On the Price Egypt Paid, Unacceptable Arrogance, and Major Challenges to Come

There is a price to be paid for the absence of democracy and for the way that security practices have dominated the system of rule in Egypt, utterly corrupting political life and subjugating it to the social and party elite such that one must either support these power arrangements, along with their decisions and actions, or face oppression, defamation, and being labeled a traitor.  This price was paid by the segments of the population which boycotted the presidential elections.  Indeed, the real meaning behind the elections – the freedom of citizens to choose while believing in the importance of their participation through voting – was squandered once seriousness, competition, and diversity of opinions had disappeared, the way was paved for the candidacy of the former defense minister, and the outcome was known prior to the election itself.

There is a price to be paid for the repressive constitutional provisions and laws passed by the authorities with the aim of removing citizens with free opinions from the public sphere and returning Egypt to the state it was in prior to the revolution of January 2011.  There is also a price to be paid for the authorities’ involvement in widespread violations to rights and freedoms and for the repression, harassment, and defamation of those who oppose them.  The price was paid by Egyptians who refused to participate in the presidential election, which was held under conditions completely determined by the security practices of the state and which appeared unrelated to a genuine democratic transition.

There is a price to be paid for the authorities’ propagation of an artificial tradeoff between “bread, security, and stability, or justice, rights, and freedoms.” For undermining the rule of law and guarantees for rights, freedoms, and human dignity. For arresting and imprisoning citizens who committed no offense except expressing their opinions and demonstrating peacefully when the authorities wanted to criminalize demonstrations.  The price was paid by the many who refrained from going to the polls, which appeared empty despite extending voting for an additional third day.  The polls remained empty because it was not expected that this election would put an end to ongoing violations of rights and freedoms, collective punishment, political exclusion, and other injustices which have spread throughout the country.

There is a price to be paid for the arrogance with which the authorities disregard the need to put an end to the severe polarization plaguing Egypt and ignore the inevitability of opening up political life (once restored from its current state) and the administration of public affairs to participation by all individuals and groups which have not been involved in terrorism, violence, or anti-democratic activities.  There is also a price to be paid for the authorities’ reliance solely on security solutions and political exclusion while disregarding the requirements of justice, the law, and humanity.  After the positive link between the election’s expected outcome and the goal of overcoming polarization, exclusion, and security solutions was broken, the price was paid by various segments of the Egyptian population through their abandonment of the electoral process or through the invalidation of their votes or their decision to vote for candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, who at least promised a different approach.

There is a price to be paid for the alliance between the authorities and the economic elite, who to this day have not shown that they desire anything except to maintain the marriage between power and wealth and to reestablish their support for the coming autocrat in return for protection of their interests and guarantees for payoffs.  They have not desisted from discrediting popular demands for democracy and social justice as well as discussions held by some regarding the need for sustainable, independent, and environmentally safe development.  They do not seek to modernize or develop their private institutions through transparency, impartiality, and anti-corruption initiatives, nor do they seek to contribute to the modernization and development of public and administrative institutions.  The price for this was paid by the citizens who invalidated their votes or voted for the other candidate, as well as by those who decided not to engage in an electoral process controlled by the money of these elite and heavily influenced by their promotion of the previous defense minister, including through the media outlets that they own.

There is a price to be paid for the authorities’ reliance on presenters and journalists who have lost all credibility and on those who dominate the audiovisual and written media, using extremely violent rhetoric and claiming a false “right” to monopolize the public discourse in the name of “national interest” to impose a single, exclusive narrative. This narrative presents one “saving hero” in order to undermine the demands for democracy, social justice, and rights and freedoms that have been made by the Egyptian people since the January 2011 revolution; to distort the political awareness of Egyptians and to curb the freedom of opinion and expression, particularly about ways to manage differences peacefully through emphasizing the value of diversity; to overlook human rights violations; and to slander opposition members and those who do not toe the line, defaming them, destroying their reputations, and labeling them as traitors under false claims that they are guilty of espionage, implementing foreign agendas, or belonging to “dormant cells of the Muslim Brotherhood.”  The price for this was paid by the many citizens who were reluctant to participate in the presidential elections, as it was clear to them that those behind this single narrative sought to draw them in as a single, unthinking mass in blind support of the “saving hero.”  When the rates at which the elections were being avoided or boycotted were registered, the narrative switched course and began to call on Egyptians to: “Participate!  Vote for the saving hero or his opponent, or even invalidate your votes – just please participate!”  And when the boycott continued, the single narrative turned on those who refused to vote, collectively labeling them as traitors and accusing them of conspiring against the nation.  These antics in the media appeared hysterical and even comical and resulted in nothing but a total loss of credibility and a failure to rally the people.

There is a price to be paid for the way in which intellectuals, writers, strategists, politicians, and economists defended the candidacy of the former defense minister, describing him as the “candidate of necessity,” the “state’s candidate,” and the “national salvation candidate.”  This effectively stripped Egyptian citizens of their freedom to choose and undermined the real meaning for participating in the elections – comparing and choosing between acceptable alternatives.  Those who thus defended the former defense minister will never be able to absolve themselves of the authoritarian ramifications of the myths that they spread, which reduced Egypt – the Egyptian nation, state, and society – to one individual.  The price for this was paid by the Egyptians who refused to participate during the three days of the elections, as they were completely convinced that “necessity” already has its gods, its heroes, its leaders and its proponents – and its votes – and with all this, “necessity” is surely not in need of the votes of ordinary people.

There is a price to be paid for the insistent refusal of the former defense minister to speak about issues of democracy, human rights, and freedoms at all outside the framework of the authoritarian tradeoff which says that “bread, security, and stability are more important” or through the familiar approach of postponing such issues (“we need several years to build democracy”). The former defense minister refrained from proposing any electoral program or specific plan of action, after the single narrative presented in public discourse spread the idea that “the hero does not need a political program” and the proponents of the myths about the “candidate of necessity” claimed that “necessity is itself the program.” The price for this has been paid by Egyptian youth through their disinterest in the presidential elections, as they did not find any clearly defined ideas – whether in the context of the elections or on its margins – about how to overcome the crises currently facing Egypt.

There is a price to be paid for the way in which the authorities, in order to rally the support of the people for the former defense minister, have relied on parties and political movements, both old and new, which deceptively raise the banner of democracy, liberalism, and a civilian state even as their real objectives are far removed from these values.  Indeed, these parties and movements even overlook basic human values when justifying violations to rights and freedoms, political exclusion, and the fascism of collective punishment.  There is similarly a price to be paid for the authorities’ reliance on reactionary parties and political movements which employ religion in the service of the ruling system in return for protection, payoffs, and electoral gains during elections.  The high-handed opportunism and double standards of these parties and movements have lost them the confidence of the people and made Egyptians averse to their discourse.  There is a price to be paid also for the support sought by the authorities from those who are not ashamed to involve the official religious institutions, religious spaces, and religious symbols in influencing the people’s electoral choices and in associating those who boycotted the elections with “sin and immorality and debauchery.”  The price for this was empty polls, which did not succeed in drawing the people despite the official holiday announced on the second day of the elections, the closing of shops, the threat made by the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) to fine those who did not vote, and the decision to extend the elections period for a third day (it is certain that this threat and the extension of the elections period were not undertaken by the PEC on its own initiative).  The price for this was also seen in the invalidation of votes or voting for Sabbahi.

All of these “prices to be paid” were borne by Egyptian men and women who either invalidated their votes or voted for Sabbahi, the candidate opposing the former defense minister, or who boycotted the presidential elections and forced the ruling system to resort to untenable procedures and pushed the economic, financial, and media elite allied with this system to produce a hysterical narrative.  In exactly the same manner, other sectors of the Egyptian populace bore the “price” of the failure of proponents of democracy over the past three years to convince public opinion that it is possible to build democracy, ensure rights and freedoms, and establish rule of law and at the same time provide bread, security, and stability and counter terrorism and violence.  These Egyptians were made to pay this price by voting for the former defense minister and accepting the myths of the “candidate of necessity,” the “national salvation candidate,” and the “saving hero.”

All of these “prices to be paid,” which have been borne by the Egyptians who boycotted the elections, invalidated their votes, or voted for Sabbahi, represent real challenges to the ruling system and to the candidate who is expected to become president.  These challenges cannot be confronted successfully through further injustices, oppression, exclusion, collective punishment, violations to rights and freedoms, repressive security practices, or hysteria whipped up in the media to slander the opposition and label them as traitors (will you defame millions of Egyptians and label them all traitors?).  Rather, such challenges can only be addressed through a real return to a democratic transition, the rule of law, and transitional justice and an immediate departure from the disaster of presenting only a single narrative in public discourse in order to produce a pharaoh.

All of the other “prices to be paid,” which were borne by the segments of the Egyptian population which participated in the elections by voting for the former defense minister, represent major challenges to the individuals and groups which defend democracy.  These challenges require that proponents of democracy not adopt a condescending attitude toward these segments of the populace.  Instead, they must seriously address demands for bread, security, and stability, respond to concerns for the cohesion of the state, and recognize the serious repercussions that waiting for economic and social improvements has on the living conditions of the people and, thus, on their political choices.  These challenges also require that proponents of democracy combine the agenda of rights and freedoms with an agenda of sustainable development to address the daily concerns of citizens.  It would be a grave error for the individuals and groups who defend democracy to become implicated in a discourse of condescension towards the Egyptians who voted for the former defense minister.  Instead, they must respect the will of these Egyptians and acknowledge the motives behind their votes.  Proponents of democracy must gradually approach these Egyptians in order to convince them to reject injustice, oppression, and exclusion and then to convince them again (or for the first time) of the truth that individual rule will only lead us into an abyss, whereas democracy can be compatible with the goals of bread, security, and stability.  Proponents of democracy must convince Egyptians that Egypt does not need “saving heroes.” Instead, Egypt needs functioning public and private institutions, transfer of power, rule of law, and broad public participation to overcome the crises it currently faces.

Amr Hamzawy joined the Department of Public Policy and Administration at the American University in Cairo in 2011, where he continues to serve today. He is a former member of parliament, former member of the National Salvation Front, and founder of the Freedom Egypt Party. 

This article originally appeared in Shorouk 

Image: Photo: Ahmed Abd El-Fatah (Flickr)