Away from reactive politics
BY FIRAS AL-ATRAQCHI
Cairo: Since the January 25 popular uprising that unseated President Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians from all walks of life have found their long-dormant voices, pushing the boundaries of the public space and molding civic discourse as independent media desperately tried to catch up.
Some of the emerging political stars and those former stalwart NDP members who survived the “purge” were forced to follow suit, catering to the voice of the revolution. Suddenly, Egyptians were seeing the first semblance of political public relations, irrespective of how genuine the presidential candidates and their campaign responsiveness were.
But in a zero sum game that has played itself out between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and those seeking fundamental socio-political change, reactive politics simply does not work.
In the past 17 months, so-called revolutionaries, pro-reform activists, party leaders and political figures — as well as the media — have engaged in reactive politics; a situation must occur before a policy is formulated.
Reactive politics is largely endemic in the Middle East but it is also a testament to the former regime’s efforts to silence alternatives to the NDP.
By cracking down on activists, jailing bloggers and harassing journalists who shed light on regime discrepancies, Mubarak’s cohorts hoped to prevent political maturity in Egypt.
The formula they applied time and again was simple: Government acts, activists react, government cracks down (who can forget the throngs of Ministry of Interior (MOI) anti-riot police surrounding a handful of demonstrators); the narrative shifts.
Using this approach, the former regime dominated even opposition discourse.
Until, that is, the Kefaya opposition movement came along in 2006 and shot the first volley; their political message — no hereditary government — was proactive, not reactive, and challenged the Mubarak regime in a way it had not anticipated.
At the same time, bloggers began to highlight MOI abuse to a global audience. The former regime was again forced to react — and in the only way it knew how: increase the level of brutality and harassment.
When former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei returned to Egypt with a White Paper of sorts for the country to reform and democratize, his whole family was slandered and harassed. Using its vital organ of state-media, the regime rolled out a parade of experts and analysts who inferred that ElBaradei was a foreign agent.
The Jan. 25, 2011 uprising was another example of populist pro-activity, practically catching the regime with its pants down. It had no way of reacting except to commit murder and hope fear would put the populace back in line. It failed miserably.
But since the unseating of the government, the momentum gained by the populist uprising and up-and-coming activists was apparently handed over to the military. Rather than have the next step in the country’s political evolution emerge from Tahrir and the youth movement, it was the military that decided it would cede control within six months.
A few days later, the military set a date for a referendum on constitutional amendments. Since then, it has been the military which has called all the shots.
Emerging politicians and youth activists made SCAF’s job considerably easier by breaking off into splinter groups — not even parties, blocs or coalitions.
They missed a number of opportunities to establish the narrative, instead abdicating their responsibilities and obligations as political leaders to the military.
In January 2012, ElBaradei announced he was pulling out of the presidential race and in March he formed a political party. Great strategy, but a year too late. ElBaradei was reacting to what he perceived as SCAF intervention in civilian affairs. Imagine if his party had been formed a year earlier and stood in parliamentary and presidential elections. Egyptian history would have been altered.
Fast forward to June 2012. Three presidential candidates announced the formation of a presidential council, pooling their resources and supporters together. Brilliant, but the fact this proclamation came after their May 23/24 election defeat renders such an effort meaningless, which is what most reactive politics are.
Had some of the 13 candidates joined forces, formed a coalition, the picture today may have been different and Egyptians might have had an alternative
scenario than the conundrum of Islamist versus former regime they face today.
But perhaps the greatest flaw in Egypt’s political progress is the fact that a new constitution is to be drafted after parliamentary and presidential elections.
A constitution is the backbone of the state. It enshrines the rights of the citizenry, applies checks and balances so no entity — such as the president or the military — can monopolize power. It is the first and last line of defense against dictatorships of all kind.