Egypt's Scorned Liberals
Protesters set fire to the HQ of Ahmed Shafiq, one of two candidates to advance to the second round of the presidential elections.
“It is after midnight and a few young Egyptians are still arriving - taking the familiar route across Qasr al-Nil bridge in the darkness.
They say the presidential election result gave them no choice.”
Correct. They are saying that the result of the free - questionably democratic - elections gave them no choice. Actually, it gave all Egyptians a choice, the protesters just don’t like what their fellow Egyptians have chosen.
“We aren’t at all satisfied with Ahmed Shafiq, who was the prime minister of Mubarak in our revolution. We’ll never accept such a guy,” said Mustafa Shawat. “The other candidate is the Muslim Brotherhood and we don’t agree at all to be in their hands. We want our freedom.”
In other words: “We want democracy. Freedom! But only if the candidates we want advance, and the ones we don’t want do not advance.”
This makes me worry even more than the revolutionaries still suffer from this mental blindness to the nature of the rest of the population. The same mistake happened in the capital-R Revolution of January 2011 that ousted Mubarak. Their calculation was that once the liberal and younger revolutionaries took to the street and demonstrated to all Egyptians that they would risk their lives for freedom and democracy, that they would win the hearts and minds of the majority, and therefore be (or at least have their ideas and ideals) favoured in the elections that would follow.
The bet was that this risk and sacrifice would be enough to attract significant sections of many millions whose desperation was patiently cultivated by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) over decades of semi-underground charity work and preaching during Mubarak’s reign. It was not enough. Very quickly, the revolutionaries lost favour with a population that immediately realized that gas and daily sustenance mattered (to them) a lot more than nitpicking about constitutions, candidates, election committees, and political sparring that wouldn’t put food on their table any time soon. They would much rather stay with the MB that has maintained a free hospital and charity work in their neighbourhood for years than go make demands they don’t understand with protesters who might get them arrested or shot at by their own army. They don’t want to hear what you will do to protect their freedom of expression, religious and political rights, legal rights, freedom of assembly, etc. They want to hear what you will do so that tomorrow, their children don’t go to bed with empty stomachs. Tomorrow! Not after the years it will take for the benefits of liberal and civil reform and free-market capitalism to take effect in a country that has never truly lived them and for the dust to settle. The MB can give them food, money, and hospitalization tonight. What can you do?
The result is that the MB rode the wave of the revolution, and reached the shore of legitimacy without losing much support to the liberal-minded freedom- and civil-rights-loving minority. Any liberal-minded candidates were quickly pushed to the side in parliamentary elections and all other influential arms of government, even the committee that will pen the new constitution. The MB had spent decades and millions of dollars preparing for the day when Mubarak would no longer be around, and liberals had, approximately, zero preparation. The MB hit the ground running with a full-fledged political party, organization, financing, and a huge grassroots support base, while the liberals and secularists had to create new groups and parties no one had ever heard of before, and then start coming up with platforms.
Now, the liberals and revolutionaries are faced with a population that has rewarded their sacrifice by advancing a hardline Islamist and a Mubarak-era politician to the second round. They will either end up with an Islamist majority (in all branches of government!) that hates everything the secularist liberals stand for and will legislate away more civil liberties than Mubarak ever curtailed, or an Islamist parliament with an NDP president, which would suck marginally less.
I feel for them. They feel angry, and betrayed. But they miscalculated. They precipitated a revolution that suddenly propelled a population that hasn’t voted in any meaningful way in many decades into a democratic system designed to mirror systems of Western nations that have cemented constitutions and bills of rights, protecting civil liberties against the tyranny of the masses for decades and centuries. I mean no insult when I say this: the majority of the Egyptian population was and is not ready for democracy. They have no idea how to deal with this accelerated shift from not having to worry or think about politics (because what did it matter the election is rigged anyway), to facing 10s of candidates for one seat in parliament. They are electing a president whose constitutional powers have not even been decided yet. High levels of illiteracy (literal, educational, and political), combined with rampant and deepening religious fervour mean that thousands know nothing about politics, political parties, or platforms and policies, and turn to the only person they can and have always trusted: their local preacher/Imam/religious-person.
I don’t know how this will end, not even for the short-term. I was wondering if the pro-democracy groups would respect the result of the presidential election which, to me at least, was certainly going to the MB candidate. It turns out, they are on edge about respecting the results of the first round.