After a year and a half since Egypt’s popular uprising it seems that Egyptians have gone to the polls repeatedly, once for a referendum, twice for legislative elections and once for presidential elections. The fundamental incoherence surrounding the state of Egyptian thought stems from a number of unanswered questions; the biggest of which is - was this a revolution?
Political thought in the Arab world has always been triggered by major events and figures. Abdel Nasser catapulted Pan-Arabism and nationalism into being, then with the ‘67 war came the rapid ascent of Islamism and finally with authoritarian rulers making themselves comfortable there came neo-Islamists and neo-liberalism.
The ambivalence of Arab thought is marked by the general concern of the Arab world for its regimes’ survival. Too much Islamism in Egypt in the 80’s and 90’s resulted in militancy, but too much liberalism led to louder demands for a free press and rights and liberties. Then there came an accommodating middle ground that attempted to reconcile this with the Arab world’s authoritarian condition. The common denominator was the lack of democracy.
To understand if a revolution has truly taken place in the Arab world one must look for drastic change; change to the constitution, to the state and to Arab political thought. With the mantra of ‘the Arab Spring has turned into an Islamist Spring’ gaining ground many seek to question the Arab world’s credentials for democracy. This doubt rests on the neat categorization of Islamism as being mutually exclusive to democracy and liberalism as being alien to the Arab world. People have adopted the neo-colonial mechanism of some political groups that equates Islamism with fascism, under the guise of being liberals who protect rights and liberties. The fact is, those who make this argument use it as a tactic to fragment the political process in Egypt. Their thinking is only beneficial to one actor; the military. The discourse that produces these binary oppositions performs only one function: derailing Egypt’s transition to democracy.
An acceptance of an Islamist president in Egypt is a first premise of democracy. Egypt’s political parties, like those in Tunisia with the exception of the Salafis, have accepted the results. Egypt’s Salafis, who are not as violent, act as a counterweight, adding to the plurality of Islamists; a healthy democratic phenomenon in my opinion. The acceptance of this president is indicative of a democratic learning curve that trumps chauvinistic regime arguments like the one we have heard from Omar Suliman about how Egypt is not ready for democracy.
Though this may be a very banal statement to make, Egyptians need reminding that this is not an election whose results we will have to live with for an eternity; and certainly President Morsi will never be re-elected through rigged elections, but by winning over a population who voted his competitor out of office rather than him. The very insistence on calling him “Morsi” instead of “President Morsi” speaks to a narrative that is still in denial and seeking to derail Egypt’s transition. The language used seeks to recreate the mutual exclusion of Islamism and liberalism as opposed to finding a new term that embraces both.
True Egypt’s environment is not the most conducive to democracy but then again democracy is achieved through practice and not carted out on a silver platter. The most important pillar of democracy is the mechanism governing the handover of power after each term. By accepting these results, parties can go to the ranks of the opposition and begin working for other elections.
A focus on grassroots campaigns for democratic rights shows the bankruptcy of the Islamist/liberal binary opposition. Having parliamentary elections first before the constitution has politicized our transition; making the latter a function of the former. Now it looks like this mistake, which threatened to derail our democratic transition, has been reversed. What remains unresolved is the military’s grip on power.
Others should take their cue and leave Egyptians to figure it out on their own and not offer advice under the guise of ‘ the universalism of morality’. After a year and a half Egypt has an elected President, it has jailed its former President and some of his entourage, while some still roam the streets. The next battle will be in the courts and in cabinet meetings; a democracy is born with an election but it is baptized with its rights and liberties, regardless of its political ideology. That is what will change Egypt’s popular uprising from being revolutionary to becoming a revolution.