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Egypt: Between stability and turmoil

The new constitution does not build the necessary confidence for stability, or provide hope for social justice, even if it is not achieved quickly

Waheed Abdel-Meguid , Saturday 1 Dec 2012
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Stability remains the aspiration of all Egyptians nearly two years after the January 25 Revolution, but this will not be easy anytime soon because they don’t desire just any form of stability — they at least don’t want to reproduce the stability that was imposed on them from above for several decades.

Stability is not a goal in itself, although it may seem so for many Egyptians who are sick of constant turbulence for nearly two years. Neither is stability genuine unless it is coupled with improving social conditions, living standards, economic growth and fair distribution of the fruits of this progress.

Also, effective popular participation, a sense of human and national dignity — the dignity of citizens — and uplifting the homeland.

There is a huge difference between social stability of this kind and continuing the status quo; there is a huge difference between stability and continuing. It is the difference between what Egyptians aspire for and what they are fed up with after decades when Egypt appeared to be stable, but in fact was heavily shackled, which prevented the emergence of any turmoil as it continued to accumulate under the surface.

It is clear that social justice is the first criteria to achieve true stability in the next phase. Since this justice cannot be achieved in a short period, stability depends on genuine hope coupled with true confidence that it will come in a reasonable amount of time.

But this hope cannot be realised unless the new constitution provides solid guarantees for social justice with a detail-based approach about rights, guaranteeing, for example, that farmers are given their agricultural needs and can market their crops that otherwise sit wasting after they are harvested. Also, protecting farmers against the Agricultural Credit Bank preying on them and allocating land for poor and destitute farmers in reclamation zones and desert hinterlands.

Workers also need guarantees for jobs, fair wages, protection against arbitrary dismissal, the right to protest without restrictions so that illegal strikes do not become commonplace, as well as other guarantees.

A key flaw in the draft of the new constitution, which caused several members of the Constituent Assembly to reject it, is overlooking and disregard for social justice, and dealing with it as a secondary matter.

This approach to the constitution is very dangerous because it does not build the necessary confidence for stability, or provide hope for social justice even if it is not achieved quickly because of many accumulating problems. The desire for stability will remain unattainable if the government — whether the incumbent one or another after the next parliamentary elections — continues to prioritise jumpstarting the economy at the expense of finding realistic solutions for society’s grave injustices that accumulated over 40 years.

This could happen because of difficulties in reconciling conventional solutions to revive the economy on the one hand, including large incentives to investors, restricting protests and borrowing conditioned on limiting social spending, and, on the other, requirements for seriously addressing injustices suffered by half of the population and finding a stable vision to end these injustices and providing the necessary foundation for social policies that are more just and not merely less just.

If this policy is not possible, social protests will expand in a way that would make them difficult to contain through force, which is a turbulent state of stability since there is a gamble on time to make some progress and attempt to compensate for the absence of official social measures to lift injustice by adopting policies that expand unofficial services and assistance (charity) by some organisations.

The upcoming parliamentary elections could help overcome this state of turbulent stability before it evolves into permanent turbulence. Although most predictions anticipate that the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) will win a majority, this is not a certainty, especially in light of the poor performance of the government associated with the FJP until elections are held.

The results of the first round of the presidential elections in 2012 serve as an example. The poor performance of the majority party in parliament resulted in its presidential candidate winning less than half the votes that FJP candidates won during parliamentary elections.

Meanwhile, he won the second round of presidential elections with great difficulty, despite the ease of mobilising and campaigning against his opponent who is a wholehearted associate of Mubarak’s regime — in fact, he was described as a carbon copy of Mubarak himself.

This indicator is difficult to ignore when predicting the outcome of the next parliamentary elections, and the fact that when the FJP wins fewer seats stability of power will be undermined, because it will be difficult to form a Cabinet that is homogenous and in harmony with the president. At that point, Egypt could erupt into turmoil for some time, in a way that can be described as stable turmoil that the people might become accustomed to or perhaps only tolerate for a short time.

The possibility of transitioning into such turbulence is linked to continuing to ignore the importance of social justice in the new constitution. In the absence of policies, that thus far have not achieved this justice, coupled with issuing a constitution that ignores the basic rights of farmers, worker, civil servants, pensioners, as well as women and children, there will be a general sense that hope of achieving a key goal of the January 25 Revolution has dissipated. On the other hand, if the new constitution includes specific and clear guarantees protecting these segments, it will signal that justice is near.

Let’s not forget that hope is the yardstick to measure the distance between stability and turmoil.

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