The Arabist

The Arabist

By Issandr El Amrani and friends.

Even more on the opposition

I just want to add a few links to Issandr's detailed breakdrown of the Egyptian anti-MB opposition's quandaries and inconsistencies.

In a recent column in Al Youm Al Sabaa by Ahmad Maher, the April 6 leader, he summarizes the reactive attitude of the opposition as "Act now, decide later" and its clinging to the methods of the revolution, two years on, as "eating soup with a fork." He ends thus:

Marches, sit-ins and demonstrations are important means, despite the presence of tens and perhaps hundreds of other means, but they miss the decisive factor for the equation: “the people."
The January 25 revolution did not succeed without the people, people are the decisive factor [...]. The battle to overthrow the regime is not only the departure of Mubarak or the departure of the military power or even the departure of Morsi, but it is a long-term battle that will not be resolved in one round, but in fact it is waves and battle points, a battle primarily with the forces of the past and the forces of tyranny in various forms. A long-term battle against the ideas of the past, methods of the past, rules of the past, parties of the past and behaviors of the past.
The people are crucial in that battle, as they were crucial in the beginning of the revolution, and we have to look around a little and ask ourselves: Is Tahrir Square the same Tahrir Square ? Are the marches still marches ? Are the sit-ins the same ? Is the “violence and chaos followed by army rule scenario” the revolution?
People are a crucial element, a maker of change, and in order to move forward they must be reached, talked to and convinced of the importance of defeating the forces of the past for a new future. But the “act first, decide later” approach will only cause further loss of time, effort, and the lives of young people .

It's worth noting that April 6 has not yet decided whether to support a boycott.

To boycott or not to boycott, that is the opposition's question. Elections were used, almost from the start and quite explicitly, to contain the revolution, not to advance it. The suspicion of the "democratic" process is not unjustified. And it is evident in writing such as this column, in which activist Amr Ezzat notes that these days "the broad public conversation around the 'value of democracy' and the 'choice' of army intervention seems very 'democratic,' to the point that one can imagine 'military coup' as one of the available choices in the upcoming elections. Why not? Doesn't democracy just mean letting the ballot box decide?" Ezzat goes on to argue, tongue in cheek, that since Islamist feel free to redefine democracy to match their own concept of cultural identity and "Islamist authoritarianism," then supporters of a military coup can certainly manage to find a way to similarly stretch the concept of democracy far enough to fit army rule. Ezzat coins a clever new word,  sunduqratiya ("boxocracy") to describe many non-Islamists' view of democracy in Egypt so far: purely electoral competition, where victory gives the winner the right to excercise power in the same old authoritarian ways. 

Yet it's hard to see how non-Islamist groups can survive, let alone develop, in the future political landcape if they don't compete in elections (I for one am happy most No voters didn't boycott the referendum on the constitution and think if turnout had been higher, so would the proportion of the No vote. As is the opposition learned the extent -- and geographic location -- of its strength, which is useful information to have). Unless, of course, they are hoping for another earthquake to change that landscape altogether. The problem is the opposition -- which is divided along ideological and especially generational lines, doesn't quite know what it wants.

In dreaming of more revolution rather than preparing for elections -- in wanting to go back and have things turn out differently, in wanting to start over, in wanting to recapture a moment when everything seemed possible (and probably, even then, wasn't) -- is the opposition squandering the much narrower, practical, political room for action and leverage? 

I was sitting in a revolutionary planning meeting recently, and as speakers took turns making short, impassioned, vague speeches about what needed to be done, I thought of the enormous advantage the Muslim Brotherhood has in having a tested, efficient (and largely autocratic) decision-making apparatus. The oppositoin has to re-invent the wheel each time. It was kind of thrilling to see this happening 2 years ago but now, with so much at stake and so much already lost, it's also demoralizing.

The other problem the opposition has is its fundamental misreading of the revolution. The 18 days were the most amazing moment I've ever lived through, but "the people" didn't bring down the regime -- or at least, not on their own. The army encouraged and abetted them in doing so. So one elephant in the room is that to recreate the revolution and its result (a change in leadership) requires army intervention.