Notes on the Egyptian elections

Abdul Ilah Albayaty , Saturday 3 Dec 2011

Where seculars and the left failed was in realising that elections are won through electors

I am not astonished by the results of the elections in Egypt. If we take into account the Egyptian and regional situation and the role of Islamists as a factor of change in it, in addition to the general tendency of the Arab Spring of democracy in which Arabs have the inclination to insist on their Arab-Muslim appurtenance, without opposing a civil state, and on their refusal of both dictatorships and neoliberal globalisation, the results are not a surprise.

The Egyptian seculars’ political campaign was catastrophic. First, they splintered their electorate’s potential and couldn’t present a coalition. They didn’t realise, mistaken with the revolutionaries, that they gave an image to electors of a force against stability while the people need stability. In every election there is a percentage of the population that votes for those it supposes will support the existing rule. In their attack on the ruling SCAF, seculars lost this percentage. In their campaign and slogans, many seculars and revolutionaries appeared as if they spoke more to themselves or to their rivals than to the electors. Concerning the topic of the constitution, they couldn’t even clarify to electors how they differed from the Muslim Brotherhood, other than which one should be first, the constitution or elections.

In contrast, the Muslim Brothers’ campaign was very intelligent. When they stood against SCAF, they let the revolutionaries and the Salafists take the lead. When they stood against the revolutionaries, they let SCAF and the seculars react. They gave the image of a mild, reasonable force that searches for compromise with all, while criticising all. But above all, they comforted many by accepting the notion of a civil democratic state, although without much clarity on the subject. In addition, in every election there is a percentage of the population that votes for those it supposes will win. The Muslim Brotherhood had this advantage and this amplified its popularity. These are not the only factors of its success, but they contributed a lot. 

Succeeding in an election is different than demonstrating or sparking a revolution. The day following elections, both seculars and Islamists will be faced with the hard realities of several economic and social difficulties, which they should participate in solving, and without being elusive, if they want to preserve their electors or win new ones. The first, it seems, is the Muslim Brotherhood’s insistence in choosing the government as the leading party while SCAF, according to the constitution, kept this right to itself. We should note that SCAF, that allowed and directed these democratic elections successfully, now enjoys more confidence and support.

Having a majority in parliament is different from leading a country. The Muslim Brotherhood should learn how to work to lead the country in partnership with a secular apparatus and institutions of the state, including the army, the judiciary and the police, that have a secular culture and traditions. This is the biggest test for the next parliament. The Brotherhood and the seculars will face the hard realities of a great country like Egypt, which cannot be governed by ideologies, whether they are secular or religious. In front of them is choosing which constitution, what programme of government, and what actions. Although there are always risks of unnecessary conflicts that would endanger the democratic transformation, the dialogue between currents, if it continues to be pacific, loyal and rational, will be of much benefit to Egypt’s future of democracy and development.

Elections are but a moment to express the opinion of the people. The people and the forces of the people could change their ideas the day following an election and express them through strikes, demonstrations, mass media, other elections, etc. Yet elections are the best imperfect method to test opinion. Whether revolutionary or not, all should try to win electors to win the elections. I think the Egyptian people took its destiny in its hands. It is a great step forward for democracy. The avant-gardists, like the Muslim Brotherhood or some seculars, continue to speak of the will of the people or the will of the revolution. From now on they should speak of the will of the electors. This is the touchstone for the future of democracy.

The writer is an Iraqi political analyst.

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