A Foggy Day in Cairo Town . . .

Jun 14

Today’s remarkable decisions by the Supreme Constitutional Court of Egypt has dramatically upped the ante in Egypt’s runoff election between Muhammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and Ahmed Shafik, the self-styled populist, Egyptian nationalist and plutocrat.  I do not wish to engage in a forensic analysis of what happened between February 11, 2011 and today in order to explain how Egypt got to this point or point fingers of blame.  The crucial issue now is what is the best course for Egyptians who are anti-ancien regime and wish to see Egypt progress into something resembling a progressive and prosperous republic in which all its citizens enjoy respect and basic rights. 

The SCC’s decision to dissolve the parliament, I suspect, will change the calculation of a non-trivial number of Egyptians who voted against Morsi in the first round and were considering voting for Shafik in the second round based on the belief that there was a need to balance the power of the FJP in the parliament with a president outside the Muslim Brotherhood’s ranks.  That logic is now gone. Instead, people might think that it is important to elect a president who does not come from the armed forces and who can thus, at least symbolically, act as a check against any temptations that the SCAF might have in restoring a dictatorial constitution.  On the other hand, it also makes the argument of those who have called for boycotting the runoff by intentionally invalidating ballots, such as Amr Hamzawy, appear stronger. After all, if the courts are brazen enough to dissolve Egypt’s first parliament with any democratic legitimacy in 60 years, it is not too hard to imagine that they would turn a blind eye to voting fraud in favor of Shafik.


Many Egyptians, understandably, are quite depressed and outraged, feeling that they have been the victims of SCAF-led plot to restore the old regime, and in the wake of the Supreme Constitutional Court’s latest decisions, are unclear on what to do.  The Muslim Brotherhood, however, thus far seems determined to press on to the second round of the runoff election despite the reaction by almost all supporters of the revolution that these decisions reveal the corrupt nature of this transition, and heroically, perhaps, insist that the process will be fair and in the end, they will win.  In deciding to continue participating in the elections, the Muslim Brotherhood has consciously chosen to ignore calls by other revolutionary forces, including by the youth wing of the Muslim Brotherhood, to boycott a process that has been condemned as a sham from the beginning.

I am not surprised the the Muslim Brotherhood has chosen to proceed.  This choice is consistent with their cautious stance toward the revolution from its outset.  They were first reluctant to participate in it out of fear that their participation would provide the regime a pre-text to crack down on the revolution with force.  Likewise, their inconsistent reactions to public demonstrations since Mubarak’s resignation can also be understood as an attempt on their part to demonstrate to the Egpytian people that they hear their concerns about restoring stability as soon as possible.  From the Muslim Brotherhood’s perspective, withdrawal from the elections at this stage would require them to confront the SCAF openly, and risk an all out confrontation, something that it has consistently and pointedly refused to do during the revolution as well as during Mubarak’s regime.  The Brotherhood’s natural risk averse strategy must have gone into overdrive when it saw the discontent of other revolutionary groups  to the possibility that it could win the presidency — which at times bordered on rhetoric that would deny the Muslim Brotherhood a legitimate political role at all.  Accordingly, it would be shocking if the MB reversed course now and condemned the process as fraudulent and boycotted the runoff.

Unlike others, however, I don’t see a contradiction between voting for Morsi and continuing direct action against SCAF in the form of continued demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes and the like.  It is extremely important, in my opinion, to prevent Shafik from obtaining anything that looks like a legitimate victory.  I think revolutionaries are fooling themselves if they believe that a Shafik win in which only a small percentage of the voters participates will detract from the legitimacy of the election.  In democratic politics, a win is a win is a win, no matter how small the margin or how low the turnout.  The events of recent days, moreover, confirms that Morsi will hardly be receiving the keys to the castle if he were, miraculously, to win.  So, despite the unexpected fog that has descended on Cairo after today’s judicial rulings, I remain firmly committed to the idea that the revolution should be fought on every front, including, the ballot box, until a civilian government with effective powers, answerable to the Egyptian people, is put in place.  I think one can vote for Morsi and continue to support the revolution. I hope others will agree, because I am sure that a Shafik win will bring blood, lots of blood.

I want to conclude with one thought: the revolution can succeed only if the Tahrir coalition remains united.  Rhetoric that excludes the Muslim Brotherhood from that coalition is not only absurd as a matter of what took place during the Jan. 25 Revolution, but it also plays directly into the hands of the fulul.  For good or for ill, the Muslim Brotherhood is the best organized member of the Tahrir coalition.  It is not a betrayal of the revolution for the Muslim Brotherhood to seek to lead the government, especially in circumstances where the non-Muslim Brotherhood elements of the Tahrir coalition utterly failed in creating an effective political party, whether for the parliamentary elections or the presidential elections.  That failure hardly augurs well for their ability to govern!  If that coalition can be restored, it is crucial that they agree on a package of structural political and economic reforms that can restore popular support for the revolution.  They must also be prepared to grant amnesty to many, if not most, of the fulul in order to weaken their resistance to change.  As I have said before, South Africa provides the model for how to proceed.  It is not too late.  While the Tahrir coalition can succeed, the fulul are destined to fail: they have failed for 30 years, and unlike the Tahrir coalition, do not even realize that Egypt is on its way to being a failed state.  The Tahrir coalition must remind themselves of the future that they can build together, one that will take its shape over a generation, not one election, much less, Egypt’s first election in the wake of 60 years of authoritarian rule.  The Muslim Brotherhood, by its detractors, is accused of taking the “long view.”  In a political transition, however, it is definitely a virtue to take the long view.  The other members of the Tahrir Coalition should learn from the Muslim Brotherhood on this score and also adopt the “long view.” If they do, they could still defeat SCAF, and even if Morsi was their fifth, sixth or seventh choice, they might might yet win the next set of elections.

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