With regards to the names that have put themselves forward for the presidential race in Egypt – whether from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafists or the individuals who played a small or large role in the former regime – none of them may be able to satisfy the vanities or desires of the youth activists of the so-called “Facebook” or “Twitter” generation, who provided the spark and were the original proponents behind the revolution that began on 25 January 2011, and ended 18 days later with the fall of the former regime.
The transitional phase has entered its latest round with the passing of the deadline for presidential nominations, following which – if all goes according to plan – we will see the first president of Egypt’s second republic following the 25 January revolution.
It is not difficult to detect an atmosphere of pessimism or a sense of defeat and regret, especially among the groups that consider themselves the true forces of the revolution and the rightful owners of the 25 January project, who are currently facing one of two choices in the presidential elections: the first is the Muslim Brotherhood – perhaps allied with the Salafists – producing either the Iranian or Turkish model, and under this system who will be [more powerful], the President or the General Guide? The second option is a civil system led by figures of the old regime, including those who the advocates of the 25 January project have described as seeking to reproduce the old order.
One year and a few months after the spark which became the 25 January revolution, much blood has been shed, whilst alliances and promises have been overturned, and everybody is disagreeing over everything. Following this, we saw the coming of the new Egyptian parliament, dominated by the Brotherhood and the Salafists, as well as the similarly dominated constituent assembly. It was clear that a large part of the reasons behind the traps and pitfalls we have seen was the desire of every political force to unilaterally claim the scene and exclude others, and given that political Islam is deeply entrenched in the street and has been in the political arena for more than two decades – under the eyes of the former regime – it was only natural that it would obtain the lion’s share of the results of any free elections, whether or not the Islamists were giving their voters bottles of oil and bags of rice, as their opponents claim. This is the reality and the Islamists dealt with it politically.
Despite all this, the scene is not all doom and gloom. On the contrary, much has been achieved in terms of political freedom, breaking down the fear barrier, and opening topics for discussion that were previously forbidden, including the role of the military and their place in the new constitution. Likewise we have seen the removal of the aura that the Brotherhood and the Salafists once gave themselves in order to intimidate others, and now the Islamists are sitting down at the table practicing politics and receiving open criticism. The parliament also came about via a free and fair election the likes of which has not occurred in Egypt for 60 years, even if the outcome has somewhat hindered the idea of a civil state. Even the approaching presidential elections are full of excitement, surprises and genuine pluralism, and are no longer boring and meaningless as they were in the past. If we remove our dark glasses we would see that what has been achieved over 15 months is very positive, and a transformation in political life has taken place, even if we accept that the process could have been better or come at a lower cost if the thoughts behind this were more mature. But what do we do if all the [political] forces, without exception, are confused?
What we are seeing now is the natural outcome of the balance of power in Egyptian society, according to a political analyst friend of mine from Cairo, who says that the youth may have ignited the revolution but the forces who were already prepared on the ground have reaped its rewards. The Brotherhood have the support of the street and have a strong political machine, which we saw in the elections, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces [SCAF] has the power and operational tools to administer the state, while the liberals and other forces were, and still are, not ready. This suggests that any elections that take place now will have practically the same results as the previous [parliamentary] one.
Those powers that advocate the civil state, which are believed to reflect a large segment of society, must take into account how to change the reality and must be ready politically to unite their forces with clear programs, thus becoming a source of pressure upon the drafting of the constitution and the next president’s era. These will not be the last elections; the presidential election is merely a new step in the transitional phase.
The writer is a prominent columnist. The article was published in Asharq Al Awsat on April. 12, 2012