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Opportunities and pitfalls in Egypt’s roadmap

The only way to safeguard against the emergence of another dictatorship in Egypt is a political settlement that is premised on an inclusive rather than majoritarian political order

In order not to end up with another authoritarian regime in Egypt six or twelve months down the line, we need to understand why the power configurations that emerged at the time of the ousting of President Mubarak in 2011 led to the reproduction of another authoritarian regime.  

Essentially, the Muslim Brotherhood struck a deal with the army SCAF [Supreme Council of Armed Forces] premised on the idea that the Islamists would ensure a safe exit for the army from power and grant them a high level of financial autonomy. In return, SCAF would create an enabling environment for the Muslim Brotherhood to come to power.  This political settlement excluded youth revolutionary forces who had instigated the revolution, the opposition parties and movements, women, civil society, Christians [accounting for 10-15 percent of the population] and just about everyone who was not from the Islamist camp. From the outset, the democratic experiment was doomed to fail because the expectations of these groups in society for power sharing had been thwarted.

While a political settlement involves an ongoing process of negotiating different interests and balancing different power bases, nonetheless, the military’s announcement of a roadmap on Tuesday, July 3 emerged out of talks that included parties of different affiliations. The negotiations of the terms of the roadmap have involved Sheikh Ahmed el Tayeb, heading Sunni Islam’s most respected establishment body, Al Azhar, Pope Tawadrous, leader of the Coptic Orthodox Church, representing followers of the Coptic faith, Mohamed Abd el Azziz, a representative of Tamarod, the youth movement that called for the June 30 uprising, Mohamed el Baradei, representing the non-Islamist political parties and Galal el Morah the secretary general of the Nour party, the political wing of the ultra-radical Islamists.

The presence of the latter challenges the notion that this was a military siding with the “seculars” against the “Islamists”. Also involved in the development of the parameters of the roadmap was renowned writer Sekina Fouad, an intelligent woman who stands for progressive socio-political agendas. Some western media and political analysis are quick to suggest that the Brotherhood were excluded from this political settlement. This is not true, the Freedom and Justice Party (the political party representing the MB) was invited to participate: but not surprisingly they turned down the offer.

The breadth of representation of different political forces that publicly gave their blessing to the roadmap is a promising but insufficient guarantee that the upcoming process will be an inclusive one. Of the political forces mentioned above, we know that the Salafis are the closest to the hearts of the army. When SCAF was in power, it repeatedly called upon Salafi leaders such as Sheikh Mohamed Hassan to mediate in political and sectarian disputes and conflicts. The non-Islamist political forces will have to keep a close eye on how this intimate relationship reflects on the on-going political settlement. It is no secret that the Salafis have repeatedly entered into alliances with the Brotherhood against the non-Islamist forces and have often been involved in violent verbal and physical assaults on women, religious minorities and the Sufis.

Moreover, reducing democracy to a ballot box can only produce a majoritarian political order that is tyrannical and oppressive to difference. In order to produce an inclusive political order that is respectful of women’s full citizenship rights, the rights of religious minorities,and socially and politically marginal groups, there has to be a disentangling between representation, power and influence, and the electoral process. The rights of these groups cannot be left to the ballot box to mediate. If 70% of the people of Egypt voted that women or religious minorities should not be members of parliament or in ministerial office in a free and fair election, the application of such measures would obviously produce a highly exclusionary political order- even if it has the stamp of electoral legitimacy.

There are two major problem areas that can lead to the reproduction of another authoritarian order, possibly worse than that of Mubarak and Morsi. The first is the constitution and the second is the election.

One of the major obstacles in the roadmap that was announced by the army is the suspension of the constitution, rather than its annulment. This was no doubt a concession made to the Salafis: the annulment of the constitution could threaten the gains that the Salafis secured in the constitution which they and the Brotherhood drew up in 2012. It is likely that the Salafis will push for a more Islamist version of the new constitution which directly clashes with the notion of an inclusive democracy. A constitution a la Salafism is one that would turn the country into a theocracy. The distribution of power within the committee responsible for amending the current constitution will be key to safeguarding a new social contract that ensures social justice, full equal citizenship rights for all and the complete separation of the executive, judicial and legislative powers.

The second challenge to building an inclusive democracy has to do with the rules of the game governing Egypt’s presidential and parliamentary elections. The key issue here is the place of religion in politics. The exclusion of the Islamist forces from the political life of the country will only produce a virulent backlash that will undermine any prospects of national reconciliation. While the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood should be held accountable for human rights violations during their reign, there should be a place for them in Egypt’s political future. However for the Freedom and Justice Party, the Nour [Salafi] party, the Development and Building party and other Islamist parties will have to be forced to play politics differently if we are going to end up with a process of free and fair elections. The election law that was approved by the Islamist-majority constituency in the Shura Council will have to be modified.

The current draft allows political parties to use religious slogans in their campaigns. If this clause is not removed from the electoral law, the Salafis and others will demonize their political opponents as infidels and incite sectarian hatred against minorities on account of their political preferences, exactly as they did in previous elections. The use of religion in elections more generally will have to be banned if they are to be free and fair.  A political party that premises its campaign on its representation of “Islam” inhibits the notion of an equal playing field.  Following the success of the Salafis and Brothers in winning the constitutional referendum of March 2011, the Salafi Sheikh, Hussein Yacoub, commented that this was a  “conquest of the ballot boxes” – for Islam. No political party should have the right to be guardian, the representative of religion. Otherwise we will be back to square one and may end up with another majoritarian theocracy – one even less inclusive than its predecessor.


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