Has democracy lost in Egypt?

Egypt's mass revolts have begun a perpetual cycle of discontent, all of which are a part of the democratic process.

    Has democracy lost in Egypt?
    Revolutions are not meant to be neat affairs, writes Larbi Sadiki [EPA]

    Does the staging of tamarrod ("rebel") protest to oust President Morsi yesterday, June 30, mean democratisation has failed?

    In-between Taksim and Tahrir

    Revolutions are not meant to be neat affairs. Quite contrary, the upheavals that follow them are inevitable. TIme and time again, history has demonstrated that chaos and disorder are an integral part of revolution. 

    Egypt is no exception - the same applies in varying degrees to Libya and Tunisia.

    However, regardless of how we stand in relation to the June 30 campaign, it keeps alive the revolutionary flame, which militates against complacency. True, lots has been achieved; but what has not been achieved outweighs the gains of the past two years.

    Anti-Morsi protests sweep Egypt

    By celebrating rebellion - as a bottom-up, informal, un-official and collective enactment of popular will is necessary to extend the boundaries of political possibilities. The coming of the masses, once, twice, three times and more if need be, is a boon to the democratic process. 

    In its simplest symbolic content, popular revolts speak of contempt for power, and this is important for democratic acquisition. Taksim erupted not only over Gezi Park and its trees, but also about rejection of political iconicity. The age of grand leaders has passed. And when Mandela passes away, he will be the last true icon of modern politics. Even he - amassing plentiful reserve of integrity and skill - did not allow himself more than five years at the helm.

    The Turks gave Erdogan ten years, and anti-Brotherhood Egyptians today re-occupy the public squares because they feel President Morsi deserves no longer than one. Like those citizens who participated in the Arab Spring, leaderless-ness is what captures the imagination of the masses more so than the presence of fallible mortals at the apex of power.

    At one level, this speaks to the dialectic of absence-presence in Arab iconography, in religion as in politics. Leaders are championed when they depart the scene ( Caliph Ali , Imam Hussein , Jamal Abdel Nasser , Anwar El-Sadat , Saddam Hussein , Yasser Arafat - to mention a few). Arab political imagery is animated by the feats of the dead and the departed; not the mortals who still rule and inspire fear.

    In a way, President Morsi was wished "dead" from the moment he was claimed first president of the January 25 revolution . If the forces arrayed against him succeed in forcing him out of office, they will be giving him a "birth certificate" (mummifying him) as President Morsi. For the past twelve months he has been an Ikhwani who happens to be the elected president of Egypt, not Egypt's elected president who happens to be a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and its legal political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party. 

    The revulsion with fixed authority defines Arab revolution, for this author, even if the reductionism oversimplifies more complex dynamics. That Egyptians return to protest is not a tad bit surprising. As long as the rest - Mohamed El-Baradei , Hamdeen Sabahi , Amr Moussa , et. al. realise that if the deluge comes knocking at the doors of his Itthadiya palace and put him out of his misery, they will not be spared.

    Egyptians, Libyans and Tunisians may have turned a corner in politics: they elect leaders only to project their past experiences of abuse of power without giving these leaders the benefit of a full term in office.

    Morsi vs. the opposition

    The opposition has a problem: the revolutionary ethos and its potential to be turned into a shared civic realm for coalition-building, civilianisation of politics, forming credible political life and the bolstering of social and political capital for keeping the government of the day honest has been a failure. Despite the fact that the money poured by foreign and local donors into the coffers of many so-called opposition forces was intended to help institution-building, resorting to 'street politics', pursuing Facebook and twitter activism are meant to complement and facilitate, not replace, the basics of politics as the art of providing the alternative government - government-in-waiting.

    Morsi is guilty of erring on the side of political judgment by not, for instance, through cunning, appoint a different Prime Minister - even Ganzouri would have footed the bill. There is a period of apprenticeship that cannot be short-circuited by Islamists in either Egypt or Tunisia requiring broad coalitions or national unity government, reliance on non-partisan know-how and technocrats.

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    And President Morsi may have been surrounded by men not all of his choosing - the Deputy Supreme Guide or Na'ib al-Murshid, Khayrat Al-Shater , may be pulling many strings behind the scene. He has it all - money, skill, cunning, and like Morsi, the historical legitimacy of political struggle and imprisonment, which neither Amr Moussa nor Mohammed El-Baradei has got.

    Rather, heavy reliance on media cacophony and social media personality cults alone do not make an opposition. In fact, many talented figures in Egypt's opposition boast respect, acceptance and recognition in foreign capitals. And electoral performance says it all: the liberals and leftists cannot win more than handful of seats in parliamentary elections, regardless of their leaders and policies. This says something about the opposition: they are a vocal bloc, but they remain unconvincing for voters.

    Democratisation: throwing the baby out with the bathwater

    Mass mobilisations are healthy if they bolster democratisation while not overthrowing it. As leverage on President Morsi and the elected Islamists, it should not be dismissed or belittled.

    However, when the aim is to oust an elected president, then Egypt, and even the Arab Spring countries, is entering an unprecedented scenario. In this scenario, throwing out the water of democratisation - President Morsi - may not be indivisible from the actual baby: the institutions gained from the revolution.

    The energy invested into the rebel campaign is great and should not be written off or dismissed as many Arab writers sympathetic to the Ikhwan tend to do. I am of the view that this tension is positive and pushes the power-holders to account for the opposition and views from the margins of power. President Morsi's crisis speech of Wednesday came too late - inclusion of youth (defined as 40 years or younger) in ministries should have come earlier. And other measures may be too little, too late.

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    Nonetheless, the opposition's failing lies in not investing this energy in boycotting the constitutional vote - instead of voting against it and possibly defeating it. It is obvious that the quarrel with President Morsi is not just about his economic performance and the long queues for petrol, gas shortage, and electricity rationing. It would take years of national unity governments to fix an economy damaged by Hosni Mubarak and company. This task is beyond the existing capacity of a single party.

    The protests launched today will produce critical mass. That is also the aim. Unfortunately, that is where unity stops: the spectrum is wide  and diverse - from the likes of El-Baradei, Nobel Laureate and a former supremo of the International Atomic Energy Agency to Ali "Spicy" Shatta , a young leader of the Ultras Green Eagles – hardcore fans of Port Said's Masry football club , the football fans Ahlawi and Masrawi - and no doubt with a hooligan component - to youth revolutionaries, including the credible April 6 movement .

    This diversity, while impressive, reveals the opposition as a fragmented movement. So while the politically savvy and disciplined will be peaceful and orderly, others will not desist from violent demonstration. This unruly element recognises neither Sabbahi nor Ahmed Maher , April 6 Movement's leader.

    Two points are in order: One, the exclusion of Islamists in the 1970s and 1980s led to the rise of violent Islamist groups that used terror all over Egypt. That is not a scenario that anyone is contemplating. And two, toppling an elected president and scrapping a new constitution will mean Islamists and secularists will be for years engaging each other in tat-for-tat politics, toppling each other's presidents and achievements. This is democratic defeatism.

    Abdel Fattah El-Sissi and the army will be closely watching the developments over the next a few days. And as the glimmer of politicians rise to the occasion and use institutions to parley and revolution for confidence and capacity-building while not cancelling each other out, the soldiers may at long last fulfil the wishes of key liberal figures such as El-Baradei to intervene.

    It seems as if everyone has been all along conspiring to disrupt a promising beginning earned by Egypt's glorious revolution: Mohamed Tantawi who might have dithered as to give the presidency to Ahmed Shafiq , the judiciary which has been disbanding elected chambers, and now an opposition lost for action, almost sore losers whose institutional track record is no better than President Morsi's.

    He has failed because ultimately they have failed too - failed him in not doing the business of opposition effectively and they have together failed the fledgling democracy as the gains of two years risk being lost.

    Dr Larbi Sadiki is a Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter, and author of Arab Democratization: Elections without Democracy  (Oxford University Press, 2009) and  The Search for Arab Democracy: Discourses and Counter-Discourses  (Columbia University Press, 2004).

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera



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