Egypt can still be saved: Political analyst Mohamed Agati

Dina Ezzat, Sunday 24 Mar 2013

With his research about to be published, political scientist Mohamed Agati tells Ahram Online that as Egypt declines, so does Islamists popularity - but the country can still be saved

Agati (Photo: Ahram Weekly)

Against a backdrop of escalating tension political scientist and researcher Mohamed Agati prescribes a bypass to steer away from the road towards full-fledged civil unrest: a serious political process by which the government and the ruling Muslim Brotherhood offers serious guarantees for the opposition to engage in a political process that could lead the way to fair and sound parliamentary election and a functional national unity government.

Having worked out his research on the approval rates of opposition and ruling Islamists and having tested the public's concerns in a study to be issued shortly, Agati is convinced that the days of inevitable, easy and sweeping Islamist victory are over. By his analysis, Egypt is now more in the times of a tough political challenge for Islamists and non-Islamists alike, by which there could well be a parliament where the Islamist majority would not exceed much over the 50 percent mark.

Aware of the unchecked tension, Agati predicts ugly political consequences on the ground and argues the need for the opposition to reconsider its decision to boycott parliamentary elections, keeping hopeful because an administrative court ruling earlier this month referred the electoral law to be reviewed by the constitutional court.

"The opposition had a list of demands that could be globally qualified as assurances for clean and fair elections; I think that instead of pursuing the boycott path, which is both frustrating to public opinion and not necessarily very productive in the absence of a clear roadmap for the alternative political process, the opposition should insist on having its demands granted and embark on engaging in a political process that could lead to the establishment of a truly representative parliament and a functional national unity government," Agati said.

Agati said that he is "really concerned that the opposition leadership is counting too much on the political instinct of the masses...It is very true that it is the masses - and not the leadership - that is leading the way, but it is equally true that the masses are looking at the leadership for a plausible alternative to the otherwise obvious political process."

He added: "this alternative is still to be offered and if it is not offered we will be seeing endless confrontations with no clear political outcome."

Moreover, Agati is also concerned that from within the ranks of the opposition, especially the mostly non-Islamsit opposition as represented by the National Salvation Front (NSF), there comes no solid alternative to the current rule, which remains to be seen by many in and out of Egypt as the only serious power that could somehow rule – even if not lead.

"You cannot count for long on a state of elitist polarisation and expect things to go right; in fact non-Islamist opposition have not benefited much from this polarisation at the grass roots level because it is seen in some considerable quarters as capable of nothing but disagreeing with the regime without being able to provide a plausible alternative," Agati argued.

Should the government fall into decline or fail to offer opposition serious guarantees, then the NSF, along with other opposition bodies, should work on creating a parallel parliament and government that brainstorms for solutions. "The basic line here is that the opposition needs to move beyond the polarisation and the capitalisation on the anger of the masses," he said.

Agati is far from freeing the ruling regime from considerable guilt for the current and continued deterioration - both political and economic. He is convinced that had the ruling regime reached out to the opposition and worked in cooperation with them, rather than "the deliberate attempt to freeze the opposition in exactly the same way that the ousted regime of Hosni Mubarak used to," things would have taken a different path, maybe altogether.

"But is it enough to keep saying they are wrong and they cannot fix things? The answer is no – at least, this is not what the public is expecting of the opposition leadership," Agati said.

Agati is willing to take up the call made by some opposition leadership, including no less than former Muslim Brotherhood leader and now head of the Strong Egypt Party, Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh, for early presidential elections.

Early presidential elections, he warns, need to be done methodologically and in a style that leads to consent rather than the reinforcement of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The call of wisdom is what we need to heed most as we try to address the current political dilemma that could seriously get out of hand," he said, adding: "We really should avoid further clashes because when things get out of hand there is no telling where they will go."

Indeed, Agati is convinced that the possible – and as he firmly insists "consensual" – march towards early presidential elections should be second to the execution of fair and sound parliamentary elections. "We cannot be moving to dissolving all state institutions and expect things to run correctly … when we don’t have a presidency we at least need to have parliament," he suggested.

To re-play the armed forces' transitional state-management is a recipe for havoc, according to Agati.

"Let us be realistic; we have seen what the army is capable of during the interim period [between 11 February 2011 when Hosni Mubarak stepped down and 30 June 2012 when Mohamed Morsi was sworn in] and we know first-hand that politics is not exactly the kind of thing that the army is up for."

"We cannot be going back. We need to move forward. Those who are calling for the army to reassume power are simply prescribing a going-back approach and this is not helpful for the cause of democratic transformation - not even for the cause of short-term stability," Agati said.

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