political, cultural and social level throughout the past century and moving on towards the 21st century the situation never proved any better except on marginal matters.  An implementation of a Russia’s Vladimir Putin’s like democracy was to be the highest extent of common Egyptian hopes for a scent of democracy.
Then, the Armageddon of January 25th Revolution took place and swept the entire country. A major protest organized mainly by Upper and upper middle class youth using social media networks like Facebook , Twitter and word of mouth resulted in the most extraordinary event in recent Middle Eastern history and possibly the world since the fall of Berlin wall and the beginning of the post cold war era. The influence of the Tunisian revolution on its Egyptian counterpart cannot be denied. As the brave Tunisians who paid their lives for freedom have paved the way and acted as a catalyst for an already boiling Egyptian population comprised of mostly youth suffering from unemployment, poverty, oppression and marginalization in the social and political life.
Ironically, the call for the January 25th was not from a marginalized or poverty stricken group of the youth, on the contrary it was the upper and upper middle class highly educated Egyptians who decided to make the move and seize a historical opportunity and formula already proved successful in a another Arab North African country to achieve the long awaited change. The status quo of a 30 year rule of Mubarak was never tolerated by a younger more educated, more travelled and ambitious youth who decided to make their own fate with their own hands. This movement was not a product of just an impetuous act of angered young Egyptians; it was preceded by a long list of protests, sit-ins and civil disobedience acts that stretched from Alexandria in the north of the country all the way to Aswan nearby the borders of Sudan since 2004. Civil rights groups and activists like Kefaya (Enough) 6th of April and The Egyptian movement for change , Mohamed El Baradei, George Ishak among many others relatively obscure groups have supported the call for January 25th protest under the slogan “Bread, Freedom, human dignity”.

It goes without saying, that some official opposition parties as well as the Muslim Brotherhood group didn’t support the move and called for cancelling or boycotting it to avoid civil disturbances according to their own beliefs pre – January 25th. After the resounding success of the first protest which was met by extreme measures and brutality from the Ministry of Interior and their strong arm The Central Security Force (CSF) All the organizers of the first day of the revolution vowed to return for another day set to be January 28th with more massive calls for a full fledged revolution on the internet and all media outlets which has been called “Friday of Fury”.
Not till blood was being spilt everywhere in several major cities and the police declared their withdrawal from Tahrir square and other major cities’ squares, that both the Ikhwan , Salafis (Radical Islamic fundamentalist groups) decided to join forces with the Liberal and leftist forces who paid the toll of the killings , heavy beating and tortures exercised on them by the notorious Ministry of Interior.
The violence against the rebels on January 28th was unmatched in modern Egyptian history with hundreds killed and thousands wounded by CSF and police forces who used extremely violent methods in an attempt to quell the rebellion and make an example of those brave souls. All that brutality was never enough to contain the purist enthusiasm that drove those young men and women and have been accordingly transferred to older generation rebels who joined forces when they saw.

The 18 days of revolution have demonstrated a unified ideology under the banner of liberty and freedom of all Egyptians of all religions and social ranks. Those 18 days seemed to be good to be true as clashes started to occur just a few weeks in smaller villages by now openly functioning Islamic groups mostly adhering to the Wahhabi doctrine locally known in Egypt as Salafis. The result of the clashes was the burning and tearing down of a local church in small village in Giza.
The incident have overshadowed a lot of the sense of unity that was felt by every Egyptian but still the implications of this incident have restored a sense of paranoia within the already heart-broken Copts who thought that the revolution will end such mindless attacks by extremist groups. In a matter of a few days the so called Salafis initiated an unprecedented rise as if they appeared from an obscure cave. Started with meetings in cities like Suez, Port Said and Alexandria then went on gradually to become a strange phenomenon in all cities.
Simultaneously,  in an unexpected and very controversial move, Supreme Council of Armed Forces SCAF released Aboud El Zomor (Sadat assassination mastermind) as well as other imprisoned members of EL Gamaa El Islamiya (The Islamic Group) a terrorist group that operated in Egypt for several decades. This was hailed as a victory and a green light in the eyes of the radical Fundamentalist Salafi group to practice politics openly.
The result of this SCAF stunt left a bad taste in the mouth of liberals and Copts coupled with the continuous meeting with Muslim Brotherhood leaders taking place on regular basis with SCAF generals. A strong sense prevailed that a deal was being cooked between the Military Junta and Islamists to facilitate their rise in power in exchange for the military to keep their impressive privileges. These impressive privileges of the army have been enjoyed for decades since 1952 and especially during Mubarak’s 3 decades rule.  These consecutive actions have shocked the Coptic and liberal community in Egypt as well as the mainstream Egyptians who thought that the SCAF have turned their heads away against violations from the rising Salafis movements.
While similar clashes have occurred between extremists and Copts in certain rural areas, the hugely controversial referendum of March 19th which gave the Egyptians a choice between modifying the old constitution of 1971 with already proposed amendments of the ousted President Mubarak which limited the presidency terms to 2 as well as curbing certain unlimited powers that every Egyptian President enjoyed since 1952 coup’d’état . The other alternative would be the rejection of these of amendments without giving a viable alternative for those who say “NO”.
Majority of Egyptians fearful for their future and already badly affected by the economic strains of the aftermath of the revolution decided under pressure of daily life strains and government media endorsement to vote for “Yes”. While most of the intellectuals, Liberals and revolutionary powers decided to vote for “No”.
Prior to the referendum voting the Islamists groups spread a rumour that those who say “no” are forfeiting the possibility of implementing the Islamic Shaaria laws because secular powers want to remove the 2nd amendment in the Egyptian constitution which states that the principles of Islamic Shaaria are the main source for jurisdiction in Egypt. The last part was a complete farce and a rumour spread by Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis who benefited from the endless indifference of SCAF towards their activities. In less than fortnight they became the starts of TV shows and introducing their extremist views in public freely for the first time in Egyptian history.
Many of those TV shows were actually liberal but somehow their initial presence drew a lot of audience and controversy which led to many more presumably liberal anchors to host them in their shows for more public viewing and higher ratings. Despite this a good percentage were appalled by the presence of extremists propagating what they believe as the correct for Islam something most Muslims in the world don’t share with them.
Quickly, ascended the Islamist groups and Muslim Brotherhood on the stairs of power and their ultimate show of force was protesting against the supra-constitutional guarantees proposed by SCAF as  a stipulation of freedoms and human/rights in any upcoming new Constitution. The Salafi groups backed by Muslim brotherhood joined forces to curb the Liberal and revolutionaries in Tahrir square on the 29th of July 2011 packing over 1 million men and women from all over Egypt as a protest against that SCAF proposal and using the Constitutional declaration of SCAF in march as an excuse and a road map for all parties to follow.
The million man march was a resounding success for radical conservative groups who planned it carefully and spent millions of pounds and dollars to organize massive number of buses bring fundamentalist minded groups from all over Egypt.
The impacts of this march was also shocking since for the first time, the average Egyptian public witnessed the ability of Islamists to group and protest. Some of the worst sectarian slogans were posted during the protests and the impacts on Christians were also very negative. This march may have caused a delay in announcing the supra-constitutional which liberals and all other rebels demanded in order to preserve the Secular (Civil) nature of Egypt.
Now the Tahrir revolutionaries found themselves after being glorified by the mass media and people generally domestically and internationally, demonized by the Governmental media and particularly Egyptian national TV controlled by SCAF. The shift of the attitude of the masses towards Tahrir started to be more prevailing especially after SCAF called 6th of April leftist movement as perpetrators and associated them with non-NGO organizations that receive foreign funding and training the first of which the group categorically denied.
The irony is that SCAF have turned their back against some already certified incidents of foreign funding to Islamists groups as well as those Anti-revolutionary groups (loyalists) who believe that the old regime was better, their most famous is “Ehna Asfeen Ya Rayes” Group meaning “We are sorry Mr. President” referring to ousted president Mubarak.
Later the General attorney declared that they uncovered some illegal funds in a bank account related to the group and frozen it.  But still their sudden appearances from time to time in certain protests is a big mystery and it’s likely that the group have more than one funding source in the past few months. Their organized sit- ins in Heliopolis and Abbassia district show a more organized and funded capability that these groups care to announce.
It was evident to all analysts that the Liberal powers in Egypt after the revolution seemed more shattered than the religious ones and that have been proven by the incessant protests mostly disorganized every Friday on Tahrir square. These endless million man marches (hardly reaching that number in most cases) have alienated quite a big chunk of the mainstream Egyptians who are not affiliated with any ideology or parties and these Egyptians represent a large majority.
Unfortunately the liberals divided into several factions of their own including capitalists, rebels, anarchists and leftists. Each group with had their own agenda and unique view of what should be done in the next phase. There first one believed that waiting for the elections and preparing for it is the suitable solution for this turbulent stage while the last 3 continued their almost weekly if not daily protests all over the country in an effort to curb SCAF authority and establish a quick transformation for civil rule.
Some of those groups acted as a loose cannon sometimes and were not less leathal to the country stability than Muslim Brotherhood and fundamentalist group with the distinction that they only needed a civil rule unlike the Islamists powers that wish to transfer the country to more religious oriented or Theological governance. The Liberals remain the core revolutionaries and a major player in the country political decision due to their ability to gather a large number of youth and middle class activists and non–activists in a short number of time to their almost weekly Friday protest in Tahrir square and Similar squares in major Egyptian cities.
However Liberals run the risk of being overshadowed by the more funded and Islamists groups who usually practice their protest from a political and& ideological point of view than the puritan Liberal revolutionaries who have tended to be more chaotic in the public eye recently especially during the clashes of Tahrir on Nov18th night and the days to follow just.
They are still hardcore revolutionaries but still not organized or politically experienced enough to attract a mass support like they received in the earlier months of the revolution when the public generally was fed up in the now defunct National Democratic Party and have supported any move by the rebels to take it down in favour of a more just and stable political system.
However, this gradually changed after the rebel’s disunity was quite obvious to regular Egyptians with over 180 different revolutionary groups and alliances from within the Tahrir rebels, each almost have their own point of view and their own message. All these of these mixed messages have made the general public quite annoyed with the continuous sit-ins and protests in Tahrir organized by these groups.
With the current economic crisis in Egypt and with Egypt national reserve dropping 39% in the past 9 months due to lack of foreign currency and the huge drop in tourism revenues , the Tahrir groups have alienated themselves gradually from public and failed to deliver the message of development to the average Egyptian lately. However, they still have the moral ground that they achieved by paying their own lives and blood in attempt to change Egypt for the better.
On the other side of the equation, remain a significant amount who are actually loyalists to the old regime locally known as “Felool” which in Arabic stands for “remnants” of the old regime and those believed that things would be better under Mubarak or a similar regime than they would be under any revolutionary government. Those groups cannot be taken lightly since they have shown their strength aligning themselves with SCAF politics as well as any other political decisions aiming at restoring the old laws or maintain the older status quo.
This significant group (loyalists) cannot be categorized as liberal or conservative as they can be a mix of both. Also, they are comprised mainly of over 2 million ex-NDP members spread all over Egypt and those mainstream Egyptians who are not likely in most cases have any political affiliations and were never really interested in politics in the past decades.
It’s worth mentioning, that a significant number of business owners and wealthier Egyptians have supported the views of these groups through the past months. This is due to the strong feeling of overburden of the aftermath of the revolution on their businesses and interests. That group cannot be taken out of the equation at all since they represent what has been known as the “Silent Majority” who hardly get involved in politics unless they feel the peril of what is going on in Tahrir and elsewhere on their daily lives.
Yet it remains to be seen how the interactions of the so called “Felool” or loyalists of the old regime will affect the democratization of Egyptian on the long run. As they have been accused by rebel forces of funding, supporting acts of violence, criminal offenses and  thuggery against the rebels in many cases. However, no official statement or court order have been issued in that regard and only some declarations of a massive investigations will take place by the Bureau of the General attorney Mr. Abdel El Mageed Mahamoud. But no indictments so far have been issued against these continuous acts.
Last but not least is the Supreme council of armed forced headed by Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi the Defense minister during Mubarak era.  SCAF is the De facto power in Egypt after former President Hosni Mubarak abdicated and handed over power to them on the 11th of February 2011. They are the supreme council and effectively the supreme ruler of the land, they have the power to appoint and  change governments , issue laws and uphold the law. In short they are an All-in-1 supreme council or military Junta. The council was praised for their restraining ability in the earlier days of the revolution and for siding with the rebels against the former ousted president.
They were the ones who put pressure on Mubarak to relinquish power to save the country from total turmoil. However the long term interests of the revolution may collide with their own long term interests.
Since 1952 coup’ d’état, the army affiliated companies are deeply entrenched in the Egyptian economic activities and is said to control about 30% of the economy. These privileges cannot be easily given up especially it represents a major source of income which is used to cover the costs of renewing the army equipment on regular basis. The dilemma remains to be maintaining the current expenditures of the Army and modernizing it while curbing their role in political life without damaging either the strength of the army or the democratization process.
The strategic alliance with the USA and the Camp David peace treaty with Israel represent as non-negotiable National security matter that any government democratic or not , Islamist or not should abide with these guidelines that represents Egyptian foreign policy and military strategy for the past 33 years.  The Egyptian Army is still a bastion of stability in the Middle East region and will not allow any major changes to damage this status under any pretexts.
The collision of interests between Islamists who won significant percentage of the Egyptian elections first phase and SCAF can be foreseen by many as inevitable in the upcoming months. The former might be able to form a majority if Salafis and Muslim brotherhood insist on forming the government which is unconstitutional under the current declaration.
On the other hand, liberals who own most of the private sector businesses, Media and have strong influence in the social and cultural scene will not allow themselves to be ousted from the scene that easily and will fight to the bone to make share that Egypt secular/civil state is maintained and freedoms will be increased and guaranteed.
The loyalists who are comprised of different types of ideologically minded and non-ideologically minded Egyptians of all social ranks will not allow matters to stir away against their favour starting from business owners all the way to overpaid public servants under the previous regime.
Finally, the power struggle in Egypt will continue to dominate the scene for the upcoming months if not years till the Egyptians manage to establish a constitution which will appease all the power that be and those new emerging powers as well.  Despite all the struggles and upcoming challenges, the prospect of reaching a unanimity is still great under the pressure of general public who have been growing weary of the struggle that they believe have caused backlashes and counter-effects on their daily lives since the start of the revolution. The Military Junta, Liberals, Leftists, Pan-Arab Nationalists, Islamists and loyalists have no valid alternative than to concede some of their ambitions for the sake of the Egyptian national interest and for a democracy that can be a beacon to follow in a historically tyrannical Middle East.
Usually, they say a week is a long time in politics but in 2011 Egypt’s it’s an eternity.

No comments:

Post a Comment