In one week, Egypt held its first genuine presidential elections that – for the first time ever – ushered in a civilian president from outside the state’s security agencies. It also witnessed three interventions by the state apparatus to abort the democratic transformation. No doubt, the coming phase will see more battles to be rid of Mubarak’s regime, and here is what needs to be done to win that battle.
Intervention by institutions from Mubarak’s regime included the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolving parliament in record time; the military issuing an addendum to the Constitutional Declaration by which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) transferred all control to itself, thus usurping power from those whom the people elected; they then issued decisions that are impinge on the heart of the mandate of the coming president and his presidential team before they even enter the presidential palace. The media portrayed some of these interventions as a victory for “the revolution” and protection of civilian rule.
These interventions, however, are an attempt to uphold Mubarak’s regime, either through its loyalists and institutions or the network of local, regional and international interests that is connected to that regime which is trying to uphold the following: first, the regime’s economic and social structure and its foreign policy; second, interconnected personal interests that are rooted in corruption. It is sometimes willing to sacrifice some individuals to protect the group or — more likely — safeguard structures and policies.
No single group is strong enough to disband this system irrespective of their showing at the polls because the tools are not just power in numbers, but also the power of money, media, information, institutions and security. These powers were able in the months after Mubarak’s ouster to remanufacture the regime in several ways, including political money, normalising relations with Mubarak remnants on the political, economic and media fronts, as well as a surge for polarisation based on identity that some parties believed would serve their interests. This, along with other means, resulted in Mubarak’s last prime minister winning more than 12 million votes in the presidential race.
Confronting this system should be done through bridging gaps, and this can only be done by closing national ranks in which each partner would reassure the other, and the weaker partner, does not feel threatened by the more powerful one, causing the former to resort to breaking ranks. For this to happen, the Muslim Brotherhood should not have fielded a presidential candidate, especially after its sweeping victory in parliament, but interest in advancing the interests of the group and protecting the public interest caused the Brotherhood to field a candidate.
And thus, it confirmed concerns about its parliamentary majority and then made it even worse by its poor performance in forming the Constituent Assembly. This was further compounded by a parliamentary performance that led support for it to dissipate in the revolutionary street — the street’s ire towards it even provoked sometimes — which fragmented revolutionary ranks and caused some of them to ally themselves with Mubarak’s soldiers. The two camps have balanced each other out, and completing the revolution is now at stake.
The coming battles of the revolution will be harder than in the past for several reasons. First, the revolution over the past period was distant from the heart of power, but now the time has come to hand over all powers, which has triggered attempts to circumvent this step. This includes, in addition to previous interventions, delaying the announcement of presidential results and rumours of behind-the-scenes haggling. Second, Mubarak’s regime is feeling stronger because of the number of votes that its candidate won. Third, the party that is supposed to take over power failed to reassure its political partners and rivals, and therefore it does not have a strong enough base beyond its political grassroots to enable it to exert pressure to grab and liberate sovereignty.
We must continue to disband Mubarak’s regime to prevent it from regrouping and this requires each party to seriously revise its policies and priorities. The electoral process has proven that the Muslim Brotherhood cannot win by itself; the votes its candidate won in the first round of the elections were less than half of the ballots in his favour in the second round, in which he won with less than one million votes. Most of those who supported them were parties that were strongly attacked by the group — by that I mean the presidential bid by Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh and some revolutionary movements, such as the Revolutionary Socialists and April 6 Movement. This means the Brotherhood should revise its positions towards its political rivals.
The Muslim Brotherhood should support these parties and others now, since the coming president will no doubt face obstacles to undermine him, some concerning services for diesel, gasoline, butane and bread, and others pertaining to national security issues, such as sectarian violence. Meanwhile, other issues, such as human rights issues like torture, remain. The only way to prevent state institutions from undermining the next president through these devices is by national forces gathering around him to enable him to purge these institutions and restructure them.
The Muslim Brotherhood is not the only one responsible for closing national ranks, however. Some of its political rivals sought out the military for some privileges that are not justified by their concerns about the Muslim Brotherhood. By looking at recent history, it is impossible to request rights from those who have usurped them for decades before the revolution. By looking at other examples of transitioning to democracy we realise that one of the key factors for success is believing in it and staying the course even if the outcome is contrary to one’s desire.
The Constituent Assembly formed by parliament with a Muslim Brotherhood majority was no good because it did not fully represent all sectors in society (most pertinently disenfranchised workers, farmers, and those living in border regions, and others). But reforming the assembly’s composition should not be done through asking the military for help or accepting their interference in forming the assembly and giving them the power to overrule its provisions. The results from this would by all means be worse than just putting pressure on the Muslim Brotherhood to seek a consensus constitution.
I believe that improving the performance of the main political players in this manner is a prerequisite to guarantee that we do not revert to Mubarak’s regime, since only in this manner could we build presidential and government institutions based on partnership. This would be based on some level of consensus on principles and objectives, including disputes about the constitution, managing the battle with the military, and its network of interests, until power is completely restored to the people and their democratically-elected institutions. This would be followed by restructuring these institutions and purging other state bodies to make them more representative of the will, interests, and identity of the national Egyptian masses.