My aunt’s husband sent me this article by Steven A. Cook, below the link was my email response to him:
As I am writing this, many of the good people of Egypt are busy casting their ballots for election runoffs in the first phase of parliamentary elections. It is becoming clear that the upcoming few years will be a struggle for power between Islamists, SCAF and (perhaps even) a popularly elected liberal President.
There is no doubt that continued rule by SCAF will decimate our economy further and continue to abuse our civil liberties. There is also no doubt that rule by hardline Islamists would tear at the fabric of Egyptian society. But here’s the beauty of all that: Egyptians will not remain silent if leadership of the country continue to falter. If the last ten months is proof of anything it is that Egyptians will not remain quiet in the face of dictatorship. Just days before these elections Tahrir sans Islamists had an unprecedented number of demonstrators braving tear gas and bullets to prove a point: we will not be governed this way and we will not be silent. These demonstrators are not the majority of Egyptians, but they are more than enough to shake any President, Government or Supreme Council.
This will remain the case whoever wins the power struggle of Egypt. If Islamists win and begin to abuse our civil liberties, I assure you that enough people will be in the streets ready to die for their liberties that not even the most violent of repression will keep them down. I don’t know why but people seem to forget that in February Egyptians toppled a bloodthirsty tyrant who had no issue with having his forces kidnap, torture and slaughter us. Egypt has had its Kim Jong il and defeated him. The confidence young Egyptians have gained by this is practically infinite. No matter who the new foe is, short of openly murdering hundreds of thousands (maybe more), no-one will ever keep proud Egyptians silent forever.
What I am trying to convey is simply that whoever rules this country from now on will either have to do a good job economically/socially or he will be forced out. So long as the standard of living of the average Egyptian is increasing and so long as people’s civil liberties are unassaulted, the ruler will be infinitely popular.
There is of course one item I purposefully neglected to mention because it is the dark side of the tale. We can and probably will lose years and years and suffer immensely as a nation in this trial and error period. Only fate knows how long this dark period will be.
I am unafraid because I know that no matter who ‘rules’ the country, the future of Egypt is in the hands of its young people and eventually they will overcome.
During these hot times of neverending parliamentary elections and political ambiguity, my mind has constantly wondered away toward the election that I thought would be the more important one: the Presidential election. In fact I’ve discussed most of the candidates with countless people and had countless meaningless debates over who is the person best suited for the job. But for some reason many people (myself included) have overlooked perhaps the single most important factor: will the Office of President even be relevant in Egyptian politics?
As per the constitutional declaration that SCAF has forced down our throats, parliament will name a (supposedly large) percentage of the committee who will write the constitution. Eventually it goes to referendum and then we have Presidential elections. The key element that is overlooked here is that the constitution could theoretically be a parliamentary-based system where the office of the President is largely ceremonial. Think about it. It would only make sense for the Ikhwan to put together a constitutional committee that favors the parliamentary system. In such a system the ministries are named by and report directly to Parliament, not to a President or a ‘Supreme Council’. Effectively if our next constitution makes Egypt out to be a Parliamentary system, the Ikhwan can avoid ever having to compete with a popularly elected President with a differing agenda. In fact, they will have won the political war for the foreseeable future; it will take years for other political parties to make up that much ground in the parliamentary seat battle.
So instead of discussing who the best candidate is for President, I think it is time to discuss and focus on what system of government will be best for Egypt and how best to lobby for or against it. If these initial election results are indicative of what the complete parliament will look like, Egypt could end up with a ‘Parliamentary Dictatorship’ : one party has such a commanding majority that all other voices are stifled. Ministries, just like in the NDP days, could be made to be tools of the ruling party serving their self interests. But that’s assuming the worst of the Ikhwan. Unfortunately their Machiavellian approach over the last few months has been dark and twisted so perhaps we should anticipate the worst. Regardless, as always, it all remains to be seen.
Disclaimer: the following are what-if scenarios regarding the next 6 months that are purely musings and are based on nothing other than my personal interpretation of events surrounding us. There is no doubt that things on the ground will change and therefore this outlook may become outdated as early as tomorrow morning.
The multi-month parliamentary election process started today and thus far appears to be orderly or perhaps just not as messy/violent as ancticipated. Eventually there will be an ‘elected’ parliament who will be tasked with nominating a percentage of the committee that will draft the constitution. That will be practically all they will do. But just for amusements’ sake let’s explore what could happen if the Islamist parties win most seats.
Although I believe this is the most likely scenario, there are many potential variations within this scenario that would change the picture dramatically. The important questions will be a) what proportion of total seats will Islamists win? and b) of those seats, how many go to the Freedom & Justice (Ikhwan) Party vs. other more radical parties?
In the case that Islamist parties have a vast absolute majority in parliament, I would anticipate a quick push from them against SCAF to demand the right to form the government and name all ministers. However unlikely, such a situation would be utterly frightful. The Islamists would be very (rightfully) emboldened by election results that show support of the masses. On the other hand, SCAF would quickly turn on the propaganda machine and portray Islamist parties as Taliban and quickly gain support of Christian and Liberal blocs. The inevitable confrontation between popularly mandated religion-based parties vs. the army, the Christian minority and liberals would be devastating and almost impossible to overcome even in the medium to long term.
The far more likely scenario is that the Islamist bloc wins the most seats but perhaps not an absolute majority. In this case I imagine they will be far more malleable vis-à-vis SCAF. For instance they could be awarded a few interesting ministerial posts such as Education or Planning and some budgetary earmarks in return for keeping the parliament calm. The Ikhwan have never hidden that their plan is to change society first and then later legislate the will of the by-then Islamized society. They have been patient for 80 years and I imagine they will continue to be so, slowly entrenching themselves in positions of influence in the ministries and other government institutions. Assuming they remain unopposed politically, their twisted long-term vision could become a reality. However to assume that there will be no political counterbalance to the Ikhwan in the next decade is foolishly naïve.
I believe that in the short term, no matter who controls parliament, SCAF will continue to have the strongest public mandate of any institution, party or movement. The upcoming assembly will be the single most polarized one in Egypt’s history and friction will be inevitable. With a nice healthy dose of SCAF propaganda and needling, parliament can easily be portrayed as a divided mess unfit to ‘rule’ the nation. In that scenario the masses will once again seek stability and give their allegiance to the army ensuring the impotence of parliament. I do not believe for a moment that given the propaganda tools of SCAF and the Mukhabarat, the masses would ever rally behind and fight on behalf of a very divided <50% Islamist parliament.
What I have (purposefully) not discussed is the more important, relevant and influential election that people seem to have forgotten about these days: The Presidential election. That will be the topic of my next entry.
I will try to keep this as short and to the point as possible. I am taking the unpopular decision to not participate in tomorrow’s parliamentary elections. After many twitter debates I decided to put down my reasons in one place so I do not have to repeat myself (these are by no means in any particular order) :
1) Parliament will be powerless
According to both the active temporary constitution and SCAF, the parliament will have practically no legal authorities and will not have the right to form a government/name ministers. In fact, just like under Mubarak, SCAF will not only be allowed to name the government (they have: fuckin Ganzoury!), but to also directly appoint members of parliament who have not been elected. Further, any law that parliament passes will still have to be implemented by these appointee ministers. If there are laws that SCAF does not agree with, they will simply not be implemented by the various ministries.
2) Candidates are either liars, fools or just naïve
Every candidate out there has a platform or progam he/she’s trying to get himself elected on. How can any one candidate push a (non-SCAF) program through and expect it to ever be put in a budget and implemented by the various ministries? It will not happen. Thus, any candidate who tells me that I should vote for him because he will ‘fix the economy’, ‘solve unemployment’ or ‘tackle social justice issues’ is just bullshitting me to get my vote. Either that or he is a complete idiot who still does not recognize that the parliament he is attempting to be elected to does not have such powers. In either case I would not want such a person to represent me.
3) Blocking the Islamist Vote
Another common argument for voting is to counter the Islamist vote. Forgive me but if this is your call to arms, you are (to put it politely) weak. If you look the other way as SCAF loots the economy, tortures, murders and arrests citizens illegally, but then overnight you feel that it is your duty to protect your lifestyle that includes martinis and bikinis from the horrible Islamists then you are not deserving of democracy. I would take a popularly elected Brotherhood a million times before I take a corrupt murdering dictatorship like SCAF, but that’s an argument for another day.
4) Legitimacy of SCAF
I do not believe that SCAF is the correct legitimate authority that should be administering these elections. As it stands, the Ministry of Interior and the army are responsible for both maintaining security at polling stations as well as securing the ballot boxes. In previous elections (as recently as last year) the MOI was directly complicit in vote fixing for NDP, causing violence and disallowing certain voters into polling stations. These same officers will be at the same polling stations starting tomorrow and we’re supposed to trust that everything they’ve ever know about elections will be forgotten and they will suddenly run everything honestly? Ballot boxes left overnight in care of MOI/army will be left unmolested or unreplaced? Naïve to say the least.
5) Threats to stability
Another awful (disgraceful) excuse people seem to be using for elections is the stability argument. What happens if we don’t have parliament, reform will come along slower, the economy will continue to falter etc. Well if you don’t believe it yet, believe it: so long as SCAF is managing the economy, the economy will continue to falter. This will not change with or without a farcical parliament. I would also like to highlight that this will probably be the most polarized parliament in the history of Egypt and thus far less likely to be able to stand unified against SCAF (think of Salafeya and MB having to stand hand in hand with liberals and socialists).
6) Legal Appeals Process
Assuming that the gruelling and painful election process does in fact happen and people are ‘elected’. Given the current security climate, it is highly likely that there will be a large number of legal appeals made by losing candidates, some justified and some not so justified. At that point if you are SCAF there are two choices, a) allow appeals that could potentially postpone assembly of parliament for months or b) deny losing candidates their legal rights to an appeal. Both choices are awful. So if your argument is ‘we need to vote so that we can get the process moving quick and the economy back on track’, then there will certainly be false representation as a result of a tainted election process that cannot be legally challenged.
Perhaps I should also quickly mention that as recently as a few days ago our Ministry of Interior who is controlled by SCAF ordered its troops to open fire on rock throwing protestors in the streets of Cairo. Both the Minister of Interior and various members of SCAF have said on tv multiple times that none of their forces opened fire on anyone despite countless deaths and videos on the internet showing officers clearly taking shots at civilians. These are the people you are trusting with this so-called election. These are the people who will continue to run the country and street after these ‘elections’. These are the people who will use the pretext of the people’s will being represented through parliament to clamp down even further on anyone on the outside who dares to question their corrupt murderous mismanagement of the country.
For me, not voting has little to do with apathy. I believe that people should demand that an untainted civilian (perhaps in the form of a strong PM) or civilian council (perhaps in the form of Presidential Council) should be the authority to oversee the ministries who will manage parliamentary elections. Until that is the case I cannot, with a clear conscience, participate in parliamentary elections that grant legitimacy to a dictatorial force whose self interests are above those of the country.