Egypt is at a crossroads. It is stuck between the elite on one side, who have pushed the country backward with the support of the military-security establishment that exercises hegemony over the state and society. On the other side is the Muslim Brotherhood, which, during its 2011-2013 rule, did not seek a democratic transition but instead worked to supplant the political elite of former President Hosni Mubarak. The Brotherhood sought to become the most powerful faction within the country’s alliances of power, wealth, and influence that had always seen the participation of the military institutions, security apparatuses, and financial and economic elite. But there are also voices and groups who reject the leadership of both the military-security establishment and the religious right, and seek instead to create a democratic and just society that guarantees and protects the honor, rights and freedoms of its citizens.
The upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, and all other political engagements set to take place over the coming period, will reflect this crossroads. These events will present difficult challenges for those who call for democracy, which will include the violation of people’s rights and freedoms, opposition to the military-security establishment’s hegemony over the state, and continued criticism of authoritarianism and the ideas and practices of the religious right. This period will require the drafting of a positive agenda for public work and national development that will foster rapprochement between citizens within their environment, which is in turn affected by the status of general rights and freedoms, and the social, economic and security circumstances facing the country.
Campaigns are expected to sugarcoat the military-security establishment’s hegemony, by bringing back romantic notions of the “capable institution” and the “savior-hero” from the 1950s and 1960s. Violations committed against rights and freedoms and the rule of law will be downplayed and attributed to cases of individuals overstepping their bounds. Such acts will be justified by the war on terrorism and the need to confront violence, and will be met with popular approval as long as both continue to occur. False accusations will be launched against those calling for democracy, labeling them adversaries of the state and foreign agents who seek to fragment the country and society.
The goals of defending democracy, drafting a positive agenda for public work, and repudiating false accusations against those calling for democracy, requires that society adopt a clear set of principles. Such principles must rely on the peaceful nature of public and political work, call for a renunciation of violence and terrorism, and resist the coercive debasement of politics in presidential and parliamentary elections, and in attempts made by the elite to secure power. They must insist that rights, freedoms and national development be given priority along with social and economic matters and security issues. And they must not shrink from confronting the military-security establishment’s hegemony and the religious right’s authority. And they must resist the desire to resign from public work and engage in isolationism or seek refuge abroad.
We must prepare ourselves to not allow desperation to seep into our souls, and to accept the fact that the upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections will not alter the country’s political or societal landscape by much. Instead, they will reinforce the hegemony of the military-security establishment, along with the economic and financial elite and those technocrats allied with them. The building of a general movement for democracy is a long process, which requires deep organizational and intellectual cooperation with grassroots elements within society, the effects of which will not be felt for many years. In countries with similar circumstances to Egypt that were successful in building such a movement, this process has taken between one and two decades. But this does not mean that we should ignore the need to immediately stand up against violations of rights and freedoms, or stand in solidarity with their victims and seek reparations. Instead we should realize that the transition from our current reality to a future without civil and human rights violations will take a long time. The key ingredient for this process is a serious effort toward building a public coalition for rights, freedom, and national development.
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.