Veteran sociologist activist chimes in on Egypt presidential elections

Sarah El-Rashidi, Wednesday 23 May 2012

Saad Eddin Ibrahim tells Ahram Online of the challenges awaiting the country's next leader - and explains why he is backing Amr Moussa for the presidency

Saad Eddin
Saad Eddin Ibrahim (Photo: Al-Ahram)

It is a day Saad Eddin Ibrahim thought might never happen.

Born in the Delta city of Mansoura 74 years ago, the sociologist, activist and author has spent much of life campaigning for what his compatriots are seeing on Wednesday -- free and fair elections in a democratic Egypt.
He has faced an uphill struggle. In his years of activism, Ibrahim was imprisoned by Mubarak for using European Union funds for election monitoring and allegedly defaming Egyot's international image.
In the hours before the crucial presidential elections, Ibrahim sat down with Ahram Online to share his hopes, fears and predictions when it comes to Egypt's future.
Ahram Online: With no constitution and a parliament which is arguably not performing properly, is Egypt ready for a democratically elected president?
Saad Eddin Ibrahim: We are as ready as we will ever be for the presidential elections! Of course people are never fully prepared for such a massive transition, but the revolution has brought to life Egyptian’s aspirations for a democratic Egypt from which there is no return.
AO: What kind of participation are you expecting?
SI: I expect a higher turnout than during the parliamentary elections -- more Egyptian’s will participate responsibly.  I predict around 60 per cent of eligible voters will take part. That's a good amount even by democratic standards.
AO: Do you expect violence?
SI: I think the elections will take place in a generally peaceful manner, with perhaps a few isolated incidents of violence that will be contained. 
Egypt is on the whole an orderly and peaceful country, as we saw during the 25th of January revolution. When you take into account the country's population of around 88 million, it was actually a very orderly event. 
The number of causalities in 15 months did not exceed 2,000. Compared with other Arab uprisings -- and even on an international scale -- this is a low figure.
AO: What will the outcome be?
SI: I expect a run-off between an Islamist and a secularist candidate, with the winner being the secularist. 
Morsi and Abul-Fotouh will be close but the secularist will succeed. None of the top five candidates -- Shafiq, Moussa, Sabbahi, Morsi or Abul-Futouh -- will get a majority in the first round.
I think the second round will be a battle between the top three candidates, probably two secularists and one Islamist: Shafiq and Moussa, and either Morsi or Abul-Fotouh.
The major struggle is most likely to be between Moussa and Shafiq. An Islamist candidate still prompts worries for many Egyptians so I imagine that even the less organised liberal Egyptian front will mobilise against an Islamist candidate in the second round.
Sabbahi should have stepped down to give other secular candidates a better chance of winning straight out. But everyone in this race is too individualistic which is in itself a strength and a weakness.
Having said this, Egyptian polls indicate that many people have not made up their minds yet. As many as 40 per cent have only just decided who they will vote for, so it is likely we are in for a surprise.
AO: Who are the Egyptian diaspora voting for?
SI: In the Gulf countries, particularly Saudi Arabia, the Muslim Brotherhood have a mass following, showing that the Salafist ideology has penetrated the psyche of the Egyptian diaspora. That explain's Morsi’s massive polling success.
In Europe and the US, though, the polls show more plurality. Abul-Fotouh and Shafiq surfaced as the strongest candidates but neither had the majority.
AO: Who are you voting for?
SI: In politics you don’t go with ideals you have to choose between alternatives. I am going to vote for Moussa.
AO: Why do you think he is the right man?
SI: Firstly, Moussa has the necessary political experience. Secondly, he is recognised at home and abroad. Thirdly, he has the ability and charisma to ensure that Egyptians regain our pride and dignity.
AO: How will you react if an Islamist candidate wins?
SI: If an Islamist comes to power and they try and tighten social freedoms through legislation I will fight them. At my age I will not give up! If however they perform well and do not infringe on our liberties then I will have no objection.
AO: What makes these elections different from previous ones?
SI: People have broken the fear barrier, they are free to choose. By any standard, it is a historic opportunity.
AO: What problems will a new president will face domestically and internationally?
SI: Domestically, there are three principal challenges, but the primary one is restoring security given the rapid deterioration in public safety in Egypt since the revolution. 
The second priority will be to provide employment, while the third will be to  ensure the restoration and development of the economy through foreign investments. 
In a broader sense, the new leader will also have the colossal task of restoring Egyptians faith, sense of belonging and optimism.
Regionally, the elected president will need to assure Egypt’s neighbours that we are keen on stability and on normal relations. We need to show we will respect international obligations, including assuring Israel and the US that the peace treaty will be observed and respected.
Internationally, the task will be to attract foreign investment and ensure that the major powers will help facilitate this great country to enact its democratic transition as smoothly as possible.
AO: Was the revolution a success? If not, where do you think it went wrong?
SI: Revolutions do not follow a blueprint. It’s not an architecturally orchestrated plan so it is hard to predict how a revolution will proceed.
I do not expect the Egyptian revolution to compare to other revolutions in the Arab world or elsewhere -- revolutions have all kinds of shapes. The French revolution, for instance, took 18 years to accomplish its goals.
The Egyptian revolution has thus far accomplished what it set out to. That is, it took down a corrupt authocratic regime, elected a parliament, started the drafting of a constitution and is seeing the election of a new president.
This is all in the space of 15 months -- which is not bad, all things considered!
Could we have done more? Yes, we could have. But on the scale of things, Egypt is doing considerably well. It's also true that we still have a long way to go. 
AO: Do you think the revolution will continue?
SI: The continuation of the revolution depends on who wins the presidential elections.
If Moussa succeeds, the revolution will be "cooled". He will try to resume business as usual as an establishment man which is what the middle classes want.
An Islamist president, however, will cause an initial flight of investment capital and prompt greater apprehension amongst the middle classes, Copts and liberals. It will also increase political tensions.
AO: Are you satisfied with Egyptian’s progress to date?
SI: I have been fighting for this day for 30 years.
As a human rights activist and someone who was jailed 12 years ago in the struggle for a democratic Egypt, I can say that I am happy with our achievements -- not extremely happy, perhaps, but relatively so. 
I thought it would take a lot longer to achieve what we have done so far. I urge the youth to continue this righteous struggle and demand more.
Considering all the challenges I have faced in my life in the battle for our liberation, I can honestly say that if I die today then I will die satisfied.
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