The spirit of the Egyptian revolution is not dead yet, despite many attempts on its life, but the sense of elation there has been dead for a long time. In the early days that followed the revolution there was overwhelming joy and optimism, especially with the scenes of cohesion that emerged in the squares, and the demonstrators chanting that “the army and the people are [united in] one hand”, and then the images of the young people who came out to clean the streets and wash the squares. During those days, observers of the scene were fascinated by the spirit that the revolution had infused in the people, and they were optimistic that this spirit would enable the Egyptians to overcome the difficulties that usually dominate a transitional period.
Today, ten months on, the picture is quite different. Frustration has replaced optimism, conflicts and disputes have replaced the cohesion which was one of the revolutions greatest successes. The chants of “the people want to overthrow the regime” have risen once again amid a scene of confrontation between protestors and security forces, which almost resembles the scenes in January. Those seeking to exploit the revolution are looking on with malicious joy at what is happening, but these people in any case have long since written their obituaries, ever since the early days of the revolution, when they said that the Arabs could not work with democracy, and that the Arabs will mourn for the days of Mubarak.
Those who fear for the revolution are now gravely concerned, watching the speed at which it has been hijacked, and the frantic attempts to marginalize the revolutionary youth and exclude the independent figures who played a big role in the change that occurred. The revolution was not designed for parties to quickly seize upon it and fight to reap the benefits, but rather it was an expression of the people’s frustration towards the regime, its political party, and the opposition parties. It was an expression of the people’s desire for change and a transition to democracy, changing the scene to allow the emergence of new values and the rise of new leaderships not contaminated with the mistakes of the past. The problem is that the parties and political forces did not understand this message, and did not attempt to adjust themselves to accommodate the demands of youth and Tahrir Square. Rather each of them tried, in one way or another, to portray themselves as the heart of the revolution and its driving force. Amidst the crowded competition for the spoils, political forces failed to agree on the mechanisms for the transitional phase, or the fundamentals of the new constitution which is supposed to establish the new democracy and stand up for those who may think the revolution has been monopolized or hijacked, or taken from them in a military coup.
Egypt has returned to a revolutionary state today, because the first revolution is not complete. The accumulating outrage that has followed it has not led to the achievement of demands, inspired a spirit of trust, or removed the fears and uncertainties that dominate the scene. Most people have lost confidence in the transitional regime, and they now fear deliberate delays to prolong the transitional period, especially in light of the security chaos, sectarian conflicts, political infighting, and the absence of a clear vision of what the scene will be like after the first elections, due to take place imminently. There are now serious doubts about the possibility or feasibility of these elections being conducted in light of the current climate.
The problem is that postponing the elections could fuel the suspicions of some, who believe that the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) wants to prolong its grip on political decision-making. Perhaps for this reason SCAF was quick to declare its commitment to hold the elections as scheduled next Monday. There are also those who say that the Muslim Brotherhood are insistent on not delaying the elections, because they believe they will be the big winner at this present moment, being the most prepared and organized party. Thus there is a convergence between the two positions [of SCAF and the Muslim Brotherhood] but for different reasons and motives. However, fueled by the rumor mill, some have been prompted to allege that there is a deal in place between SCAF and the Brotherhood, especially in light of indications that the Brotherhood will follow the Turkish model of governance, which is based on recognizing the role of the military. Supporters of such a conspiracy theory have found fertile material in the stances of America, Europe and others, stating that the West is not opposed to dealing with Islamist movements that come to power in the wake of the Arab Spring. However, this stance is conditional on the results of free and fair elections, and the necessity of Islamic movements committing to the principle of a peaceful, democratic transition of power.
The talk of alleged deals is nothing more than a reflection of the people’s frustration towards SCAF, which they believe has failed to resolve many outstanding issues in the interim period, and towards the Muslim Brotherhood, who many fear is concealing more than it reveals, especially with regards to the civil state, democratic mechanisms, and constitutional principles. Perhaps for this reason the demonstrators in Tahrir Square have repeatedly chanted slogans against the Brotherhood and against SCAF.
The pressing question now is: Who would benefit from holding elections now, in such an atmosphere, before an agreement on the mechanisms of the transitional period, with a clear timeframe, and before the basic principles of the new constitution have been established?
Without doubt, there are those who want to hold the elections as soon as possible, believing that this is the only way to shorten the transitional period. The problem is that the lack of consensus now, with regards to timeframes and the basic, governing constitutional principles, means that matters remain highly volatile. The lack of consensus threatens renewed problems and clashes after weeks or months, and can disrupt the democratic transition with the remaining sense of chaos, frustration and fear, which will pose the greatest threat to the revolution and Egypt in the coming period.
Mahatma Gandhi once said: “The moment there is suspicion about a person’s motives, everything he does becomes tainted”. These few words can help summarize many aspects of the crisis faced by Egypt today. Confidence seems totally absent; doubts and fears dominate the scene, and this makes every step by SCAF or the Muslim Brotherhood the subject of questioning and doubt. In light of such a climate, what Egypt doesn’t need is to blindly rush towards a risky election, but rather it should call for immediate national dialogue comprising of all parties, in order to agree upon clear principles for the constitution and the democratic transition, and to agree upon a clear road map so Egypt does not fall into the abyss.