By Ihsan Bal
The fire kindled in Tahrir Square two years ago created a general expectation that it would force the then masters of the regime out of office. Subsequent events confirmed this expectation. One by one, all of the leadership of the former regime left office, Hosni Mubarak included. Senior positions in the army were changed and finally the influence of the oligarchy in the judiciary was cut back. All these things were crammed into a brief period of time and notched up as successes for the revolution. But it was really what was going to happen after this, i.e. the referendum on the constitution, that was always going to redefine the nature of the regime and thus set out the institutional framework of the revolution but over the last two this vote week has caused matters to deteriorate seriously.
It is clear that the alliance of Tahrir Square has dissolved in the post-Mubarak period . More specifically, the liberal and leftist groups known as Egypt’s secularists do not trust the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafists trying to take over positions of power from the old masters of the regime. This distrust has gone so far that the secular elite is even ready to cooperate with undemocratic forces for the overthrow of the new leaders in power. Perhaps a new alliance has even been established inside this framework.
Because of their fears, the secularists are visibly not behaving rationally. A large proportion of the people filling up Tahrir Square today went there in 2011 to force out of office the very people whom they are trying to ally with today. That is the plain fact of the matter. It is obvious that making an deal with the remnants of the old regime will not offer Egypt a better opportunity for democracy than the people about whom they are complaining: Mursi and his associates.
The secularists enjoy better levels of education and higher incomes compared to the Islamists and their problem is not simply the fear that they have of the new masters of the Egyptian state. Their ability to reach out to the grassroots of society in cities, villages, and towns is weak. On top of that, they are rather selfish, indeed miserly, about paying up to organise along these lines. By contrast the Muslim Brotherhood whom they are challenging has a very wide network of organisations and in spite of their modest personal circumstances, its members are prepared to make practical sacrifices.
Egypt’s secularists believe that they would lose in an open contest and consequently they are seeking something “a bit better than bad” a ready-made short cut, reminiscent of the dichotomy between the mosque and the barracks which at one time existed in Turkey. We can also see that President Morsi, responsible for running the government, has not been able to come up with a formula that satisfies his opponents.
Nevertheless Mr Morsi did score a complete success in the Israel-Palestine crisis. By not making an issue over the existence of Israel, he succeeded in disposing of the anxieties among the Western Powers. The section of Egyptian society which now feels nervous should not deprive itself of the trust which President Morsi has inspired internationally. In politics it is the responsibility of those who wear the crown to administer, convince and ease fear and anxiety.
Within the Muslim Brotherhood there exists a tendency to accuse the secularists of cooperating with Western movements and the West and even of betraying the country. This reaches even more extreme proportions among the Salafis. This tension nourishes a feeling of mutual distrust in society–something which the Mursi administration should be trying to end. If this lack of trust cannot be overcome, then it looks as if work on presenting the new constitution to a referendum will grind to a halt. Yet it contains important innovations for democratizing the parliamentary system.
It is very doubtful whether the internal dynamics of Egypt by themselves are sufficient to accomplish this major change and overcome mutual disagreements. To achieve success in attempts to establish democracy, international support is needed alongside domestic dynamics. The support of the West in the democratisation process in Eastern Europe is undeniable and the contribution of the EU to the democratisation process in Turkey also cannot be overlooked.
Egypt’s fragile revolution and quest for democracy might be assisted by an infusion of experience from outside the country, one which would dispel the distrust the two sides feel for each other. Turkey has been making notable efforts towards this from the start of the Egyptian revolution but they are not enough. Positive action to convince the Egyptian secularists and disarm their anxieties, thus preventing domestic chaos and helping the new regime to be established on the foundation of a democratic constitution, is essential.
So, let us see. Will Egypt’s experience with democracy mean that the Tahrir Square coalition can be brought into being again and will it be able to save the country from a return to tutelary government?
Head of USAK Science Committee
*This article was first published in HaberTürk newspaper on 8 December 2012.