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El-Sisi and Morsi: The third way in Egypt?

There is an urgent need for a third way that tackles the shortcomings of the current political scene in Egypt

Said Shehata , Saturday 23 Nov 2013
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The polarisation between Morsi supporters and the current regime is the main characteristic of Egyptian politics nowadays. The losers of this equation are ordinary Egyptians and Egypt's future. Each side believes it is on the right path to achieve the goals of the revolution 'bread, freedom and social equality.'

What is happening in Egypt proves that both sides are wrong and that a third way is needed to overcome the current crisis. On the one hand, there is no way for Morsi to be back in office as president. On the other, the short-sided and security approach adopted by the current regime will lead to problems in the future.

The Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi supporters, or the so-called 'National Alliance to Support Legitimacy,' are mistaken on several fronts. First, some of them violently targeted public properties, such as the attack on buildings at Al-Azhar University. There is no justification to use violence in order to achieve 'justice.' The demonstrations and sit-ins by this camp only put pressure on the fragile economy and the country's stability. In addition, some members of this camp attacked churches and several churches were looted and burnt.

Second, they still believe in the return of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi as the legitimate president to power. This is not going to happen for many reasons; especially after he committed grave mistakes with his constitutional declaration that put all powers in his hand.

Third, Islamists do not understand the logic of partnership, seeing themselves as the strongest force in a country. Morsi excluded other forces during his one-year reign. He appointed some elements of those forces as advisers and ministers without any power.

This exclusionary mentality is a cornerstone of the Islamists' ideology. Islamists do not command the art of negotiation and compromises when they, rightly or wrongly, believe that they are the main player in the political playground.

For the current regime, there are many problems that make their way of thinking and acting insufficient to overcome the current instability and economic challenges. While the security measures are important to stop violence and arrest lawbreakers, they cannot on their own achieve security and peace in Egypt. Use of force led to hundreds killed during the demolition of the two Alliance sit-ins in Rabaa Al-Adawiya and Nahda Square. It seems that force, and nothing else, is the current regime's way forward to deal with the opposition. It is a bureaucratic approach that might risk divisions and it does not deal with the crisis' roots. It is a perilous way during this critical moment in Egypt.

In addition, the economy is in turmoil and needs urgent measures to stop depending on foreign aid. The budget deficit is about $35 billion. Unemployment and poverty have been on the rise in the absence of production and direct foreign investment, and with the collapse of tourism.

Moreover, calling on defence minister Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi to nominate himself for president is a big mistake and damaging for both the army and Egypt. I recently talked with an Egyptian Air Force major who said 'I asked my boss to deliver a message to El-Sisi to not nominate himself in the coming presidential elections because armed forces should avoid politics.'

I argue that a third way should be discussed to face the immense challenges on all fronts in Egypt. This third way has many elements. First, there is a pressing need to engage with the pro-Morsi camp, especially the Muslim Brotherhood. I was in a discussion recently with a former leading Muslim Brotherhood member and he told me that the door is open for them to join the political process. I replied that the current regime and other forces in Egypt should reach out to the Muslim Brotherhood as they cannot be excluded or arrested. They have been hurt by Morsi's ouster. Banning the Muslim Brotherhood and its activities should be reconsidered as an incentive for their members to be involved in the political process.

I am not saying Egypt should be blackmailed by the violent acts of some Islamists, but rather to think wisely about Egypt and Egyptians. It is the time to reflect that the security approach cannot solve the feelings of injustice felt by Morsi supporters.

In addition, the Islamists, especially the Muslim Brotherhood, should revise the use of force within their ideology. In his book 'The Temple Secret,' Tharwat El-Kharabawy, who was a Muslim Brotherhood member until 2002, talked about the aspect of force in the group's ideology necessary to lead the world. There is a persistent need for a thorough revision of this notion within the Muslim Brotherhood's rank and file. Those violent acts of some Islamists negatively affect stability and investment in Egypt. When Islamists are part of the political process, they cannot control it. Working as part of a political coalition will encourage them to make compromises rather than monopolising the whole political scene.  

Second, liberal forces in Egypt should stop putting pressure on El-Sisi to nominate himself in the coming presidential elections. Watching a YouTube statement by El-Sisi shows that he is an honest and smart person who adores Egypt. Nothing is wrong with his abilities and his character. But being pushed directly into politics as a potential president will put question marks on what happened on 30 June and 3 July. In addition, the armed forces will be criticised once El-Sisi is attacked in the media as president. They should start presenting some names as potential candidates for the presidential and parliamentary elections. Putting a few names on the five famous TV programmes will make them known to voters. The army should be the guarantor of stability and democracy, something similar to the Turkish example.

Third, if the first two elements take place, the third logical element is to focus on the economy. Egypt cannot continue depending on Gulf aid. Egypt has resources and it can achieve success and social justice. The government should start economic reform and be honest with Egyptians about the difficulties facing the economy. It might be hard but I think Egyptians will trust politicians and will be willing to accept austerity measures if transparency prevails.

Counting on loans and aid is unsustainable and should be revised. It was reported that a UAE senior official told the Egyptian prime minister that Egypt's economic recovery should depend on creative solutions, as the Gulf's financial support to Egypt will not last for long. The current government does not have a vision and this should be tackled through a new, energetic and young prime minister

Fourth, the free hand of security forces should be restricted. They have arrested more than 2000 Islamist members, especially those from the Muslim Brotherhood. While any Egyptian should be held accountable before the law when committing a crime, dismantling the whole organisation at this moment is not advised. The Muslim Brotherhood has almost one million members, aside from supporters and sympathisers, according to the estimates of some of their leaders. 

At the same time, security forces should protect churches and other minorities' places of worship. What happened recently at Al-Warraq church, where four people including two children were killed, was shocking. According to Christians in Egypt, there has been no change in the interior ministry's policy with regard to putting policemen in front of churches. It is still a weak presence and this tragedy might happen again.

In the meantime, a consensus constitution will pave the way for democratic elections that enable a fresh start for an inclusive process that reflects Egyptian's aspirations of freedom and prosperity. A lot is at stake with regards to this constitution. There are difficulties and challenges in producing a democratic and inclusive constitution, but hope lies on the shoulders of the constitutional commission.

I think they can reach a consensus document that will introduce a new Egypt. I know some of them and they are rooted in Egyptian society and love this country. In addition, their abilities and skills will enable them to successfully deliver the expected democratic constitution.

Finally those elements should work hand in hand. Ordinary Egyptians want to live a decent life and cannot wait long to overcome their poverty. Sections of poor Egyptians might turn against the current regime and this could add more tensions to the current political crisis. Political innovation, security, and a better economy are one package to achieve the revolution's objectives: bread, freedom and social justice.

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