How Do You Solve a Problem Called Egypt?
The people of Egypt have been calling for the resignation of Mubarak for the past month, but what has been missing is what replaces Mubarak’s regime. It is this journey to the unknown that has left some politicians scratching their heads. This is more so with the Western world. It is an open secret that many people can’t wait to see the back of Mubarak, and for some people, it is simply because he has been in absolute power for so long. As we know, absolute power corrupts absolutely. In circumstances like these, the moral duty to be expected in different ages is not a unity of standard, or of acts, but a unity of tendency. At one time, the benevolent affections embrace the family, soon the circle expanding includes first a class, and then a nation, then a coalition of nations, then all humanity and finally, its influence is felt in the dealings of man with the animal world. It is those dealings with the animal world that differentiate the two. What Egypt would need post Mubarak is a Coalition of the willing.
As coalitions go, it is a very trying exercise as people come together from different backgrounds with different ideologies, beliefs, philosophies etc, to forge as one. In most cases, it is like trying to fit square pegs in round holes. It is not comfortable; for if you are in a coalition and you’re comfortable, you know it’s not a broad enough coalition. So as the people of Egypt try to forge ahead with a post Mubarak era, the stake holders should be aware of such painful decisions and sacrifices that will need to be made. The common denominator here should be for the good of the country. With Egypt being one of the most populous countries in the world, it goes without saying that the task of satisfying every facet of its expectations will be enormous, if not nigh impossible.
Ancient Egyptian government was heavily centralised, dominated by a single man, the Pharaoh. The successor of the Pharaoh was usually his eldest son, who was usually appointed co-regent during his father’s rule. Remind you of anyone? Prominent stake holders include Muslim Brotherhood, Tagammu Party, National Democratic Party, Egypt 2000 Party, New Wafd Party, Solidarity Party, etc; all bandied into liberal, left and right wing persuasions. What has always kept Mubarak in power for the last 30 years has been his knack to divide and conquer these opposition parties. They have spent the last generation opposing one another instead of Mubarak. He is at it again. There has never been a single and strong opposition to him. The Muslim Brotherhood, which draws its support from the loins of religious allegiances, has gained a lot of front page news and political columns since the uprising. It is its religious persuasion that has brought all the sceptics from the woodwork.
Despite its perceived religious configuration, to continue to marginalise them will be at Egypt’s peril. They have a broader support base but unlike similar groups like Hamas in Palestine, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) can be used to demonstrate a new wave of democratic process in the Middle East. When the West, as custodians of democracy, facilitated democratic elections in Palestine in 2006, Hamas won. Israel and the international community stated that they will not co-operate with a Hamas led-Palestinian Authority unless it renounces violence. Fair do, but where did that get us? That was one of the single most important opportunities for peace in the region that was missed, just because of such a stand. Hamas had won the election because its stance to Israel appeals to the downtrodden in Palestine. To all intents and purposes, revoking violence would have been possible had it been taken with a stick and carrot approach. What the International community should have done was to give the hand of open invitation for Hamas to join a violence- free community. As if to say, “Now that you have taken the democratic road, instead of the one to perdition, you are welcome on board”. Hamas should have been given time to evolve into a fully fledged democratic party.
The recent “Palestinian Papers” leaked by Wiki leaks (pardon the pun) show that an agreement will require both sides to ease their grips on long-held taboos and come to compromise that meets the national interests of both countries. From the Palestinian side, they would be forgiven to think that their leaders’ concessions and willingness to accept creative compromises was a betrayal. But that is what you do for the common good. Now you know why Peace Talks don’t make prime time television; for what is said behind closed doors; though well meaning, can be different from the fodder that is dished out for political consumption. You can also be forgiven to think that such thoughts are utopian, but it worked with The IRA in Northern Ireland.
Successive British governments fought for over 35 years to keep the IRA at bay. Fronted by Sein Fenn as its political wing, Britain had to deal with them for a democratic solution that 35 years of war had failed to bring. The pre-condition that they should lay down their weapons before talks could begin did not hold. In the end, negotiations gave birth to the Stormont Peace talks. Although there are remnants of resistance in the name of The Real IRA (name says it all), Northern Ireland is relatively peaceful because both parties were desperate for peace and ready to sanitise their pre-conditions; for the common good. For a terrorist or rebel organisation to succeed, it needs the oxygen from its own community. The IRA lost that support from its battle weary community when both parties bent over backwards on their demands; to achieve peace. If that same approach was taken, even for the short term in 2006, Hamas would have been marginalised and exposed to its people. The people would have seen through the organisation; that it had rejected the one opportunity to bring peace and better life to them. Splinter groups may have become The Real Hamas, but in its place, some semblance of peace for its people.
It would be naive to assume that the fears attributed to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt are unfounded. Given the current global political reading, the name alone is enough to invoke scepticism and less of the Hosanna. Nevertheless, if peace is to have a chance, they should be embedded on the road to change, rather than ostracised as perceived threats. Some groups resort to violence because they find themselves voiceless, ignored etc. There is no room for violence of any shape, form or for any reason. This is a new dawn for Egypt and for Middle Eastern politics. What comes out of these negotiations will go a long way in shaping international relations and foreign policies of many countries.
However, calling for an election now will be too naive. Calling for elections now will be based on emotions, and will not right the wrongs of a generation overnight. After 30 years of one-man rule, what Egypt needs is to go into rehab for political detoxification. Following this, and post rehab, some constitutional tweaks and horse trading will provide the best medication to deal with the Mubarak withdrawal symptoms. A political transfusion will be handy, and a rainbow transitional government will not go amiss. But as most of us know, “politics can be seen as the art of looking for trouble, diagnose it incorrectly, and applying the wrong remedies” Some will say that it is “the strive for interests, masquerading as a contest of principles. Sadly for Mubarak, it took him 30 years to know that in politics, there are no permanent friends, just permanent interests.
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