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Egypt's democracy, still an elusive dream

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Next Saturday, June 30, the date set by the SCAF for their formal handing over of power and return to the barricades is an elusive dream. The willingness of the Muslim Brotherhood to sustain their revolutionary and anti-military discourse is equally uncertain.

Soha Farouk
26 June 2012

Finally, for the first time in history, Egypt has a new civilian President, Mohamed Morsi, through barely democratic presidential elections, one of the main goals of the January revolution. After three military presidents, and a post-revolutionary transition spoiled by military rule, the candidate of the Muslim Brotherhood, the banned Islamist movement for over eighty years, is on top of the executive body. Despite all the pessimist predictions, Egypt did not plunge into a post-Ceausescu Romanian scenario or a 1992 Algeria-type violent confrontation between the Islamists and the military.

Morsi's tight victory with 51.7% has sparked a striking mix of elation and dismay among all Egyptians. Happiness is expressed by many who feel highly empowered in electing an ordinary man for the presidency, neither a charismatic leader nor an idol. For them, every vote in that tight race made a difference and had a significant meaning, even the boycotters. Many of the revolutionary forces, who were forced to back Morsi despite their ideological differences, feel immensely relieved, which is not the same as happy, to see the back of Shafiq, the former PM supported by the remnants of Mubarak regime. This is a second defeat of the counter-revolution.

Per contra, the Islamists’ rise has prompted much doom and gloom among liberal forces, Copts and women over the future of their civil liberties. There have been good reasons for this cynicism, given the flawed and conservative Muslim Brotherhood discourse regarding religious minorities and women’s issues and their heavy manipulation of religious slogans for political ends. A message of inclusiveness and diversity is not enough to reassure those categories, without concrete steps and on the ground practices endorsing an equal citizenship for all.

On another note, a lesson to be learned from the presidential rally is that the ‘Unite to rule’ tactic used by the Morsi campaign has proved its supremacy over the ‘Divide and conquer’, scaremongering strategies of Shafiq campaign. A few days before the voting process, we witnessed the spread of rumours and fears by Shafiq supporters, accusing the Muslim Brotherhood of killing protestors during the camel battle, of their intentions to spread violence across the country if their candidate lost the race and to confiscate individual freedoms if they came to power. However, Morsi kept to his message of unity, adopting "our power is in our unity" as the slogan of his campaign, and a thread running throughout his comprehensive networking with the key political groups. Therefore, a unity front was formed, two days before the announcement of the elections results, gathering several revolutionary forces of different backgrounds to confront military rule and ensure a democratic future for Egypt.

Nevertheless, with a dissolved parliament and SCAF’s extended powers given them in the recently amended constitutional declaration, Egypt's new president faces an unenviable uphill task. His toughest battle will be on the constitutional and institutional level, to fully grasp his hijacked executive powers, abolish the military's role in politics and rectify the constitution-drafting process to make it far more participatory and effective. A second challenge resides in the need to build trust and social unity and power sharing amongst a deeply divided Egyptian society, fuelled by skepticism and uncertainty. Besides this, the alarming and worsening economic crisis, with Egypt ranked as the 31st most failed state in the world, urgently needs to be addressed. The 2012/2013 draft budget, to be approved by SCAF before leaving power, includes fuel subsidy cuts and broken promises of healthcare spending, both of which can only increase the potential for social unrest and threaten the looming failure of any incoming government.

In addition, a strong democracy requires a powerful and sturdy political opposition, with a clear vision, which can hold the president accountable for his decisions and duties. Hence, it is up to all the revolutionary forces, who have claimed that they have been sidelined since the fall of the Mubarak regime, to reorganize their ranks, limit the domination of money politics and the power of the Islamists, and offer to Egyptian society a third independent, persuasive and credible alternative.

Either way, next Saturday, June 30, the date set by the SCAF for their formal handing over of power and return to the barricades is an elusive dream. The willingness of the Muslim Brotherhood to sustain their revolutionary and anti-military discourse is equally uncertain. What we know for sure is that the revolution's struggle for democracy and social justice is still a long and bumpy road ahead.           

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