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Let Democracy Work In Egypt – OpEd


By Joseph Mayton

Much talk and action have taken place in Egypt in the past few weeks, with activists demanding removal of the military council and the subsequent violent reprisals by the military against demonstrators. People have died as a result. But do they have to? Do Egyptians need to continue to protest at this moment in what could be an optimistic period of change and transition to democracy? I’m not so certain.

Yes, the activists are right, the military rulers must leave Egypt for the politicians, the civilian leaders. If they don’t, they face another uprising, one that may have more violence, more bloodshed than the Jan. 25 uprising had. The military’s removal from public, and political life, must be unequivocal and immediate. The protesters are right on that front.

However, looking back at the past eight months of protests, often violently attacked by “thugs” or police or the military, I have, as an observer, questioned the tactics. Certainly the July sit-in in Tahrir Square was able to push the military into setting deadlines. Point one for the activist community, who realized, albeit too late, that leaving the iconic square on Feb. 13 was the wrong move.

But in November, and again in late April and early May, taking to the streets in angry protests against the military council may have been the wrong move. Fighting against the military, and the popularly elected government is not going to win over hearts and minds in the country, and with an election in less than two weeks now, it seems those hearts and minds are what are needed, especially among the liberals and the left.

Last fall I spoke with Ed Hussein, a professor in the United States who has a keen interest in the Middle East. He said that while the activists have legitimate grievances and protesting is not necessarily a negative idea, “the fact remains that the referendum was popularly accepted and voted by the people.” The same could be said about the current state of governance in Egypt.

The conservative Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, and the ultra-conservative Salafist Al-Nour Party, won parliamentary elections fair and square. They knew how to play politics. They got their supporters to the polling stations and those same people cast ballots in favor of the conservatives. Such is democracy.

What the left and liberal activists could be doing to enhance their presidential hopes is knocking on doors, delivering messages to average Egyptians on the candidate they believe is best suited for Egypt’s future. Getting out the voters should be the modus operandi at the moment, instead of lamenting lost chances and attacking a military that remains, shockingly, quite popular.

The frustration from the activists is understandable, but this is a democratic reality. In 2000, and again in 2004, when the Republican Party and George W. Bush won their elections, it was sad, annoying and frustrating. But we had to live with the result. Egypt’s activists have to learn to accept defeat, learn from their mistakes — not campaigning, not talking with people and not getting out the vote — and push on to the next election.

That next election is here and now. One example of how to win over more supporters is to look at how US President Barack Obama won the 2008 election. He did not call on his supporters to take to the streets in angry demonstrations, however much many Americans probably wanted to, instead he went directly to the people. He spoke to them and his campaign staff picked up the phone, walked door-to-door and explained who Barack Obama was and why his message of “Hope” was for all Americans.

The activists, online and on the street, have the energy and the ability to galvanize the population as they did on Jan. 25. But they should be cognizant of the peoples’ beliefs and views, regardless if they are perceived as wrong. Using the Obama campaign style of knocking on doors and delivering the message of hope to the people, face-to-face, Egyptian activists can once again lead the country in a new direction, one that regains the optimism all Egyptians had when Hosni Mubarak left office.

There is still time. Instead of protesting, talk to people. The result could be more powerful than a demonstration.

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Arab News

Arab News is Saudi Arabia's first English-language newspaper. It was founded in 1975 by Hisham and Mohammed Ali Hafiz. Today, it is one of 29 publications produced by Saudi Research & Publishing Company (SRPC), a subsidiary of Saudi Research & Marketing Group (SRMG).

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