The essence of the current political, economic and social crisis is that the incumbent regime does not have enough legitimacy, which renders resorting to its apparatuses an unacceptable path for various political and social forces. The way to change this situation is to take steps to bolster the regime’s legitimacy.
The issue of legitimacy does not only pertain to the president himself and whether he should continue his term or resort to early elections, as rival parties argue. The current legitimacy crisis is related more to policies rather than persons, as well as decisions and policies issued by the presidency rather than the person who has the top job in the country.
This absence of legitimacy is evident in the fact that more politicians are resorting to parallel and alternative ways other than official means to deal with current conditions (national dialogue sessions, for example), and union members resorting to strikes because their negotiations with the state have failed several times, and the inability of political forces, whether government or opposition, to contain the violence in Port Said or even seriously explore the reasons behind it. Also, the rise in crime rates and social violence (such as harassment cases, for example), and other expressions.
These pre-existing phenomena broadened after the collapse of the foundation of legitimacy of the Mubarak regime, namely citizens fearing state brutality. This is a legitimacy that is impossible to restore in the near future because the state’s forces of oppression are no match to the people’s will, and these forces were weakened and what remains provokes more than it frightens, which makes the response to brutality the reverse of the desired outcome. The phenomenon further broadened as people grew more despondent with the regime taking shape, which apparently failed to win their trust.
What is needed is the following: creating new legitimacy for the regime not based on fear of oppression but on justice and credibility. Since changing policies amounts to more than ejecting the president from the scene and so far seems a less effective way to build legitimacy, revising policies could be the solution while acknowledging there are no quick fixes to a lack of legitimacy. Nonetheless, some changes in policies could be more effective than others.
Building the regime’s legitimacy based on justice and credibility requires decision makers to take several steps that remedy defects in these areas, especially the economy, social justice, transitional justice and the rule of just law.
On the economy, the first thing that is needed is transparency in revealing the economic situation. It is not acceptable for the president to talk about the “bankruptcy” of those who claim Egypt is close to bankruptcy, and then say no more. He does not share the actual situation as inflation rates — accompanied by recession and unemployment — continue to rise, while the currency takes a nose dive and dependence on foreign loans increases.
Openly discussing the actual economic situation should be accompanied by an apology by the president for not keeping his election promises, and explaining the reasons for this (perhaps misinterpretation of the situation, lack of information, etc).
More importantly, this should be accompanied by a genuine programme for development that goes beyond aspects of trade, and delves into issues of production as a main engine, ways of funding it, ownership, and timelines. Also, issues of distribution in terms of fairness and its role in combating poverty, closing society’s income gap, installing clear obligations to hold officials accountable. This would remedy the social crisis depending on the credibility and seriousness of what is being proposed, and how far the people — especially the downtrodden — are convinced the state champions them in its choices and alternatives.
Regarding transition, replacing the legitimacy of oppression with the legitimacy of justice requires serious steps to prosecute Mubarak’s regime for its crimes, and guarantees they will not be repeated, by revealing the truth to pave the way for institutional reform in four key fields: human rights violations; corruption of political life; economic corruption and squandering state resources; and the failure of the bureaucracy. This should occur through a fact finding committee that is independent of the executive branch, with a mandate to do the best job possible.
In order to accomplish successful transition, one must also focus on measures that would restore the legitimacy of security agencies and the judiciary based on new foundations. Also, taking clearer positions by the presidency that are less muddled on these issues.
As for the rule of just law, the presidency should go beyond its organisational ties to the Muslim Brotherhood and take the initiative to investigate all those implicated in violence, instigators and perpetrators (at Mohamed Mahmoud, Itihadiya and Tahrir).
This would include both senior Muslim Brotherhood leaders and the opposition alike. These investigations should be very transparent and professional to demonstrate that everyone is equal before the law, and prove that the president does not intend to punish the weak and absolve others, or penalise opponents and overlook his supporters. Along with this legal investigation, one must concentrate on the main political and social reasons for the violence, so efforts to end it are focused.
The presidency, along with other state institutions, must also be above suspicion in order to gain political legitimacy. This requires it to clearly state the criteria for appointment, promotion and dismissal for all government jobs, whereby the president would also be held to these criteria. That would end talk of “Brotherhoodisation of the state” and penalise those who appoint civil servants who do not meet these criteria.
The president must take these steps and the political cost must be borne because the price of not doing so is a greater burden on the nation and its rulers. Commitment to transparency would embarrass political players who do not have a serious political agenda and move political debate to where it should be on primary issues.
Accordingly, this would restore — albeit gradually — the people’s confidence that the regime is focused on their problems and is trying to resolve them by developing the necessary mechanisms. This would cause the people to work through the regime’s apparatuses and believe in its legitimacy.