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Partners not guardians

January 25, 2014 at 5:38 am

One of the dilemmas of Egyptian politics is that the feuding parties are acting as guardians and not partners, even though no one has given them a mandate to be either.

The party of which we see and hear the most in the media is made up of the elites who push themselves forward and get all the attention. Meanwhile, the regular activists who have proven themselves by words and deeds continue to do the work on the ground, fed by a love of their land and people, and with no ulterior motive or agenda.

The so-called draft declaration of Basic Principles of the Constitution to hand is the result of a consensus between groups which are neither elected nor mandated by the people; they are imposters who impose themselves onto society. The draft is essentially a model of custodial role as practiced by the liberal and secular groups in Egypt; this is a challenge to the will of the people. It is an example of the dilemma noted above.

Post-revolution, 77 per cent of Egyptians agreed on the constitutional provisions for the election of the Legislative Council, drafting the new constitution and electing a president; it was agreed that power would be handed over to civil society before June 2012. However, the elite in control of the media have reneged on the people’s choice, using pressure and deception to abort the electoral programme, forming non-elected, non-representative boards. Discussions by such bodies have resulted in the Declaration of Principles which seeks to impose the agenda of the elite onto the Legislative Council and restrain the Constitution Committee; this is an amazing hijack of the popular will and has been exposed by Tareq Albeshri in an important study published in Al-Shurooq newspaper a couple of weeks ago.

The message of the elite is clear: they are the only ones who are right; they do not trust the public to make the right choices; and it is only their vision and guardianship which can guide the people to stability and security. The message does not end at the point of claiming a monopoly on being right in determining the future of the nation; the elite believes that it has exclusive rights over positive values and slogans, such as democracy, liberalism, civilization, modernity and enlightenment. And they cling to attributing these values to secularism, ignoring the fact that they can be found in all streams of thought in the country, including political Islam.

The Islamic movement has made a similar error of judgement; the prohibition on any political activity throughout Mubarak’s rule has led its members to adopt a preaching approach. They have also kept away from social activities, as the approach has been focused on guidance and raising awareness. Thus have generations been brought up to think that they are the leaders and guardians of society, and when restrictions on Muslim political activity were lifted they lacked real experience in addressing the people and their concerns. On the contrary, they tended to contribute to the scaremongering and raise the concerns of the general population.

Last week, some candidates in Alexandria said that with their participation in the political arena “Islam will be coming and rule by Shari’ah is coming”. Has Islam been absent from Egypt over the past centuries? Do these candidates regard themselves as Islam? If they are not around will Islam disappear?

On 10 November, one newspaper published interviews with two Salafi politicians: one said, “The era of drinking alcohol and nudity of women in the streets is over”; the other claimed, “If we come to power we will close nightclubs and cigarette factories”.

The media set a trap and the candidates fell for it and spoke as if society will move from corruption to guidance and wisdom only at their hands. I include the voices of the Muslim Brotherhood candidates in this category as they consider themselves to be the leaders of society with the others following close behind.

What’s most striking is that the parties which will be clamouring for votes have not mentioned any common areas where they can work together although they have much in common, especially in defending democracy, independence, development and social justice.

In this respect, it is without doubt the secular groups which are the most attached to the concept of guardianship and most likely to reject partnership. This is understandable in a way, because they are defending their current status and long-held monopoly of power. The custodial role for the secular groups has always been coupled with exclusionism, and this spirit is clear with regards to relations with the Islamic trend. This is evident in at least two fields, of which one is the media.

The media controlled by the elite have adopted an aggressively anti-Islamic stance; in some Egyptian newspapers there is evidence of this almost daily. In this they are helped by some of the speeches of Salafi and Muslim Brotherhood candidates which provide the secular opposition with much ammunition to use against them. Although they are often the words of individuals they are attributed to the movement as a whole. No distinctions are made between moderates and extremists, wise men and fools.

The Salafi groups in particular, because they are new to politics, provide much material for the media to use against them and are an easy target for aggressive questioning by journalists. Consider the following examples taken from a recent interview with a Salafi leader: Owners of liquor stores and nightclubs fear the arrival of Salafis in the government, what is your comment? What about cigarettes? What about naked tourists? Some fear the imposition of the veil in the event of your election; if a female Salafi member is elected to the People’s Assembly, will she attend wearing a full veil or hijab?

An honest reader of the Egyptian newspapers will be convinced that there are two fighting tribes in the country, and that the elite have left the revolution and its goals represented in the call for freedom, dignity, and social justice, and turned instead to the fight for seats in the next parliament at any cost.

Activists are still working with the spirit of Tahrir Square, where everyone is pulling together out of concern for the nation. They have not been diverted by the spoils or the settling of old scores; they have pushed political and ideological affiliations to one side and kept themselves busy with recovering the homeland from those who have been controlling it for decades.

I’m talking about another generation of revolutionaries who did not get burnt by appearing on television and were not invited to international forums or seminars by the elite who consider themselves to be Egypt’s political leaders; nor were their addresses known to agents of foreign funding. Because they work unheralded their exact numbers are not known; individual identities remain a mystery. However, at least one considers that the silent majority in Egypt are the mainstream in the country and their concerns should be addressed.

Some of these unspoken groups promote education and public awareness; others encourage the people to get involved in local civil society; yet others fight against tribalism and intolerance in southern Egypt; all call the people to do their bit in the building of the nation. The “Protect your voice” organisation seeks to coach people in the democratic process through encouraging people to choose the best candidate and keep a record of candidates’ promises. Another group has prepared a list of the names of more than three thousand people linked to the former regime who cooperated with tyranny and corruption; the list has been circulated on the Internet to warn people against voting for them.

There are, no doubt, other groups working in silence away from the limelight, and we must accept that those who took to the streets are not everyone and everything in the country. Those on the front line are perhaps half of the picture, while those trying to galvanise the silent majority offer a complete picture and represent our hopes for the continuation of the revolution.

The thousands working on civil society across Egypt are the true embodiment of the spirit of 25 January. They are the ones we rely on to establish a new system involving everyone, and loosen the dominance of the “guardians” in the process.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.