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Opinion: Learning the Hard Way | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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Egyptian protesters run for cover from tear gas fired by riot police during clashes in Cairo, on March 8, 2013. (AFP PHOTO/MAHMUD KHALED

There is an expression about “learning the hard way.” It seems that this is the message that Egyptian defense minister General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi sought to send a few days ago when he ruled out the possibility of the armed forces intervening in the political sphere, saying that nobody should try to solve their problems using the army.

During a speech addressing journalists and intellectuals, the Egyptian defense minister said that the armed forces will not even consider entering the streets, that the military is not the solution, and that queuing up for hours to vote is better than destroying the country. Such discourse is important, especially since during the last round of elections—when the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) was in power—an official public holiday was announced in order to facilitate a larger electoral turnout. However, this resulted in many Egyptians—millions, by some estimates—using this opportunity to travel to holiday resorts rather than to cast their vote at the ballot box.

This talk is the most rational and discerning to be found in the midst of political tensions, liabilities and speeches, some of which are understandable, while others simply defy logic. This statement—that queuing up for hours to vote is better than destroying the country—contains a call to learn things the hard way today, and that we many now have no other choice.

It is clear that this speech was made in the wake of escalating calls for the armed forces to intervene and take power. This comes at a time of escalating political rivalries, stalled dialogue and reconciliation, and a lack of compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of the political factions. This is hampering Egypt’s ability to pass through a difficult transition period that has stretched the country’s economy and drained its resources.

The political parties that disagree with the Brotherhood and the current political arrangement in Egypt may have their own justification for calling for the return of the Egyptian army to power once more. This includes the Brotherhood’s intransigence in responding to certain political requests, their exclusion of rivals, and their penchant for placing political loyalists in certain positions, ensuring continuing Brotherhood-control. However, the problem is that nobody is thinking about the next step or what might happen after this.

The SCAF’s experience in power during that difficult transition stage was beset by political tensions and calls for the armed forces to return to their barracks, as well as violent confrontations that placed the military in an awkward position. It seems that the military does not want to repeat this experience, particularly as this institute should be for everybody, and by virtue of politics, it is difficult for any ruling party to satisfy everybody.

The state of public dissatisfaction in Egypt is undeniable, and this is due to the direction that the country is heading in following last year’s presidential elections. There is a large section of society that rejects the decisions that have been taken and are clinging to the concept of the civil state and civil institutions. However, it is also undeniable that the elections took place via the ballot box, reinforcing the legitimacy of rule. Therefore, any desired change must take place via the same process—namely, elections. Otherwise, the country will be following a dangerous course, and nobody knows where this will lead.

In other words, there are no other options available to the political forces or general public that oppose the present course except taking the hard road that is putting forward policies that attract voters. These forces may have the backing of a large, silent majority, but they will have to convince this majority to exercise their will during the election process. This is the only way that the country will progress. Correct political practices will inexorably lead, in one form or another, to everybody taking a realistic view of the situation to reach common understanding and mutual agreement based on their true popularity on the ground, as is the case with political parties in the rest of the world.

Everyone should review policies and mistakes. There have been a number of objections to the methods adopted by some of the political forces that utilized loud voices and media uproar, while other forces operated in villages and hamlets, seeking to mobilize voters. There has also been criticism surrounding the inability to come together under one political banner throughout the electoral period.