Sunday, March 25, 2012

2020: Make it the Year Egyptians Take Egypt Back



During last year's Egyptian uprising, Omar Suleiman, VP for a week, said that Egyptians were not ready for democracy. Seculars and Islamists knew he was right but denying and using it to topple the Mubarak regime was the politically astute thing to do. The Seculars naively thought they will share the process of determining the future of Egypt with the Brotherhood, after all they are the ones that removed Mubarak and the Brotherhood only joined later. The Brotherhood went with the flow and at the right moment used the Islam card and coordinated with the army to marginalize the Seculars. The army as in the case for the past 30 years is only looking to retain and increase its privileges struck a deal with the Islamists.  The Brotherhood ended up controlling half of the parliament and plan to have a candidate run for president despite earlier promises to target only third of the parliament and to not run a candidate for president. 


Now, the process for drafting the new constitution is going through similar maneuvering. Originally, the parliament was supposed to supervise the establishment of the Constituent Assembly from non-parliamentarians, however the Brotherhood decided, while coordinating with the Salafis, to assign 40% of the Constituent Assembly members to the parliament. Later, and moments before voting, the percentage was increased to 50%. The other "non-parliamentarians" 50% is mostly dominated by pro-Islamists as Seculars withdrew from the process and it is rumored that the Salafis are keeping a veto power over members to be considered for inclusion. The Brotherhood, despite despising the Salafis, knew that the uber-Islamists would support them as long as Sharia implementation in Egypt is guaranteed and expedited. The result is a Constituent Assembly dominated by Islamists with a total of ten Christians and women out of the 100 members. This will put Egypt on the fast track to Sharia based governing while creating the pillars to ensure the Brotherhood stays in power. 

The Seculars keep talking about "another" revolution to remove the Islamists while just six months ago they talked about "another" revolution to remove the heads of the army. Both will not happen because unlike Mubarak the Islamist have "Islam on their side", the army has the weapons and the money while the Seculars have Facebook. More importantly, the people are tired from the constant state of demonstrating and the impact on their daily lives. 

Time to reflect on the past fourteen months, consolidate and develop a realistic vision with an implementable strategy aiming at having a more relevant and effective secular movement by 2020. The Seculars cannot change the political reality today however, history and other countries experience tell us that the more Islamists get power and stay in power they fight each other (Pakistan) and lose the people (Iran). Seculars need to be ready for that to happen and to be able to capitalize on the Islamists inevitable decline in popularity and losing their holier than thou "brand". 

The Seculars need to have the right message and tailored solutions to convince the public, rural and urban, they deserve to run the country regardless of the Islam card.  As for the struggle to reform the army and its generals, it will not be easy and there will be the temptation to strike deals with the army to beat the Islamists (same mess in Indonesia). 

The West is watching developments in Egypt with caution and trying not to get involved, at least directly and openly, as they don't want to be perceived as anti-Islamists or meddling in Egypt's internal matters (e.g., the NGOs fiasco). This is understandable, however if by 2020 the Seculars are a viable option and it becomes clear the tide is turning against the Islamists, the West will support the Seculars with full force, which could tip the scale. 

Saying that, to beat the Islamists, Seculars need a homegrown solution that sounds, looks and feels Egyptian. 

I know it is hard to be optimistic about Egypt's future given the recent developments. I also have trust in the simple, uneducated and not ready for democracy Egyptians that once given the choice between a better life and more beards in the parliament, will vote the beards back to the mosque.