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Is Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi the only choice for Egyptians?

January 27, 2014 at 9:48 am

I will not argue the power of Colonel Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi’s popularity, but I will allow myself to argue him being the “necessary” man and that there is no alternative to him ruling Egypt. This is due to the fact that this necessity compels us to expand our circle of thinking for the solutions of the dilemma we are facing.

I hope the reader notices that I am discussing the idea, not the person. I do not hide the fact that I am hesitant about using the description that is frequently used by the Egyptian media to endorse the man, because I cannot forget that I, along with many others, have heard the same term used to describe the late Iraqi President Saddam Hussein; “the necessary leader”, and he remained so for 28 years, during which he turned into “the disastrous leader”. Therefore, the idea of the saviour leader on whom the dreams of the nation is dependent is dangerous and has become obsolete, both in culture and political thought. This, however, does not negate the idea of a historical leader, who emerges coincidently in history, and proving himself through his achievements, and by transforming himself from a governor who runs the country to a leader who leads and initiates; the first interacts with the events while the second creates events. During the history of ancient Egypt, necessity dictated that the pharaoh be classified as a god king because he was considered the regulator of the Nile River, as, at the time, regulating the River was considered the beginning of everything, as all growth and fertility in Egypt is dependent on it, as mentioned by Dr Gamal Hamdan in his book “The Personality of Egypt”. He wrote a chapter about the relationship between the riverine environment and political tyranny, in which he offered theories that considered this environment more prone to the toleration of tyranny and despotism, based on the fact that the control of the river becomes a justification for the control of people and their destinies.

The world changed in the later ages until the “regulation of people” was passed on to the society institutions, although the “god king” continued to play his role under other titles in authoritarian regimes. This resulted in the decreased role of the “necessary ruler” and his replacement with an iconic leader, who does not run the country by himself, but by means of surrounding institutions which have now become necessary for the management and stability of society. The justifications of the necessity proposed in the Egyptian political space can be represented in three elements: the absence of qualified and eligible alternatives for presidency which have gained popular support, the political vacuum that has emerged due to the fragility of the political parties and their separation from the community, and the unrest taking place in the country that has led to a stop in the track towards development and growth and has led to the spread of instability in society. In this context, those supporting the idea of necessity have pointed out that the Egyptian revolution was a massive popular uprising, but it had no leader or head, as the popular blocs agreed there is a need to change and overthrow the Mubarak regime. However, this consensus did not extend to a consensus regarding a leader with popular unanimity, albeit in relative terms.

Part of this is true and needs to be commented on, while some of it lacks accuracy and needs to be set straight. As for comments, I would like to warn that we do not know, neither through historical experience, nor through its references, of a quick and pure revolution that achieved democratic transformation with little cost and much tolerance. Such a revolution only exists in the metaphysics of politics. There are also no revolutions in history that have not been followed by a counter-revolution launched by the remnants of previous regime, who are able to take advantage of their expertise in management and suppression, as well as the sources of power they had acquired while in power. The remnants in this case are usually more dangerous and violent than before because revenge and the defence of their interests and fates are their main motivation. Political vacuum is considered a natural result suffered by governments that follow the overthrow of tyrannical regimes, because in their pursuit of absolute power, these regimes not only deliberately set out to destroy the current political structures, but also aim to bring about destruction in the future. The means they employ to achieve this is to burn all of its alternatives through oppression and the power that it possesses. It has even been rumoured that some of the Ottoman sultans used to kill children they believed or were deluded- often by astrologers- into thinking that they would be their alternatives in the future.

So, there it is no wonder that there is a lack of alternatives, and it is no surprise that there is a vacuum. Moreover, the conflict between the new and emerging political forces is understood due to the newness of the experience and the mutual suspicion amongst these forces that have always been excluded and deprived from the experience of governance and are ignorant to the methods of joint action. Due to the fact that they are a product of the culture of oppression, they do not know how to manage their differences by means of political and peaceful solutions. As for the part that needs to be corrected and set straight, it is the part saying that the Egyptian revolution did not have a leader or a head. This would be true if we were talking about one individual or group, but it is more correct to say that the revolution had many leaders, not only one. These leaders are the ones who took over the incitement, the rallying of the masses, arranged for management and security, resisting police raids, and arranged for health care and living conditions, etc. I would even go as far as saying that these unknown people who did all of this were acting as a government imposed by necessity in light of the fait accompli. The elements of this government came out of nowhere and left to an unknown place, and we have seen no trace of them since. They have now joined the unknown and nameless pages of the Egyptian revolution history, which we still do not know when we will be able to identify its facts.

When talk spread during Mubarak’s reign regarding his son’s candidacy for presidency, there was talk about the absence of alternative candidates, which seemed to be an implicit reference to the fact that Mubarak’s son was the “necessary choice”. At the time, a journalist asked me about this, and my answer was when you turn off a light, it is natural for you not to see, and instead of complaining about this situation, the natural and simple solution is to extend your hand to regain light and open the windows. Then you will see what wouldn’t have been able to see. Allow me to make the same argument in the context of discussing the idea of the lack of alternatives, and I add to this argument that those who are promoting the idea have their sights set on the television screens and the pages of newspapers, which have now become the most important platforms for the classification of the elite and the spread of certificates of political, as well as cultural merit and stardom. However, if these same eyes were set on the society and its various elements, then they would see a totally different scene, and the least they would do is stop talking about the lack of alternatives.

In the seventies, I was in Kuwait with Professor Ahmed Bahaa Eddin during the time he was head of Al-Arabi magazine, and in Cairo, the issue of the formation of a new ministry had risen, and President Sadat was about to visit Kuwait. At the time, I heard Mr Baha Eddin saying that he would be able to form a complete ministry consisting of the Egyptian experts in Kuwait, and he had believed that Sadat himself wasn’t an exceptional person. (I had later heard him say the same about Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for 30 years. He had believed that Sadat was more intelligent than him).

I would like to say that the problem is not in the lack, but the tightness of the circles, which does not allow us to see the multiplicity of these options. There is also another problem with the angle from which the solution is looked at and whether it is based on choosing the individual that is most acceptable or whether it is based on the team and organisation entrusted with the management of society. I do not think it would be an exaggeration if I said that incitement taking place in Egypt today regarding bias towards the necessary choice is perhaps connected to the culture of the riverine environment and the idea of the pharaoh controlling the Nile River, which also promotes the idea of the community regulator as well (have you noticed that in both cases, it is a regulator)? It is worth pointing out that we do not know which parties are feeding this campaign and fuelling the public in favour of clinging to the saviour individual, not to mention the fact that there are many questions marks regarding the role of the pillars of Mubarak’s regime and its network of interests in fuelling the public through the media outlets in particular.

Choices abound and leadership skills emerge when society opens doors to the community to produce its representatives in a natural manner. This production is achieved by means of legislative, local, union, etc. elections in which candidates from society run rather than being imposed by higher forces. As for pre-determined leaders, which fall on the community at a historical and exception moment, they pose a huge risk, even if surrounded with feelings of hospitality. In a large country like Egypt, there are complex circumstances imposed by historical and geographical factors, and in this case, risks are not considered the best means of securing the future or managing the region. We must keep in mind that the experience has proven that Egypt, which has proved that it is bigger than any group, also remains larger than any individual regardless of his ability, power, and popularity.

We should not ignore or forget that a revolution occurred in Egypt in 2011 and that when the masses took to the streets at the time, it ventured into the public sphere for the first time in its history, and it will not accept to return to the private sphere again. Those who are trying to discredit the January 25th revolution confining legitimacy to the June 30th protests and the events on July 3rd, are actually on the side of the counter-revolution. However, we do not question the patriotism of some of those who participated in those two events, driven either by their rejection of Brotherhood rule or the desire to correct the January 25th revolution, not to diminish or undermine it.

Counter-revolutions are doomed to failure, whether they last for a long or short period. The Bourbon family lasted nearly 35 years by means of their counter-revolution in France, and they thought that matters were stable, so they exercised their old feudal traditions as they were during Charles X’s dictatorship, but the revolution in 1830 shattered that dream. Moreover, the Iranian Shah was able to remain in power nearly two decades after the failure of Mohammed Mossadegh’s revolution, but his performance did not last long, because when he went back to his old ways, he fuelled the 1979 revolution. Augusto Pinochet was able to rule Chile 27 years after he revolted against the elected president Salvador Allende in 1973, but the civil and political resistance triumphed in the end, and managed to overthrow him in 1990. Furthermore, the military council in Bolivia was able to put an end to the revolutionary movement led by Victor Estenssoro after winning the 1951 elections, but only a year later, a revolution broke out and overthrew the ruling military council. Why should we look so far when we can see what is happening in Syria, where the Syrian regime was able to remain in power and fight the popular revolution that broke out in 2011, doing so by means of pressure and due to the regional and international contradictions. However, this can only last so long, because, even though it is costly to the people, the popular genie has been let out of the bottle and is not willing to go back in.

I understand that some ordinary citizens are unable to read into the reality or learn from the lessons of history, but I am surprised that this is the case for wise and rational people, who I see leading the festivals promoting the “necessary choice”. This is only another face of the crisis that we are experiencing that needs to be discussed and considered in more detail.

This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Shorouknews on 7 January, 2014

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