Understanding the Egyptian Stalemate

AP Photo/Amr Nabil
By Sarah MacRory

The Lotus Revolution has given way to a new definition of chaos. Eleven days after the beautiful sight of Egyptian unity in Tahrir Square and the start of historical change, there is no way of determining the truth. With each passing day new strings of rumours tie themselves to the massive knot that is Egyptian civil society.

With each passing day conspiracy theories sprout up and confuse the general public. The truth could lie with any number of different scenarios. However, it is nearly impossible to determine what exactly is going on in Egypt. There are too many sides, too many players; a complex situation that has made the world pay attention and hold its breath.

The initial movement protesting the “grievances” of the Egyptian people was peaceful. The protesters that stood in main squares and streets all over Egypt on 25 January had specific demands; basic human rights that should have been afforded to them in the first place. The most important of which is the dissolution of the Emergency Law that has been in place for the last 29 years, as it allows for the rampant corruption and the unity of power in the hands a select few. The one other unified demand that has survived the eleven days of turmoil, is that President Hosni Mubarak and his regime have to step down either immediately or in the near future. With each passing day momentum grows, the protests has its lulls but what they are now calling the “pro-democracy” protesters have held strong throughout, unrelenting in their desires and beliefs.

Initially the political stalemate that arose from this movement had two sides: one, the government and Mubarak and two, the pro-democracy protesters. What we have now is an eruption of different views; the once united front of pro-democracy and anti-Mubarak protesters have divided according to their takes on Mubarak’s second speech delivered on 1 February. The speech asserted that neither Mubarak nor his son would run in the September elections, that both houses of Parliament will be reviewed for fraud, that the specific articles of the Constitution shall be reviewed and that democratic reforms will be implemented before he formally steps down. The reaction following this speech has set the country’s population in a whirlwind of differing views and interpretations.

There are those who still stand with their views that Mubarak and his regime should leave now; then there are those who are appeased by his promise to guide the country to democracy and then step down in September, they are mainly pro-stability. Finally, you have a minority group who do not want Mubarak to leave at all. The first and second groups were one before the speech, convinced that his time was up and that the only way to move forward is without him. They are the legitimate representation of the Egyptian population. The third group is a puzzling one, cropping up the day after his second speech and claiming that if he were to leave, the country would plunge into anarchy and chaos. Question is: where was this group on 25 January? Why are they appearing now? It is clear from several media outlets and eye-witness accounts that the third group consists of people who were paid off by the National Democratic Party (NDP, the party of the regime) to support Mubarak for a day, members of the NDP themselves and thugs deployed by an unknown source to cause disruption and violent chaos in the crowds gathered in Tahrir Square, basically the state. Newly appointed Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq apologized on national television for the inexplicable violence that took place on Wednesday and has sworn to bring those who had arranged it to justice. The main problem is many believe that the NDP itself was behind the deployment of thugs and the violence that took place, adding to the suspicion of Mubarak and his newly appointed regime. Those who were appeased by his speech were surprised by the hardline policy adopted the next day and have again echoed their old sentiments that the President must go. The flippancy of national opinion and the constant change of perspective with new developments sprouting up every day have of course left the country in state of confusion.

The culture of confusion is rooted in the absence of legitimate claims of change made by the government, who is thus far ambiguous in its addresses, as well as the rampant conspiracy theories circulating. There are those who believe that all the events of the past eleven days such as the internet shutdown, the release of tens of thousands of prisoners to vandalize the public and force civilians to police their neighbourhoods (coupled with the disappearance of the police force) and the thugs taking to the streets are all part of Mubarak’s attempt to plunge the country into a state of absolute chaos. Thus giving him the opportunity to claim that stability can only be brought back through him.

A second theory claims that through psychological tactics and the spread of rumours Mubarak is to blame for the current divide amongst Egyptians. Suspicion, disbelief and confusion have entrenched themselves in each and every Egyptian mind. His constant assertion that he has served his country proudly and is willing to bring to justice the corrupt cabinet members of the past are in direct conflict with his aggressive affronts on the protesters through different security elements.

A third conspiracy theory is that Mubarak is unwilling to step-down because he would like to close his chapter in history as the leader who brought democracy to Egypt. In a last attempt to redeem his three decades of rule and his dignity he is attempting to involve himself in the reforms set forth by the public. This is an oxymoron, as an ousted or unwanted leader cannot take part in a revolution.

The real challenge is not the ousting of Mubarak, but the stripping of his absolute power. In order to amend the Constitution and shift the country towards real democracy the first step must be to remove the emergency law immediately. Once this is done, the two houses of Parliament will be able to discuss and debate the amendments desired; however, a signed approval by the President is also needed. The issue of the Constitution is complex; the protesters do not want President Mubarak to have any part in the re-drafting process but legally he is intricately tied to the situation.  

Another challenge is overcoming the fear of the Muslim Brotherhood, a line used for three decades by the regime and by the preceding Presidents. The asserted view is that the Muslim Brotherhood is an evil force that will destroy Egypt and its well being; this can be de-bunked in several ways. Firstly, the Egyptian economy relies heavily on tourism and if an Islamic republic were to replace the Mubarak regime it would compromise the industry’s growth. Secondly, the Egyptian population is characterized by moderate thinking; historically major movements of extremism have never taken root and thrived, for various cultural reasons. Thirdly, the Muslim Brotherhood is no longer considered an extremist movement; they are simply a political party that have transformed over the years into a pragmatic entity that has denounced violence for more than a decade. Fourthly, the Muslim Brotherhood did not lead this revolution their participation is limited and dismissed by the pro-democracy protesters. Fifthly, the Muslim Brotherhood is no longer the political powerhouse it used to be in the past but rather a social justice movement that only wants to be included in the Parliament, not lead the country. Lastly, proof of their political pragmatism is their ability to negotiate with several opposition groups such as Ayman Nour’s El Ghad Party and Mohamed ElBaradei; their assertion that they are not extremist has been muffled by the Egyptian government for over three decades. Although they have not been asked to participate in the transitional government, if there will be one, they are hoping that free and fair elections will enable their moderate political participation in Egypt.

Egypt will change. That is the only solid statement anyone can claim thus far, simply because it is difficult to decipher the direction of this revolution. Led by the youth and the young generations of Egypt’s population there is no political ideology guiding this movement, rather a set of demands resulting from the corrupt leadership of the old regime. A regime that tortured and terrorized its population, oppressed those who spoke out and took from the poor to give to the rich. Unemployment and a vicious cycle of hopelessness led to this uproar; none of the known opposition groups were leading it and none lead it today.

The youth have come to organize themselves and released through social networks a statement nominating several prominent figures in all segments of Egyptian society to represent their demands and negotiate with the government on their behalf. The statement found online at www.shabab-masr.com lists nine individuals from different backgrounds (politics, media, business and academia) to act as a committee that will monitor the implementation of democracy until September. The youth propose a draft of a new Constitution, they demand that the independence of the courts must be guaranteed, that free and fair elections are held for both houses of Parliament and the Presidency and finally that a new transitional government should be appointed (but monitored by the proposed committee). This is the first unified statement released by the protesters and outlines exactly what is demanded. We have yet to see its effect and development throughout this ordeal. However, hopefully its implementation could strike a balance between stability (reassuring those afraid of the chaos that could follow Mubarak’s step down) and appease those who want absolute change.

Strategically and historically Egypt is the most important Middle Eastern country; it has 80 million people, half of the Middle East, and has been close politically to the West for the past 40 years. This abrupt change has threatened the delicate state of stability that has comforted the world thus far; the US, the EU and Israel are waiting restlessly to see how this revolution will affect international relations in the region. Fear of instability has got them on the edge of their seats; however, the chaos that Mubarak claims will unravel as soon as he leaves office is just that, a claim. The fact is no one knows the true repercussions of this revolution. What is evident is that democracy in some shape or form is coming and that the people will not rest until they have the freedoms they want. The US and the EU should be comforted rather than scared of democracy in Egypt, after all Egyptians are only following their example. Listening to Mubarak’s pleas that Egypt cannot function without him is not advisable. 

 

Sarah MacRory is a half Egyptian, half Irish journalist, who studied Journalism and History at New York University. She is currently based in her hometown of Cairo, where she works in Investor Relations. She has covered journalistic beats ranging from music to politics. 

 

5 February 2011

 

Photo Credit: AP Photo/Amr Nabil