Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Egypt, Between The Weakness Of Politics And The Politics Of Provocation

By George Semaan
The complicated political scene in Egypt has grown even more complicated following the “Friday of the popular will and unity.” The divisions that recently hit the ranks of the “youth revolution” have grown even more following the massive demonstration of the “reunion” two days ago! And the upcoming phase announces some difficult days that might hinder the interim phase up until the legislative elections by the end of the current year. Around thirty parties and youth alliances decided to pullout from the demonstration of Friday. All the participating forces had agreed, prior to that, on brandishing the slogans related to the agreed upon issues and on abstaining from mentioning the controversial issues. The goal was to stress on the collective goals of the revolution including additional reforms, and the cleansing of the state institutions from the remnants of the old regime. But the total opposite took place.
What happened was only natural since the divisions were clear and needed no proof. The important thing is that no clash took place between the participating forces in spite of the slogans that were considered by some as a kind of provocation and a violation of the former agreement. A group of the youth called for preventing the interference of the military council and the ousting of the cabinet of Issam Sharaf. Others threatened to oust the council. But during the “Friday of the reunion,” Salafists and other Islamic forces brandished slogans supporting the council and the government. There was an obvious clash, and this reassured and is still reassuring the armed forces. Of course, this was not the main purpose of the slogan brandishers. Their purpose was to respond to those who had pushed in the direction of adopting a document of “principles that exceed the constitution” following a way that they deemed as “provocative.” They wanted to make some liberals and some leftist and youth powers feel that they are the major force. The document does not serve to reassure the scared ones from the possibility of the control of the Islamists over the seats of the People’s council in the upcoming elections, and thus the “constituent assembly” that will be in charge of coming up of a new constitution for the country. On the contrary, their fears must grow!
 The purpose of the Islamists, the majority of which are Salafis including their many organizations and forces, was to assert that only the Shari’a is stronger than any document and that it remains the first and last document for law making in Egypt, the “Islamic country.” Perhaps some liberals and some forces who call for a civil state made a mistake when they hastily adopted the document, or at least through the media promotion or the chaos that accompanied the adoption of the document. For the Salafis, this seemed like a “conspiracy” against the Shari’a or a conspiracy against them and against the space that they occupy in the political scene. Therefore, their slogans represented an attempt at ousting these “principles that exceed the constitution.”
 It seemed recently that the politically-experienced forces, be it on the liberal side or among the circles of the Brothers, have agreed on a minimal level of agreement. However, the Salafi forces and some “youths” seemed to be new at political work. And they really are new. Large fractions of the “agreeing sides” had to support this “radical” side or that, during the movement of Friday in order to prevent either side from monopolizing the scene, and so that the escalation would not lead to that the radicals here and there would be thrust into an open clash that might overthrow all the achievements.
“These “agreeing sides” realize that there is a large space for an acceptable and possible dialogue that serves the interests of everyone; and that there is no need to provoke the military institution as they see that the latter cannot be vanquished as easily as the former regime. On the contrary, they value its role [i.e. the role of the military institution] in the success of the revolution according to the statement of the MB member, Issam al-Aryan, the Head of the Freedom and Justice Party. He called on “preserving the army and its unity because it has protected the revolution and responded to the call of the people.” And he also called for halting the “speech of treason and concessions.”
There are cautions against the persistence in the confrontation with the military. It is true that there are some fears over that the higher council of the military forces might monopolize the decision making and confiscate the achievements of the revolution. But the Head of the Council, Col. Mohammad Hussein Tantawi, has called for dealing with the “attacks against these forces with an open mind.” He also insisted on that no shots should be fired against the protestors. He also stressed that there is a determination to hand the country over to a civil authority. And he did not forget the mention clearly that, if it wasn’t for the armed forces, the revolution would have failed.
But this did not prevent the council and the government, which is supported by the council, from backing away under the pressure of the squares and from threatening to escalate and to respond to the demands of the “youth.” Thus, a wide amendment took place within the cabinet. And thus, the ministry of justice decided, on the evening of the past Friday, to put President Hosni Mubarak, the Interior Minister, Habib al-Adli, and the rest of the members of the former regime, on trial through a public trial at the police academy in Cairo. All this aims at lessening the charges of siding with the ousted president that have been carried and are still carried by some sides against the council; and also in order to please those who threatened to head towards Sharm el-Sheikh in order to end the so-called “procrastination” of the military and the delay in the trial of the symbols of the former regime.
It is as if this political scene also indicates that the military council is also new to the political experience similarly to the dozens of the Salafi forces and the large number of the “youths” who, along with their seemingly changing and volatile stands, are hard to control. It is true that these forces have always been there and they were not born out of the void, but the tyranny of the former regime and its services prevented them from being involved in politics. And when wide doors were opened to them, the weakness of their experience became apparent, in addition to the lack of their ability to look for plausible solutions to the disputes and differences in order to prevent an open clash that might push towards a deadly chaos.
The Brothers, who had suffered for over half of a century, knew how to placate the armed forces. This is because they know, and so do the liberal moderate forces, that the military institution used to, and still does constitute around a third of the movement of the Egyptian economy. Thus, anyone with this extent of effectiveness in the economy will have a major part to say in the politics and in the decision making process, as well as the parliamentary and presidential elections. This is perhaps why, the military institution has been humoring the Brothers and other forces that have and still are sharing with them an agreement on going through the interim phase calmly and peacefully. Some also believe that this major effectiveness of the army when it comes to the economy, the plants, the institutions, and the farms, makes it a major voter and perhaps even the party that will decide of the outcome. The question, following the “Friday” of the division and “polarization,” is: will the conflicting forces be able to control the rhythm of the conflicts between the different political movements and to prevent the collapse of the situation in a way that prevents crossing over the interim phase and reaching the elections that will produce a legitimate cabinet with no doubts over the legitimacy of its representation and its political choices? Is it possible to prevent reaching a severe political crisis?
Clearly, the political forces, prior to the date of the elections, are acting in a way that resembles the behavior of the political forces in Tunisia as well: they want to confine the political movement to the open conflict between the seculars and the Islamists, although the atmosphere, the experiences, and the circumstances of the two countries are different.
These forces are acting on the basis that this deadline is the decisive battle, and that it must constitute an opportunity to defeat the opponents once and for all. They also believe that all the preceding positions and movements fall in the context of the “conspiracy” and the bracing for a major and definitive confrontation. However, the conflict today must be limited to setting the right atmosphere in order to go through the interim phase in a peaceful manner, so that the outcomes of the elections would carry all the differences, disputes, and clashes to the corridors of the new council.
The Egyptians are faced with two [problems]: that the exaggeration of some would lead to opening a battle with the military institution. And that the political forces that are calling for the civil state would not realize that there is no use in opposing the army, in spite of their doubts over their directions that relate to the former phase and to its military symbols. Is it not better to build relationships of agreement with [the military council] as this would help these political forces on confronting the Salafists and all the Islamic forces that are calling for a religious state?
The second [problem] is that the Egyptians could fail in going through the interim phase in a peaceful manner, and that the polarization could turn into a clash between the political forces thus leading to their final division and weakness. This will provide the army with the opportunity of taking the initiative back from everybody else, thus growing stronger than everyone and gaining the ability to re-form the regime that it desires.
-This commentary was published in al-Hayat on 01/08/2011
-Georges Semaan is a Lebanese Journalist and was the editor-in-chief of al-Hayat

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