Middle-east Arab News Opinion | Asharq Al-awsat

Debate: Egypt’s other presidential candidates are only in the race to give it legitimacy | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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A supporter of the Egyptian Army and Army chief General Abel Fattah al-Sissi shows a poster depicting him during a protest outside the high court on the first day of Morsi’s trial on November 4, 2013 in Cairo. Morsi appeared in court at a police academy on the first day of his trial, rejecting its legitimacy and demanding “coup” leaders be prosecuted. (MAHMOUD KHALED/AFP/Getty Images)

First off, we must specify what we mean by the “civil current” in Egypt. The term first appeared in the wake of the revolution of January 25, 2011, and has since taken off, gaining in currency even though it does not have any real meaning and is not associated with a clearly-defined entity. Soon, everyone began searching for a role or a place within the political arena, describing themselves as belonging to the civil current rather than joining organized movements or groups, such as the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafist movement or the Nasserist Party.

This is to say that anyone who falls outside such established entities has begun to describe himself using the term “civil current.” The label does not connote any clear-cut identity because the truth is that we, the Egyptian people, are all civilians. Therefore, there is still no precise definition or description of the civil current as an independent political force.

Traditionally, it is the established political entities that put forward candidates for presidential, parliamentary, or even local, elections. What we think of as the “political community” consists of political parties and clearly-defined groups that are active on the ground, have both a following and an organizational structure and carry out specific, recognized activities. Therefore, we cannot say that only some of these entities belong to the civil current while we exclude others from the same classification.

Apart from religious institutions and the military establishment, all other movements and parties can be referred to as “civil.” Thus, we can conclude that Hamdeen Sabahi, a presidential candidate in the upcoming elections, is a part of the civil current, even though he was one of the original supporters of the controversial political roadmap laid out in August 2013.

It is in Sabahi’s interest to run in the upcoming elections. This does not stem from any ambition to actually win. His presence will bestow some legitimacy on the presidential race and instil confidence that the remaining items of the roadmap will also be upheld. Similarly, there are other political parties that also support the roadmap and the steps that have been taken since July 3, 2013. If they put forward a candidate for the elections, it will be for no other reason than a desire to try to bring the remaining provisions of the roadmap into effect.

At any rate, I do not believe that anyone other than the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, assuming he runs, will win in the upcoming presidential elections. The other candidates, like Sabahi, will ensure that the elections are afforded legitimacy. As I said before, they will stand not in order to win but to remain a part of the current political scene in Egypt.

Having said that, I want to return to the idea that there is no precise political characterization for the civil current in Egypt. However, there are movements that call for Egypt to become a “civil state.” There are also those who can be found demonstrating in the streets, yet these people will not put forward a candidate or vote in the elections because they will still be participating in their self-organized demonstrations and marches. More importantly, though, they will not get involved because they reject the entire process and do not recognize its legitimacy in the first place.

When you talk to these people about the presidential elections, they will tell you, “This is not an election; it’s a coup.” When you discuss the political roadmap, they will say, “There is no such thing as a roadmap; the plan was just to kidnap and oust the president,” in reference to former president Mohamed Mursi. Finally, when you tell them, “We will create a state and a constitution,” they will respond, “No, you are killers.”

The idea is that the predominant actor in Egypt right now, and the group that currently holds power, is undoubtedly the armed forces and their cronies. Anyone else is really just clinging onto any ties to the military. To be realistic, the presidential elections will be held according to the framework that was announced on July 3, to complete the legal process and legitimize what has already occurred.

The winning candidate in these elections is obvious. He is somebody who has already built up momentum, somebody people call out for. They sing his praises in the streets. However, there have to be other presidential nominees to complete the democratic process, even though the roadmap originally specified that the presidential elections would fall after the parliamentary elections. Evidently, the order has since been reversed.

Therefore, any other candidate, whether from the civil current or otherwise, will participate only to serve as decoration. In my opinion, the 2014 elections will be almost exactly like the 2005 elections, which former president Hosni Mubarak won by a significant majority.

The counterpoint to this piece can be read here.