Friday, March 30, 2012

Egypt: The "what if" Scenario!

Seculars in Egypt feel a sense of loss for something they never had.  They were giddy with hope and the future was bright with the promise of a better Egypt. They never thought it would be easy but didn't realize it would go so wrong. Looking back at the past 15 months, with a clear mind and a degree of objectivity, it is strikingly clear that the chances of having real or semi-democracy in Egypt were almost impossible and we engaged knowingly in self-deception. 

The ugly realities were staring us in the face but we preferred to look the other way and continue to dream. The army was and will always be fighting to keep its privileges whether their economic empire, foreign aid, lack of oversight or independence from the parliament. The fact that the army threw the seculars under the bus should have been expected; the Islamists after years of living underground and being tortured by the previous regime are power hungry and driven by an old dream of creating a nation of Islam that goes beyond Egypt; the seculars were always a marginal fringe group, fragmented and weak. Indeed the Mubarak regime targeted them to ensure he and his cronies remain the only viable alternative to the Islamists in the eyes of the West. The country as a whole is overly conservative, mostly uneducated, lacks any basics of democratic tradition and suffers from suffocating poverty that makes it easy to sell and buy votes in elections. 

The seculars while dreaming of what will never be, forgot how the revolution and the Islamists' power grab would mean to women, Christians and other minorities. Women are facing an erosion of their rights, like it or not, granted to them by Mubarak and his wife. Women representation in the parliament is down from 12% to 2% and only 4 women are members of the 100-member constituent assembly tasked with drafting the new constitution. Christians are rightly worried as they watch Islamists decide their fate while the memory of the army tanks crushing their sons is still fresh. More worrisome is the new reality of a limited leverage by the West on Egyptian leaders. The whole situation is too complicated and unclear for Christians to maneuver as a result they are in a limbo state of wait-and-see. Other minorities were never an "agenda item" but merely a footnote in meetings with officials from the West, now they are not even mentioned. 

As the drafting of the new constitution spirals out of control and many Egyptians are starting to realize that the Islamists have many things in common with Mubarak's National Democratic Party  (NDP).  Both lack transparency, experts in petty political games, power grabbers, intolerant of opposition, prefer weak media and marginalized civil society. The seculars need to frame the conversation differently and remind the Egyptians of this simple question, "What would the Islamists do if they had the power to do anything they wanted with no strong army generals or effective opposition to deal with?" As the Islamists already control the parliament and the constituent assembly and want to control the government and presidency, the question is not farfetched. The seculars need to start sharing with the public the huge ramifications on Egypt's economy and way of life if the Islamists continue to consolidate power and weaken the opposition in their quest to become the Islamic NDP.