There is nothing in the revolutionary rule book to say that, two years after toppling a dictator, a country is entitled to enjoy peace. If post-soviet Russia or post-apartheid South Africa have taught the world anything, it is that democratic transitions are frail and fragile creatures, which can be prey for stronger predators. President Mohamed Morsi was not exaggerating when he told the Guardian this weekend that his first year as president of Egypt had been “very difficult” and that he fully expected his troubles to continue.
Some of these troubles have been of his own side’s making. The Muslim Brotherhood made two strategic mistakes that contributed to the shutdown of dialogue between the two camps that once shared Tahrir Square. The first was to push for a constitution that allows for greater religious input into Egyptian legislation. This was done to keep a doctrinally strict Salafist party on board, which a few months later switched sides anyway. The second was for Mr Morsi to issue the November 2012 constitutional declaration that gave him sweeping temporary powers, which he swiftly abandoned and has regretted ever since. There is truth in the charge that Mr Morsi confused an electoral mandate with an obligation to keep all sides on board.
But nor can the opposition be given a free pass. It complains that the Muslim Brotherhood has grabbed all the power in all the major institutions of state; yet the record shows that its leaders were offered top jobs in government and repeatedly turned them down. It lays claim to a democratic mandate; yet it refuses to participate in elections it thinks it is going to lose. It claims to be non-violent; yet rival demonstrations have been fired on, causing deaths and injuries.
The truth, a year after Mr Morsi took office, is that neither side accepts the other’s legitimacy. Certainly, there are serious concerns about Egypt’s election law and the danger of gerrymandering. The question is whether these concerns are so grave as to undermine the validity of free elections. Until now, elections in post-Mubarak Egypt have been judged, on the whole, to be fair. Nor is it right to claim that the Brotherhood’s organisational capacity on the ground is so great that nothing can be done. The answer to that is for the opposition to build its own political movements from the bottom up.
As a result, what matters right now is how events play out immediately on the streets. Both sides’ principal concern is to muster large numbers of supporters and keep them on the streets of Egypt’s major cities. But the tragedy for both sides is that there is a third camp, sitting in the wings, for whom civil disorder is a win-win situation. This is composed of the remnants of the old regime, who have never really gone away and are actively seizing their chance for a comeback.
An obvious danger in Egypt is that the toppling of a democratically elected president amid widespread civil unrest may force the army to intervene. Some optimists claim that army rule would only last for a brief period to allow fresh elections to be held. But a more probable scenario is that if the army came to power it would stay for a long time. For many Islamists, having taken the democratic route but been denied the chance to see their leaders govern, opposition would not be a question of ideology but a matter of personal survival. What would prevent them from concluding that a future of arrest, torture and imprisonment awaits, a return to what they experienced under Mubarak? What would stop the ranks of extremists on both sides swelling?
The coming days are pivotal. Mr Morsi may survive. Or Egypt could be Algeria writ large. A prolonged civil conflict would not discriminate between one sect or another, or between Egyptians. Nor would it necessarily respect borders. The stability of a Middle East in which the US and Europe have less power to influence events, depends to a great extent on a stable Egypt. Both the region and the world are watching to see which way Egypt chooses.
Source: The Guardian – Editorial