This week's window on the Middle East - January 14, 2013

Arab Awakening's columnists offer their weekly perspective on what is happening on the ground in the Middle East. Leading the week: Jordan’s economist king

Arab Awakening
14 January 2013
  • Jordan’s economist king
  • Vigilantes or superheroes: tackling drugs in Tripoli
  • Egypt’s crisis deserves a better set of calculations
  • Tunisian constitutionalism and the draft constitution of December 2012
  • Egypt: fighting the status quo
  • Jordan’s economist king

    By Munir Atalla

    A few years of the presidency of the United States takes its toll on a man, so imagine what a lifetime as King can do, or even two years as a monarch in the Middle East during the Arab Spring.  Since his ascension to the throne in 1999, King Abdullah II has aged.  The silver in his hair attests to the stresses and setbacks faced in his almost thirteen years as king. A week before Jordanians will elect their next parliament, let’s look back at the King’s record.

    Businessmen in Jordan will tell you that since King Abdullah II took power, his primary concern has been the economy.  Educated in America in the 80’s, Abdullah II set about privatizing industries and attempting to encourage entrepreneurship with the quintessentially American belief that a higher GDP will make life better for the average Jo.  Yet, for the economist King, politics have always gotten in the way.

    King Abdullah II has never had any interest in being the leader of the Arabs.  Where his father was ambivalent, he is notoriously uncomfortable having his picture plastered on taxicabs and roundabouts.  Where King Hussein was a charismatic charmer, he is reserved and less popular.  His rare public addresses to his citizens come almost exclusively at times when not delivering one would hardly be an option.  He is barely comfortable on the set of The Daily Show joking with John Stewart in English, which seems to be his mother tongue.  For one so naturally averse to the spotlight, being the King of Jordan throughout the Arab uprisings must have been a truly challenging feat.

    It is a joke amongst Jordanians that on his deathbed, King Hussein pulled his son close and told him, “Whatever you do my son, keep the Americans happy.”  At this, Abdullah has excelled.  Some Jordanians call their country, “the fifty first state”.  Jordan has been on political autopilot for some time now: make the necessary gestures and statements to keep the largest amount of people happy.  Do whatever is necessary to keep the country stable.  Then and only then, work on the economy.

    Where has that strategy led?  Jordanian Gross Domestic Product has largely followed the American economy.  Were it not for the Great Recession at the end of 2008, we might have maintained the sluggish yet constant growth seen from 1999 until 2008.  Phrases like “soaring unemployment and corruption continue to plague the country” could be plucked out of Jordanian periodicals from 2009 or the New York Times last month with equal validity. Meanwhile, a huge number of Jordanians (some say upwards of twenty percent) are on a government payroll - coveted jobs due to their permanence and pension.

    It seems that the King’s strategies have not really worked.  A King is an appointer.  He is a public figure whose top priority should be to put the right people in positions of power.  King Abdullah II has surrounded himself with the wrong people, the wrong thinkers, and the wrong allies.  Anyone could tell you that Abdullah II is no philosopher or intellectual.  All leaders need a strong support network of experienced politicians close by.  But with an average of one prime minister every two years since his ascension, King Abdullah II has not yet found the right arrangement of people to run the country the way he wants it to. 

    The King had appointed a chief of the Secret Service who was recently convicted of corruption and is now behind bars.  From an economic perspective, many of the King’s friends have done very well for themselves. But not all of them have done it without exploiting him.  Whether or not the King benefited is an issue of much public debate, but the facts remain that the economy has not gotten better and life for the average Jo is characterized by increasing frustration, a heavy dose of religion, and little socio-economic mobility.   The few who do well seem to prosper despite seas of red tape rather than with the help of the nurturing system Abdullah II envisioned.

    Politically, America has proved itself a utilitarian ally.  Although Washington plays a large part in the country’s stability through its aid dollars, it has become clear that stability is really its only concern.  America will stick by Abdullah II’s side as long as it means a Jordan more stable for them.  When he tries to work on the economy they stall.  A more educated and economically powerful Jordanian citizenry means more questioning, less monarchy, and less stability.

    Yes, there is an abundance of criticism to go around.  It is the only resource in ample supply.  Yet, for now, the Economist King is here to stay, and looking forward is the most constructive option.  Rather than brave these decisions alone, Abdullah II must relinquish power to those around him.  This brings us to the parliamentary elections that are scheduled for January 23.  Boycotted by the Muslim Brotherhood, the election is likely to yield a weak parliament similar to the existing one.  The King needs to dig deep and voluntarily give up some of his privilege, despite that fact that some of his allies would not be happy about it.   While in the United States, “it’s the economy, stupid”, in the Middle East, politics can never be avoided.

    Vigilantes or superheroes: tackling drugs in Tripoli

    By Rhiannon Smith

    The sight of pickup trucks loaded with armed men wearing military fatigues is not an uncommon sight in the area where I live in Tripoli as my house is a stone’s throw from the headquarters of the General National Congress. I often see their vehicles screeching along the main roads towards the parliament, although it is often difficult to know whether they are racing to defend their MPs from protesters or whether they themselves are the protesters. 

    However a few days ago I saw something new; there were the same standard pickup trucks followed by a car with flashing sirens, but the men hanging out of the windows had their faces covered by black balaclavas and were turning not towards the GNC building, but towards a down-at-heel residential area full of dirt roads and tightly packed houses. To me the sight was slightly unnerving, but the gaggle of young boys on the road opposite me clearly felt differently as they were cheering and pumping their fists in the air as the cars passed.

    I made further enquiries about these masked men and discovered they were part of a brigade which is attempting to crack down on Tripoli’s growing drug trade. It is nearly two years since the Libyan Revolution ended and the lack of any real police force or national army has allowed crime and drug dealing to flourish. Indeed the Ministry of Interior recently announced that the murder rate has increased by 500% since 2010[i], a figure which many feel reflects an increasing number of armed drug and gang related crimes in the capital. Another claim is that the increase in crime and murder is partly due to the number of criminals released by Gaddafi in the early stages of the revolution, criminals who are still at large.

    Drugs and alcohol are illegal in Libya but with porous southern borders and lax policing there has definitely been increased visibility of the substances on the streets. As a result, some brigades are taking the law into their own hands and targeting known drug dealers and their associates in an attempt to bring the problem under control.

    Such activities seem to have been on the rise in recent weeks. There have been various raids on alcohol and drugs suppliers across the city, and on New Year’s Eve there was a clear warning to revellers that loud, alcohol-fuelled parties would not be tolerated. The brigades running these drug raids are covering their faces in order to protect their identities and are taking those they catch prisoner.

    Needless to say opinion within Tripoli over these self –proclaimed protectors of the peace is divided. As of the New Year, autonomous brigades are no longer meant to exist, whether affiliated to the Supreme Security Council (SSC), the umbrella organisation for government-approved brigades, or not. The SSC was officially disbanded at the end of 2012 and former revolutionaries are being encouraged to join the army or police forces as individuals. However the process has been far from smooth and there are still many brigades acting independently, without accountability to the government.

    On the one hand there are some that see these brigades as dangerous vigilantes whose activities are detrimental to Libya’s stability. This last week in Tripoli has seen gun fights between brigades targeting drug dealers and the alleged drug dealers themselves. As with any such fight in Libya, rumours often cloud the truth of who did what and why, but there are those that see the actions of these brigades is seen as unacceptable. The brigadesmen do not identify themselves, they do not provide evidence as to why they are arresting people and once arrested prisoners have no official recourse to justice. Whether their aims are noble or not, many take the views that any armed group working to their own agenda is a militia and their actions can only result in harm.

    On the other hand, there are a significant number of Libyans who wholeheartedly support the anti-drugs tirade of these brigades. Libyans are proud of their country and many are saddened and angered to see it being corrupted by drugs and alcohol. For them these brigades are doing the brave, honourable thing by taking on the job that the police and army are currently too weak to do. I have spoken to many Libyans who have this point of view, and they argue that although it is not ideal to have militias taking the law into their own hands, something must be done to curb the growing drugs problem in Tripoli. They lament the fact that the state is still so weak, but they don’t think criminals should be left to act with impunity until such time that the government can effectively enforce law and order.

    Libyans want stability. They want to live in a clean, safe, free society where rule of law and justice is paramount. However given the turmoil of the past few years and the weakness of the government, opinion is clearly divided over the best way to ensure such a society can blossom. Is it by handing over all power to the state and hoping they are strong enough to carry Libya forward even though current evidence seems to suggest otherwise, or is it by citizens themselves seeking to apprehend criminals until such time that the state proves it is capable of doing the job?

    Egypt’s crisis deserves a better set of calculations

    By Nader Bakkar

    In the current political scene, neither the elected authority nor the opposition can assume that they have sufficient experience to fulfil their obligations amidst the tremendous clouds of unprecedented blur that engulf the whole scene at large. The Muslim Brothers have had no practice in managing the country before. Nor have the others actually tried any really influential opposition under the former regime. Consequently, everyone is honour bound to evaluate their performance in the previous period and to extract the most important lessons they need for enhancing their performance over the coming period.

    The presidential institution is in dire need of bridges of trust, not just between itself and the opposition but most importantly between itself and the ordinary citizen. Their chosen method hitherto of summoning the street to intervene in order to maintain legitimacy will not for long withstand the need to have a method for fast tactical achievements that the vast majority awaits with impatience.

    The opposition, on the other hand, needs to puzzle out ways of convincing the Egyptian electorate – in the coming period – that they are capable of presenting logical solutions to all the crises raiding the country; on top of which comes the economic crisis.  This is what they ought to do, rather than just resorting to satirizing the Islamic currents or consuming themselves with futile attempts to clear them out of their path.

    This short-sighted and exceedingly selfish approach is indeed logically absurd! It draws little or no distinction between hating the Islamic currents, rejecting the flimsy performance of the government and coming up with practices that can lead to overthrowing the whole economy of the country.  Just compare the performance of the Egyptians or the Arabs of the Gulf and the performance of any other Egyptians inside or outside Egypt.  You will find them talking in a very strange way about how ready they are to stop making any bank transfers to Egypt as punitive measures against the regime!

    No one owns the economy!  Not the Muslim Brothers, not the Muslims and not anyone else!  All rational people have to agree that any political disputes must fade now into the background of the national scene!  Everybody must stand in a single pack if the red-alert code is looming over our economic infrastructure.  We must all come to a common sense which prevents our disputes from turning into the kind of obstinacy that can bring down our homes in rubble around our heads and those of the generations to come.

    Worse than Brazil?

    I am sure that our economic situation will never get any worse than the situation Brazil was in before 2002 – before the first presidential term of Da Silva – because the debts of Brazil to the World Bank at that time were way above $20 billion. After that Brazil adjusted the debt to $14 billion.

    The opposition media has been playing a lousy role for two whole weeks now - spreading rumours that can be summed up in the statement of Rania Al-Mashaat (CBE deputy) in recent days, “In the last few days we had unjustified speculation and demands on the foreign currency because of news and rumours about the credit rating and postponement of the IMF’s loan!”

    As for recent ministerial amendments, instead of contributing to easing the crisis as intended they have only made things worse for the foreseeable future.  I will not comment on the choice of new ministers, since I obviously do not understand the criteria for choosing them!  Just as no one really understands the criteria for evaluating the performance of those who were dismissed.

    A very simple solution to all this might lie in pursuing the ‘transparency policy’ with every step taken by the executive authority; starting with the scale of the challenges faced by the government, taking in the mysterious visit to the UAE at the time when we have dozens of Egyptians detained in Saudi Arabia without any specific charges, and without accruing the honour we might expect from such visits, and ending with the real reasons that led to dismissing this particular bunch of ministers while keeping some others.

    The other alternative to a ‘transparency policy’ would be just to open the doors fully to any speculations or question marks aimed at poisoning the political environment, which might destroy whatever remains of the trust-bridge, without any further justification.

    What concerns me now mostly is achievement; and achievements cannot be done without a deadline.  The method of ‘management by objectives’ is what we want to hear these days from our government.  The ordinary citizen, along with the politician or the economist, will not give much heed to the number of meetings attended by ministers. The number of working hours of every minister will not be a persuasive criterion either. Even achieving the general objectives goes without saying.  

    But for instance, we no longer want the government to tell us that it seeks to achieve social justice as one of its top objectives; the logical thing is to disclose more details that we can measure using a deadline or any other method for measurement.  We need achievable goals that we can see before we die, we need what is known as SMART goals.

    As Geary W. Sikich puts it in his book, All Hazards, “Management is never put more strongly to the test than in a crisis situation!”  Indeed many crises have put the government of Hesham Qandil to the test one after the other.  They all proved that this government significantly lacks the mentality for quick solutions. One of the most important levers for anyone seeking a speedy solution is to form a crisis management team, on the level of the ministries, and another one for quick intervention in the daily life problems that will never be solved in the obsolete or traditional ways.

    As for the chronic problems, we need to confront them through long-term plans that the ministries can go through at a steady pace regardless of how many times the ministers change.  We can never survive a change of vision every four months, particularly with the economic ministry whose members are so hyper-sensitive when it comes to impact.

    If the changes in personnel in the economic ministerial group are designed to have any real effect then we need to define a vision.  Perhaps the president’s decision to establish a Council for Economic Development, as a subsidiary for the presidency, could contribute to this vision even though it is a double-edged sword.  On the one hand it will be a mechanism for quick presidential intervention, in cases of economic crisis, to impose a particular vision pursued by the country for the coming four-year period; on the other hand it could perhaps  provide a kind of creative chaos for this group in the absence of integrated visions.

    Tunisian constitutionalism and the draft constitution of December 2012

    By Mohamed Salah-Omri

    The draft constitution released by the Tunisian Constituent Assembly on 14 December 2012 for public comment is the latest episode in a long Tunisian romance with constitutions.  In fact, Tunisia entertains an intriguing and surprisingly long relationship with constitutions in which love and loathing intertwine. 

    It is not uncommon to hear proponents of institutions and the concept of the state in Tunisia accuse those who advocate Shari’a as the basis for law or newly-formed states, such as Qatar, of ignoring the key fact that Tunisia had one of the oldest constitutions on earth, the so-called Carthage Constitution dating back almost 3000 years, which attracted Aristotle’s interest and praise.

    They also refer to the oldest written constitution in the Muslim world, the 1861 documents supplementing the Security Covenant (‘ahd al-aman), which limited the authority of the Bey but gave wide rights to Europeans, and a strong and forward-looking modern constitution written as early as 1957.  The liberation movement in Tunisia would take this history as a basis for its demands, first in the shape of the Free Destour (Constitution) Party founded in 1920 by Thaalibi and then through the New Destour Party led by Habib Bourguiba from 1934. Members of these parties call themselves dusturi up to the present moment, a term which carried flattering or derogatory overtones depending on the politics of the time.    

    The truth behind this array of superlatives and claims to ordered state power warrants some investigation and recall.  It is worth asking how this legacy of constitutionalism affected the formulation of the current draft constitution, which is intended to enshrine into long-term law the aims and ideals of Tunisia’s surprising and now famous revolution.

    The power of constitutionalism

    First, it must be noted that the transfer of power in the early days of 2011 and the several transitional phases since then reveal much about the power of constitutionalism in the country.  One may indeed speak of an orderly, leaderless transfer of power in January 2011 specifically because constitutionalism was strong and alive. 

    When Ben Ali fled the country on 14 January, the activation of articles 56 and then 57 of the 1957 Constitution was immediate, top down and of lasting effect. The first article, pertinent to temporary vacancy in the office of President, allowed the latter’s powers to be transferred to Mohamed Ghannouchi, his Prime Minister.  The second article was soon enacted by making this vacancy permanent and transferring authority to the Speaker of Parliament. This constitutional mechanism, ironically strengthened by Ben Ali in the 2002 amendments, allowed nothing short of the continuity of institutions along with the economic, social, political and legal activity in the country.

    “Where in the world would you find a people who made a revolution on Friday and went back to work on Monday?” commented one observer.  There was a sense that nothing and everything had changed at the same time. The key to this transition was a thoroughly institutionalised state, and key to the latter was the long and well-entrenched constitutional history of the country, despite decades of abuse by successive leaders.   

    Since then, a number of telling contradictions– always with reference to constitutionalism – have taken place and must be noted.

    The constitutional richness of the first transitional period vs. the poverty of the current one

    The main part of the transition was run by a scholar of constitutional law (Yadh Ben Achour) who chaired the Committee for Political Reform, Democratic Transition and Protection of the Aims of the Revolution (CPRDTPAR); its first spokesperson, Ghazi Ghrairi, was also a constitutional law scholar.

    Among its members were a powerful cast of individuals nominated on the basis of their standing as national figures (intellectuals, academics, human rights advocates, regional leaders, etc...).  The committee also had its own panel of experts who drafted key legislation, most prominent of which was the Independent Election Commission (ISIE) and the electoral code of 2011 on the basis of which Tunisia ran its widely acclaimed elections on October 23, 2011. These elections resulted in the current Constituent Assembly and government.  They also gave rise to a reversal of constitutional culture.

    Of the 217 members of the Assembly, only one is an expert in constitutional law; no prominent intellectuals were elected and very few members of Ben Achour’s committee won seats. Instead, and due to the elections, the meteoric rise in the number of parties and electoral system based on lists and parity between men and women, a large number of elected candidates with very little political training, and in some cases, even low education level, found themselves in an Assembly entrusted with the writing of a new constitution.  

    For example, the region of Kasserine is represented by eight members, six men and two women, who include a primary school teacher, a lawyer, an exiled businessman, and one unemployed community college graduate.  Al-Nahda’s heads of lists were almost exclusively the old guard who spent years in jails or in exile, and had little professional experience and knowledge of the country. 

    This composition of the Assembly resulted in a low level of debate and uninformed engagements with the complex work of a body responsible for all legislation as well as the oversight of the government.  The Constituent Assembly soon became a favourite subject of jokes among cartoonists, on social media and television shows.

    The Tabula rasa approach caught between revolutionary aims and eradication of secularism

    The Assembly made the decision to start drafting the constitution from a blank page. This in itself was initially argued as a radical move designed to meet revolutionary expectations and start anew the construction of a nation plagued with autocracy and corruption.  

    In reality, it was a political manoeuvre, which will prove to be costly in time, money and national cohesion.  The idea of a blank page sacrificed historical memory and ignored existing expertise as well as draft projects prepared by Ben Achour’s committee of experts and ideas put forward by the national union of workers (UGTT) and civil society groups.  At a high financial cost and 18 months later, the draft constitution was released to the public on 14 December. How radical is it? How does it relate to the previous constitution? 

    The draft of a new constitution for Tunisia

    Overall, the draft is long, verbose, even narrative in places and tends to uses rhetorical rather than legal language.  It remains vague about the universality of human rights and the limitations on freedom of expression. But it also contains several new elements to be lauded, particularly in the fields of media and economic rights. 

    All of these warrant extensive comment.  But here, I will focus only on the opening of the draft, including the prelude and the closing, namely, amendments. They both bear the imprints of negotiations and compromise.  They also point to the debate still ahead before a final version is released.

    One major surprise has been the rise in identity politics in a country with such a settled sense of self and institutions.  Article One has become emblematic of such a debate.  The identity of the people, the nature of the state, and the sources of its law are the cornerstone of the constitution and its most problematic feature.  After much upheaval, including violent clashes and months of haggling, largely over the demand to take Shari’a as the “source” or the basis of legislation, which was al-Nahdha’s initial demand and the key aim of salafi movements, a compromise was found.  It consisted, ironically, in adopting Article One of the 1957 Constitution verbatim.

    In the chapter, ”General Rules”, Article One in the published translation relating to the draft of 14 August 2012 reads: “Tunisia is a free, independent and sovereign state. Its religion is Islam, its language is Arabic and its form of government is a Republic.”  In the Arabic language of the text, there is an ambiguity: “its”, in the phrase, “Islam is its religion”, has long been understood to refer to Tunisia, that is, the country or the people, not to the “state”.  This is a crucial point, perhaps the most significant one, because at stake is nothing short of the civil nature of the state and the relationship between state and religion. 

    This compromise won consensus, which indicates how far both sides have gone to accommodate each other in the context of divided power.  But the closing article of the draft constitution throws this compromise into doubt.  Article 148 of the chapter, “Amendment to the Constitution” includes the statement: “No constitutional amendment shall harm (yanal min) Islam in so far that it is the religion of the state.” According to proponents of the Islamic nature of the state, it specifies this point while those who call for a civil state argue it abrogates it. 

    The article names other cases exempt from amendments, in an attempt to take into account all sides, rather than come to a decisive and precise binding language.  The protected areas include: “Arabic language in so far that it is the official language; the republican system; the civil nature of the state; the acquired human rights and freedoms guaranteed in the constitution; the number of presidential terms and their duration by addition.”

    A fractured palimpsest

    Overall, the constitution reflects the fractured politics of the country since the last elections.  It is also a palimpsest of the various phases, projects and views negotiated or forced through during this long period. It tells the story of its making as well as the period within which it has been written.

    In some ways, one can read through it the process by which the Islamist al-Nahda has governed Tunisia so far and responses to it by a strong civil society and vocal opposition.  The draft also reflects the lack of expertise in the Constituent Assembly in its language and formulation: it is vague in many ways, literary in some parts, and rhetorical rather than legal. 

    For a document, which strives to outlast history in terms of longevity, the draft is rather historical, even dated in some ways.  However, the Tunisian constitution could not be more different than its Egyptian counterpart, which is largely one-sided in its composition and outlook, and which in the end got the approval of only around 20% of eligible voters, a result which reflects the minority nature of the conception and approval process which unfolded in that country. 

    With regard to Tunisia, and for the reasons just mentioned, I predict further key changes to the draft constitution in the months to come and that it will pass without being put to a referendum.  Otherwise, and here again Tunisian constitutionalism can serve as our guide, another rebellion could be in store.  The constitution of 1861 burdened people with taxes and triggered the 1864 rebellion, led by Ali Ben Ghdhahim, known as the Bey of the country – by people who united the central and southern tribes against government and threatened the state itself.  The 1957 Constitution was amended to give President Bourguiba rule for life, then again to give Ben Ali absolute power, thereby triggering the January 2011 revolution. 

    In drafting the constitution, members of the Assembly ignored the legacy of constitutionalism in Tunisia openly but have acknowledged it in practice and as they found it convenient to do so.  By applying finality to a document which is supposed to last for a century or more, history is ignored. 

    For who indeed can know for certain whether a century from now, the religion or the language of Tunisia will remain the same?  The on-going conflict in the country remains about what Tunisian politicians call the societal project; and the draft constitution reflects that. Identity politics, brought to a sharp pitch by the Islamist relative majority, is contingent upon current politics, not a prediction of the future. 

    Will the next revolution be specifically against this finality in the constitution? If this were to be the case, it is a good thing, then, that the draft constitution has maintained the same mechanism which allowed transition of power in the case of major change at the head of the state office.

    Egypt: fighting the status quo

    By Karim Malak

    Wednesday December 4, 2012, is a day remembered in Egypt because the regime, run by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), decided to disperse peaceful protests outside the Presidential Palace. The very day the perimeter of the palace was cleared MB forces went around painting over the graffiti on the palace walls. Earlier in that day, as the MB bussed in its members from outside Cairo, and we protesters battled them, I had my cranium cracked with a stone during the clashes. The riot police covered the MB as they pushed forward in a horrific assault backed by police vans, tear gas, buckshot shotguns and live ammunition.  When I was being treated in a makeshift field hospital we were overrun by MB forces who held us for several hours, stuck in no-mans land. I posed as a journalist to avoid torture or being picked up by any of the MB members, many of whom were later forced to confess that they were indeed paid thugs, and part of the ancien regime.  One example was former diplomat Yehia Zakaria who was caught by the MB and beaten up - his is but one of the many stories that have now emerged.

    Later the Ultras came along, and seeing we were in MB territory threatened to burn down the whole place. We explained that we were being held there against our will and they let us go. I was taken to a hospital for minor surgery to seal the wound, having lost a considerable amount of blood. I gave my testimony to various Human Rights (HR) organizations, but what follows are my thoughts about those events in today's Egypt.

    It is true that several opposition parties called for the protests outside the presidential palace. But what happened on Tuesday, December 3, 2012, was largely spontaneous and uncoordinated. Several marches joined together in surrounding the palace. The sheer number of people overwhelmed riot police who were routed and started running. Police truck after police truck retreated full of soldiers: trucks that were surrounded begged to be allowed to leave and the crowds let them. On that day I remember seeing the entire palace swamped and packed. Shoulder to shoulder. Its defences had fallen and inside stood armed military forces and tanks. Women and old men emerged, and the gathering of protesters started to become reminiscent of January 25, 2011; in other words - people from all walks of life came.

    Over the last year our numbers have dropped and dwindled. With state media constantly demonizing any form of protest, and regularly citing, “the successful end of the revolution” no one came out and protested with us and we felt the brute force of the coercive state. It has become rather important to us to note who talks about revolution in the past tense. This has accelerated in particular out of fear of the planned protests on January 25, 2013. In this regard, the use of the term the ancien regime, is also rather problematic. Status quo forces, represented by the MB and its allies, often make this phrase and what it represents their central political starting-point, talking about their wretched past and the previous regime to the exclusion of everything that has happened since. They attempt to create a gap between current police brutality, which for organized labor has been far worse according to their own testimony - and what happened in the past. Discursively, this gap creates an abyss, an area where all current events, violence and protests are delegitimized and erased - an abyss which ensures impunity for the MB and their violence. State media of course helps by simply refusing to host anyone from the opposition.

    Second is the issue of “the youth” or “the revolutionaries” and their support for Morsi. True, the April 6 movement has supported President Morsi in what we believe to be a naïve response and they are not alone. But the simple binary they have allowed to be created, of “Morsi vs. the ancien regime”, prevents us from developing a third way out. It is here that Edward Said is such an important figure, since he and others attempted to escape from the binary oppositions which imprison us and to create a countervailing subjectivity. Most supporters of Morsi are forced, by virtue of this binary, to defend MB positions leading to knee-jerk reactions that drag them back to the ways of the ancien regime. Conversely those who attack Morsi are accused of being blind to the crimes of the past regime. Among the mutual accusations of being “inept” and “weak”, what emerges is a "youth" trapped in retrospect and retribution. And they are not the only ones. Those who boycotted the elections make it a moral issue and talk to their respective partners, seeking vindication, and telling them “we told you not to vote, the blame for this cannot fall at our door”. The transformation of any option into a moral question is also part of this performance of a powerful discourse that keeps any constructive action in check.

    Where does that leave the rest of us? There are a number of signs that the people are trying to escape from this imprisoning discourse. First the recognition that institutionalized opposition represented in so-called “dialogues” that aims to reach “consensus”- is only a way to keep the opposition in check. To see how the current “dialogue” rounds are a sham one need only look at how Selim El Awa, one of the MB’s allies, chairs one of the sub-committees. The fact that the MB fills all these rounds of negotiations with cadres like El Awa that are supposedly unaffiliated gives no more than a decorative feel to its authoritarianism. Several western think tanks criticize the opposition for being “petty” in refusing to attend these negotiations. But you have to study the options in detail to understand this.

    One of the most inspiring developments to my mind was the National Salvation Front (NSF) statement that they do not control the street and protestors, and that they are not going to be like the MB who bus in their members to put down the opposition. There continues to be a learning curve of the means of co-optation and institutionalization of informal power structures. The first step is locating them and revealing all of them, especially the ones that have been normalized and internalized. Is it inevitable that the opposition will reach a point where it must realize it cannot work within the system to achieve its objectives? We who wish to see profound change must consciously aim to wage resistance alongside cultivating our ability to narrate these events, and to keep our accounts alive, finding new ways to challenge the prevailing discourse. No moral position should be privileged from the outset. Aftre all, notions about the sanctity of the private sphere, private property and the right to life seem to be of little value to those in power.

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