Organising is the solution

Ibrahim El-Houdaiby , Sunday 3 Jun 2012

Revolutionary groups have lost out in Egypt's post-Mubarak elections due to a lack of organisation, but too many lives have been lost for them to give up the battle

The two candidates in the run-offs of the presidential race, Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi and Hosni Mubarak's last prime minister Ahmed Shafiq, were the first choice of their supporters and the last choice for all others. Those who were the first choice for fewer people left the race altogether although they may have appealed to more people outside their circles of supporters. Accordingly, the scene looks very bleak for large sectors of people who participated and supported the revolution.

The mistakes that have brought us to this point are worthy of analysis. First, is partisanship based on identity which weakened candidates in the centre who did not challenge Islamic affiliation, or obsessed about it, at the expense of the political endeavour that pushed many votes to the extremes. This mistake in particular is the biggest threat to the Egyptian revolution since March 2011. Throughout last year, and until today, this mistake continues to focus debate on symbolic slogan issues that are removed from core economic, social and political challenges facing citizens, and the truth about the battle for liberation that the country needs.

The second misstep that resulted in this outcome is normalising relations in the political arena with remnants of the previous regime when “revolutionary forces” began accepting remnant political parties at meetings with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and were late in issuing the political disenfranchisement law. And in the media, when many people associated with the revolution agreed to work at television channels and newspapers that were launched by remnants after the revolution. These outlets allowed some of the symbols of the Mubarak regime to express their opinions and positions and broadcast their poison, which contributed to further partisanship based on identity.

This sense seeped to the main battle which marginalised alignment based on positions regarding the revolution, and was very apparent in the run-offs of parliamentary elections during speeches supporting remnant candidates in the face of opponents from the camp of polarising identity. This was even more evident when Mubarak’s prime minister reached the run-offs of the presidential race.

From these two mistakes, many more occurred by some who are associated with the revolution when they focused on undermining other candidates from revolutionary forces based on identity, instead of attacking the candidates of the remnants. Also, when they miscalculated the power and desire of Mubarak’s state agencies to retain power, while ignoring the role this state plays (through its many party, intelligence and military arms, as well as various media and financial tools) in guiding voters towards its candidates, in what can be called soft fraud.

A closer look reveals that repercussions of these missteps were compounded because of a lack of organisation, the major malaise which revolutionary forces have suffered from since day one. Lack of organisation impeded them from taking over power once Mubarak was removed, and they were forced to turn to an interim ruler that was not their advocate. Lack of organisation in many revolutionary battles resulted in defeat, such as the sit-ins that ended with a small number of participants who were pounced upon and dispersed by security, and million-man protests that started and ended without achieving anything.

Lack of organisation in elections resulted in the absence of a strong voter base supporting the revolution’s candidates, and lack of mobility of votes among them (or sometimes to others altogether, whether candidates of organisations or remnants) as a backlash for non-pertinent statements or in response to intense campaigns to discredit them that were used against them by all organised groups. Lack of organisation denied these candidates a mechanism to mobilise their voter base and get out the vote of their supporters.

To understand the importance of organisation in maintaining a solid voting base, one should look at the example of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which changed its mind about not fielding any candidates and did in fact nominate one of its members and switched out Khairat El-Shater for Mohamed Morsi. It altered its rhetoric from seeking consensus (as opposed to the Salafist Al-Nour Party which is clashing with secularists) during parliamentary elections, to opposing consensus during the presidential race (and declaring its candidate as the sole Islamist nominee in a move to paralyse Nour Party from mobilising its cadres to support Abdel-Moneim Abul-Fotouh).

The Brotherhood was strongly challenged by candidates whose supporters overlap with the Brotherhood’s, and was under attack because of the disappointing performance of its MPs. This caused the Muslim Brotherhood to lose nearly half the votes they won in parliamentary elections, as their share of votes dropped by some 11 per cent in five months. Nonetheless, good organisation resulted in its candidate going through to the second round of the presidential race.

The successes of revolutionary candidates in the absence of organisation are commendable; altogether, they garnered nearly half the votes without an overall organisational structure. This success only confirms the emergence of a main trend that is reconciled with its identity, including Egypt’s pan-Arab and Islamic affiliation, and champions the poor and social justice. It is also seeking to boost civil liberties, further political participation and build an independent foreign policy that expresses the interests, will and identity of the national collective.

Lack of organisation now weakness the ability of these voices to negotiate with organised groups who have reached the second round of elections, on pending issues that – I believe – are a defining line for many revolutionaries between sitting on the fence or supporting the Brotherhood candidate. These include the constitution, the government’s programme and participation in running the state, since organised groups now realise that candidates do not have solid voter bases that gives them a negotiating advantage. In the short run, this can be remedied by rallying behind candidates during negotiations and long-term organising.

Creating organisational frameworks has become necessary to tap into the current momentum of the programmes of revolutionary candidates, and genuine competition in municipal elections – and in later rounds of presidential and parliamentary elections that are not too far away. These structures are not only in the form of political parties, but also as networks of institutions of the media, raising awareness, research, lobbies, training centres and others.

They would also contribute to building the social project that political parties spearhead, while deepening the political endeavour and transporting it from rhetoric and slogans into action and a tangible effect for citizens. And thus, creating a strong voter base that follows the supporters of these currents in elections, and strengthening its negotiating powers with other parties on the political scenes.

There is no doubt that the results of the elections were upsetting for a sector of revolutionaries, but they do not have the luxury of being defeated or despair because lives were lost for the sake of their endeavour. Their duty now is to continue to fight, but this cannot be done without the protection of organisational structures.

The writer is a freelance columnist and researcher focusing on Islamic movements and democratisation

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