Republic of feelings and rituals

Ibrahim El-Houdaiby , Saturday 18 Aug 2012

Making speeches about love can help President Morsi gain the people's sympathy, but he really should be focusing on gaining their trust by enacting sound policies

In his first speech to the masses before the presidential elections results were announced, Mohamed Morsi spoke about "love in my heart that only God knows" for the armed forces and its soldiers, wherever they may be stationed. He also mentioned his love for the police, judges, as well other state institutions. He spoke directly to the people in all sectors and institutions in successive speeches, declaring: "I love you all."

In the first few days as president, and before he had completed forming his consultative presidential team or appointed a prime minister, and despite being "hounded" (as one Muslim Brotherhood leader stated), the president travelled to perform omra (the smaller pilgrimage), and upon his return was seen performing taraweeh (late night) prayers and giving a sermon.

Indeed, the president appeared to be preoccupied with talking about feelings and performing religious rituals as he faced unrelenting efforts to undermine him by the interest network of the Mubarak regime that controls state institutions. They are battling to maintain the status quo in these institutions and block any changes that would negatively affect their interests or influence.

Morsi also battles other interested parties surrounding state agencies, such as businessmen and others who benefited from the status quo and don’t want to change any existing mechanisms or structures. Likewise, he is also under attack from regional and international parties keen on maintaining the regional balance of power.

The president is making speeches about feelings when he should be focusing on gaining the people’s trust - not their sympathy - by accomplishing what he promised to do in the service sector during his first 100 days.

Or he could seriously and firmly address the challenges facing citizens, such as continuous power outages; repeated spikes in sectarian violence; serious military and intelligence negligence that threaten national security, kills Egyptian soldiers and the theft of armoured military vehicles (i.e. the events along the Israel-Egypt border in the past weeks).

In order to manage these issues, the president should adopt a series of practical and courageous measures. He needs to draw on the democratic legitimacy that brought him to power and focuses on restoring power to civilians, overhauling state structures to serve the public interest and liberating them from corruption. These measures are necessary to move forward on the road to a stable democracy where the people are sovereign, civilian-military relations are governed by that sovereignty, and all state institutions are subject to oversight and accountability, and — along with other institutions in society — abide by the law.

These measures carry a political price because they contradict the interests and beliefs of most who surround the president, including leaders of state institutions or some leaders in his own party. The price is rising every day because of the apathy of the popular segment that the president should rely on. The public is spontaneous and disorganised and at the end of the day lacks accomplishment in the political arena.

Another wrench in the gear is the increasing consistency in institutions that reject him, and increasing challenges facing the president at these institutions.

It appears that, so far, the president has decided to avoid the political price of needed reform - or that he is incapable of paying it. He addressed circumstantial problems and current challenges, but not the structural reasons behind them (which is the primary job of the political powers) and ignored their causes.

He further redefined national conciliation to mean reconciling with the status quo and not seeking to change it. He seems to have accepted the existence of Mubarak-era institutions and a "hybrid" system that combines symbols of the previous regime and new leadership, without changing anything in the infrastructure of the regime.

This is very apparent in the composition of the new cabinet that violated the Political Isolation Law (which the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to apply during elections) by appointing ex-National Democratic Party (NDP) members to the cabinet, along with choosing figures from Mubarak’s regime as presidential advisors.

This hybrid political system combines two anathemas to avoid paying the necessary price of change. It attempts to combine revolutionaries with remnants to keep the peace; against the trend that seeks to restore sovereignty and national decision-making. It combines those who want to restructure the economy to achieve better social justice and those who want to maintain the current economic structure to protect their interests. It combines those who want to give power to the people and others who want to withhold it from the people and keep it in unelected institutions.

While discussing these issues and other social, economic and political matters, the president must choose between two contradictory positions — or at least champion one over the other. In order to avoid bias or making a choice, the president distances himself from these issues to a place where there is no contradiction or choice. In his speeches, he lays down the foundation for the "Republic of Love" where the people come together and their problems are solved without the need to deal with the problems or the biases that each espouses.

On social injustice, the president proclaims that social justice is achieved through love. For example, the Brotherhood Supreme Guide Mohamed Badie said at an iftar (dinner that breaks the daily fasting during Ramadan) that renaissance is achieved through love. Speaking about the events in Dahshour, he says scoundrels want to divide Muslims and Christians, employers and employees, but this will never happen because of the love connection between the sons of the same nation.

This rhetoric ignores the root causes of problems. Social justice is absent not because of lack of love but because of the domination of ideas and economic structures that empower businessmen, advocate the withdrawal of the state and believe that the market is the more efficient and only mechanism to distribute and manage resources and production tools.

Sectarian violence is not caused by absence of love, but because of economic and social causes that make it more common in poorer areas, while it is also rooted in educational and religious upbringing. A renaissance is not achieved with love and slogans, but through beliefs, ideology and governing politics, as well as economic and social policies that we have not seen those in power talk about.

Addressing the educational and psychological facets of citizens is not the job of political powers, and should not focus their rhetoric on such issues. It is the job of experts in education, scholarship and mysticism, psychiatrists and sociologists. The role of political powers is to efficiently execute policies in several realms and address the structural causes of social problems on all fronts. Wasting the time of state officials and politicians on sentiments and rituals is futile and not ignores the roots of present problems but compounds the problems.

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