Only National Consensus Can Bail Egypt Out of Crisis
Egypt will be having its own national conference. Sooner or later this will be happening. It is inevitable. Egyptians will have to choose between two scenarios either taking the initiative by setting the date for such a national conference and outlining its agenda or letting matters slipping out of their hands and getting more escalated and complicated, thus missing out on the opportunity of organizing it on their own and allowing outsiders to call the shots and do that in their place. In that latter case “Egypt National Conference” would be held by foreign parties and its venue would be outside the homeland.
Why does Egypt need such a national gathering? This is an important question that we do have to ask ourselves about.
The constitution-writing Constituent Assembly (CA) should have been Egypt’s salvation, but alas it did not. It should not have led us to the situation we are facing right now. The CA in itself was supposed to be a national conference offering a platform for all the Egyptian parties concerned to meet together and discuss the future of the nation and the relationship between its people, all of them without exception or discrimination and draw up a common understanding that should have laid the basic foundations of a national charter to be later on approved by voters in a fair and clean referendum.
Before the last referendum which led to the endorsement of the constitution, many opposition leaders had repeatedly said that the Egyptians should be going to the polling stations while knowing the results of their vote in advance because the CA debates should have resulted in a consensual draft of the constitution. But, regrettably that was not the case. The referendum became a field of battling and disputes, and that important event in Egypt’s history, that should have led the nation to unity, left it deeply polarized and disjointed.
The differences appeared a long time ago, and while the CA was still in the middle of its work. They began when the forces that took part in the January 25th Revolution decided, after February 11, 2011 - the very day when former president Hosni Mubarak stepped down - to ostracize both morally and politically all Egyptians whom they believed to have had a direct relationship with the Mubarak-era ruling National Democratic Party or the former regime or even those whom they suspected to have at some point of their lives aided that regime or belonged to it.
This moral ostracizing of a broad group of Egyptians, without considering whether those ostracized had been wrong-doers or corrupt people, laid the foundations for a policy of exclusiveness that kept mushrooming until the Muslim Brotherhood group decided to grab as much powers as it could for itself, cutting off other active players in the Egyptian social and political scene. Things did not stop at this point, for the group got more greedy and set its mind on having it all, banishing all non-members on the claim that they are political or theological heretics.
In a later stage after that attempts to legalize the moral ostracizing of the so-called Mubarak- era figures began to gain momentum and subsequently the idea of a disenfranchisement bill took its way to the People’s Assembly which was just in the course of debating it when it was dissolved by a constitutional court ruling. Though these attempts and their likes have failed over constitutional reasons, they left behind new reasons for bitter disunity. What added to the complexity of the situation and plunged the nation into further deeper division was the presidential race, both rounds of it. The ugly face of division manifested itself first in the heated rivalry among the social forces that considered the revolution as a historical test of their existence in face of those whom they thought to be anti-revolutionaries and once again before and after the announcement of the final results of the elections. All these matters combined drove the different forces even farther and caused the rift among them to widen. Though that rift could have been bridged given the common social and cultural grounds which these forces have shared yet they all surrendered to transient political sentiments that only tore them apart.
Later on, these disjointed and contending social and political forces began to join hands when the orientations of the religious State started to unveil themselves and when they were disillusioned with growing attempts of the Muslim Brotherhood to bring the State under its hegemony, ostracizing and rejecting everybody and everything not belonging to the group, including the entire opposition forces, the old established professional State institutions and even the old-recognized laws of the State, up till the complementary constitutional declaration.
This was immediately followed by the forcing away from the Constituent Assembly, directly or indirectly, of all individuals or groups espousing political or ideological ideas other than those of the Muslim Brotherhood. And to crown it all came a constitutional article that the Brotherhood introduced to alienate and ostracize hundreds of Egyptians and their families and their larger circles of social and political acquaintances and associates.
The alienation of these broad groups of Egyptian people became complete by the constitutional declaration of November 22 when the Executive Authority knocked off the Judicial Authority and after the president assumed near absolute powers and the ruling regime allowed and even to some extent sponsored a violent, brazen siege of the Constitutional Court, spurning the opposition and its supporters, refusing to listen to their demands and, at a later stage, dealing with them as non-existent.
The constitutionalized alienation , has no longer been limited to one segment of the society. It grew even beyond that to include many more others who became alienated just for their differing political affiliations. Being finally aware of this fact, the Salvation Front insisted, during a meeting of its representatives with US Republican Senator John McCain that the regime should recognize the presence of the opposition and stop considering its opponents as conspirators and traitors and their stances as conspiracies or acts of treason.
The Muslim Brotherhood-aligned President Mohammed Morsi came up with a novel way of alienating others which was practiced against the Salafist El-Nour party, a former ally of the group. This new way came through causing El-Nour to implode, resulting in the birth of a new party by the name of El-Watan Party that is now vying with El-Nour for a leading position among the Salafist currents. In the case of the Salafists, the Muslim Brotherhood revealed how it perceives politics as the “employment of tools” and not a “relationship between partners”. It showed that it regards politics as a gain-or-lose game among different contenders and that it only uses the slogan of sharing and participation for temporary consumption.
Every day that goes by brings with it new attitudes or additional actions by the Muslim Brotherhood that add to the simmering feelings of bitterness, knock down the walls of trust and widen the sea of doubt. Things have now grown different. It is now no longer that of two deeply polarized camps but of an aversion between one party that is supported by a few number of allies and a whole coalition of forces, currents and parties representing various political orientations and social leanings.
The conflict is no longer a one between the seculars and the supporters of the religious State, between liberals and religious currents or between revolutionaries and conservatives. It is now a conflict between the Muslim Brotherhood and a broad echelon of political foes.
The Muslim Brotherhood would be deceiving itself if it thinks that what is going on will help it to impose its own non-negotiable rules of the game. It has to understand an essential matter which is that the social forces from which the political currents draw their strength would not be allowing this to happen. If the politicians were to give in, the voters would not. Nobody should assume that the citizens would accept flawed democratic rules to be shoved down their throats. If the citizens were forced to swallow any such distorted rules, they would abandon democracy and start seeking other paths to express their demands.
All talk about dialogue terms and preconditioned guarantees to renew the political debate between the regime and the opposition is worth nothing when one comes to realize the fact that this is not at all what the regime is concerned about. The main concern of the Muslim Brotherhood-aligned regime is the fearsome idea of losing to others all the powers it had worked so hardly to attain and seeing itself one day joining the ranks of the opposition. The Brotherhood is fearful of the return of those days when it used to be a banned group and when it was forced to work underground. It does not trust the future and the changes that it might bring. On the other hand the opposition has seen by its own eyes and got an early taste of how a not-completely-in-control Brotherhood can act and is scared of how a fully-empowered Brotherhood would be like.
Lying in the heart of the conundrum gripping Egypt, are other no less important issues connected with the identity of the State, the relationship between the different powers and assurances for attaining the much-aspired democracy. There is also another much significant issue: that of the newly surfacing religious currents, their role in shaping the political game, the lessons they learned from their unpleasant experience with their former ally, the Muslim Brotherhood and their fears of having liberals making it to the helm and taking their turn at revenge and at isolating others which could let them enter into a vicious circle of alienation and counter-alienation. These currents indeed pose a future danger for, once they find themselves perplexed and estranged they could turn into powder kegs and explode in the face everyone.
All these matters combined have created a hectic atmosphere plaguing the transitional period which sank into shame by the endorsement of an unacceptable, disfigured constitution that the president himself admitted of the need to have it amended even before it was brought for vote where, according to the announcement of the higher election commission it was rejected by 36 percent of the voters. One has to bear in mind that voting in a referendum on the constitution is not like voting in elections, for in the former case, the approval should be by a heavy majority to ensure that the national charter has gained a national consensus. I will refrain here from alluding to the near certain doubts about the integrity of the voting process during the referendum and the doubts about its announced results which say that it was approved by 64 percent of voters.
The regime is in a fix, this is an unquestionable fact. But what is worse than that is that the nation itself is in a much worse and more dangerous crisis. A crisis that has grown deeper by the adoption of a controversial and imperfect constitution.
This deepening crisis has made the holding of an Egyptian national conference an inevitable option that has to be chosen by all the parties concerned and in which they should participate as equals to work out sound solutions for the intricate web of problems besetting the nation.
It has to be a confidence rebuilding conference whose priority objective should not be reaching a new consensual modern constitution but offering a platform for a sincere and profound debate on all the outstanding matters; a debate based on well-studied papers where the elite members of the society would live up to the responsibility that they failed to shoulder once before for being too much busy in the political games they got themselves uselessly entangled in over the past two years.
This national conference should decide what Egypt and its identity are, and how Egypt can preserve its cultural diversity and become a mixing pot for all its people and not a source of repression for its diverse society. It must be a conference that leads to identifying the needs of the different segments of the society and that admits and accepts their unique composition regardless of the orientations, ideologues or leanings they might have.
It must be a conference that identifies Egypt's role and acknowledges the ambitions of its people whether those living on its soil or abroad and whether those ambitions are for the present or the future. It also must outline the dimensions of national security, pinpointing the challenges facing it and deciding on the ways to confront them.
This national conference would also have to define what kind of a State the people of Egypt would wish to have and how its role, its regime and its institutions would be like. It would furthermore have to differentiate between the Nation and the administration, acknowledging that the State should be based on fixed foundations that could never be changed with the change of regimes. The conference should also stipulate what things that are permissible for any coming regimes to do and what those that are not , thus defining the regulations that would govern the actions of these regimes and drawing a line between what the State is and what its regime is about to ensure that no regime would be enabled to change the established nature of the State.
Moreover, it should be a conference that defines the relationship between the varied segments of the society, and agrees on the true meaning of social justice, thus ending long-running tensions caused by capitalism and socialism.
This conference has to lay out the broad lines of an economic program that no future regime whether from the right or the left should deviate from.
It should be an all-inclusive conference where politicians of all sorts would forget about their different ideologies and engage in a profound lengthy debate that would take them months to prepare for. A conference whose participants would work hard to express specific vibrant ideas and not stiff and rigid principles.
Through this conference criteria for electing a new Constituent Assembly should be set and only then can a consensual constitution based on the essential principles drawn up by the national conference, would be attained.
Our need for that conference is imperative. I think that if we failed to choose to convene it, the unfolding developments inside the country and beyond would force it upon us and if this becomes the case, foreign powers would be dictating on us what they want us to do and we would be having no other way than to accept their terms and dictates. Shame on us if we were to end up being bossed around by and bowing to these outside powers for only then we would be throwing our nation into a bottomless labyrinth from which there would be no escape.
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