This commentary was published in Asharq al-Awsat on 02/06/2011
How to safely negotiate the transitional period is now the dilemma for both Egypt and Tunisia. The question whether to slow down or accelerate this process remains a puzzling matter for all sides in this post-revolution period, especially with regards to the consequences of the upcoming legislative and presidential elections, and the creation of new constitutions that accurately reflect the peoples' desire for truly democratic states.
The common denominator in the existing heated debate is the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, and the Islamic Nahda in Tunisia, two groups sharing almost the same ideology. Both groups have lodged strong claims to accelerate the constitutional process, aiming to get the ball rolling regardless of what shape the new situation will take on. Those who advocate a slower process claim that conditions must be created for the ballot boxes to reflect the genuine hopes and opinions of society, rather than existing powers seizing the opportunity.
In the cases of Egypt and Tunisia, political powers are deliberating and seem confused, and this is manifested in the form of screaming and fighting, rather than genuine dialogue. This follows the euphoria felt by everyone in the revolution's early days, after the success in overthrowing the regime. Despite deep concerns regarding this situation, this is a natural occurrence in such circumstances. The case of Egypt and Tunisia is like that of a thirsty man whose initial hope was to have a mouthful of water, yet after he obtained this, he realized that he needed a full bottle. Now the people want to ensure their future, and not return to the past.
The problem with the transitional period is that it is unstable by nature, and everyone is guessing what will happen in the future. The economic sector is most affected by this transitional period, because investors require a clear vision and knowledge of the ruling regime before they make any decision. Likewise the security situation could be adversely affected by the transitional period, and many are obsessed with this subject, especially in Egypt. Yet some see this as an exaggeration and scaremongering. For example, we have not seen neighborhoods attacking other neighborhoods, and when there were incidents of sectarian tension, saboteurs were lurking behind the scenes.
Shortening the transitional period should enable the country to reap the fruits of the revolution, and lay the foundation of a new legitimacy, something that is direly needed. Domestically, there is a need to stabilize the situation and gauge the real size of political powers through the ballot boxes, and externally the world needs to know what regime it is dealing with both politically and economically. Yet the problem with shortening the transitional period, as is the case with Egypt, is that it gives an advantage to already established powers such as the Muslim Brotherhood, whereas other parties, which were integral to the revolution, are unable to organize or prepare themselves in time.
This all is true, but one should not fall into an obsessive fear of the Muslim Brotherhood, because they are, after all, part of the political structure. Even if the transitional period is prolonged, the Brotherhood, just like other parties, will derive benefits, not to mention the privilege of carrying out organized political activity, after long years of oppression under the previous authoritarian rule. The Brotherhood is now engaged in politics, and its political rivals must do the same, whether they agree with it or not.
Other powers need to organize themselves in parties or alliances, with a practical political program that is convincing and clear to the people. Above all, new political forces must prove their existence by engaging in daily political action, as this alone can determine the voter's decision in the ballot box.
An example of "proving their existence" was manifested last Friday in Tahrir Square, where hundreds of thousands of people demonstrated. This activity was conducted in absence of the Muslim Brotherhood, which launched an intimidating and frightening campaign about what would happen. On the contrary, we witnessed a disciplined demonstration, and protestors left the square peacefully after they had conveyed a clear message that there are other powers which can mobilize; powers that should be taken into consideration.
The transitional period requires an element of harmony between all political powers. Prolonging this period entails the great risk of falling in the middle of the road before reaching the goal, whereas an acceleration could lead to the dominance of a certain political power, such as the Muslim Brotherhood. The solution may be found in making a commitment or concluding an agreement on major general principles that would govern any constitution or upcoming regime, such as the transfer of authority, and the respect of political, religious, economic and personal freedoms.