Egypt's opposition: Positive action vs negative campaigning

Waheed Abdel-Meguid , Wednesday 17 Oct 2012

The country's political opposition is in dire need of a qualitative transformation if it hopes to effectively compete with the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt's upcoming parliamentary polls

There are only two ways for Egypt's political opposition to attain power. They can either close ranks and work diligently on convincing the electorate that they are a better alternative to the current leadership, irrespective of the latter's performance; or they can just kick and scream about the new status quo and simply wait for the government to fail while the troubles of large sectors of society multiply.

These are two very different approaches.

One is based on positive action linked to a clear vision and strategy for the future, while the second relies on negative campaigns to hasten the failure of the government, rather than promoting the notion that better things can be done even in the event that no one fails.

There is little evidence so far that most of Egypt's centrist, liberal and leftist currents that oppose the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood are leaning towards the first approach.

Their rhetoric is largely based on the second attitude, which involves waiting for Brotherhood rule to miscarry and trying to hasten this failure along. Some of them, however, lack the necessary confidence to be a strong and influential opposition.

Perhaps they believe that this is the Brotherhood's time and have surrendered to the current balance of power and the belief that the Arab Spring has become inevitably Islamised.

The more likely explanation is that there is a need to develop the capacities of Egypt's centrist, liberal and leftist currents to bolster their ability to create strong partisan organisations that can meaningfully interact with society and influence public opinion.

Without effective organisation, political action will remain mostly in the hands of the elite. The alliances and coalitions that many are currently attempting to forge could represent an opportunity to multiply and extend the influence of their work.

But this will not be enough to achieve the qualitative transformation that opposition forces critically need to effectively compete in upcoming parliamentary polls.

Within this context, these forces' approach appears less than ideal, particularly in comparison to the potential opportunities of democratic development.

Meanwhile, the Brotherhood appears more inclined to monopolise political power in hopes of carving out a legacy for itself.

Perhaps this legacy is what is tempting some – or many – of the group's opponents to resort to negative campaigns rather than positive action.

Despite the unimpressive results of last year's parliamentary campaigns, which focused largely on attacking the Brotherhood, those attacked appeared to benefit while those launching the attacks were hurt.

Those who focused on the shortcomings of others, rather than on themselves, wasted both their time and effort – and consequently had no energy to introduce themselves to the voting public.

The challenges currently facing the Brotherhood could be the reason why this negativism has continued.

Since failure is such a real possibility, it is tempting to wait until it is time to capitalise on the people’s resentment and anger because the Islamist government failed to achieve their aspirations.

Perhaps those who choose to be negative are following the Brotherhood's example during the Mubarak regime, when they too adopted this approach and waited for the right moment.

They had no other option at the time, since the path of positive action and change through the ballot box had been blocked, unlike now.

There is no evidence of a shift except during the May presidential race, when the Brotherhood lost nearly half the votes they had won in parliamentary elections six months earlier.

Centre, liberal and leftist forces must realise that the presidential race is a different creature to the parliamentary polls.

Therefore, it is difficult to predict the outcome of the upcoming parliamentary elections based on the events of the presidential race.

However, the ballot box – and the people who have been liberated from oppression – will be the ultimate arbiter. This new dynamic will serve to put more pressure on those in power and create novel opportunities for the political opposition, especially if it takes the opportunity to build an organisational capacity.

Just as important is the fact that Egypt'sIslamists are taking their first test – with little management experience – in running the affairs of a modern state with complex and complicated administrative systems.

However, it is not easy to draw up effective policies that accomplish tangible results in a reasonable amount of time while combining both social justice and free trade, which the Brotherhood believes is essential for maintaining production and attracting investment.

Meanwhile, a key source of strength for the Brotherhood has begun to crumble: namely, its internal cohesion. In the past, this was easily maintained, since the group was being persecuted and therefore internal differences were unheard of.

Disputes exist today because the group is no longer under pressure and enjoys unprecedented political power.

The ability of the Islamists' rivals to benefit from all this, however, will depend largely on their ability to organise their ranks and meaningfully influence societyusing new references that simple folk can relate to – exactly what the Brotherhood was able to do in the past.

One party's losses do not necessarily translate into gains for another. Ultimately, those who benefit from others' losses must be able to convert those losses into tangible gains for themselves.

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