SPEAKING FREELY Egypt between the hammer and the anvil
By Muhamed Arabi
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say. Please click hereif you are interested in contributing.
CAIRO - Egypt's presidential elections this week came amid a downbeat and tense atmosphere in the country. There are only two candidates - the recently resigned Field Marshall Abdul-Fattah Al-Sisi, Egypt's strongman who orchestrated the July 3,
2013, overthrow of president Mohamed Morsi, and Hamdeen Sabbahi, a left-winger who holds Nasserite views of nationalism.
For many pundits who monitor Egypt's situation, Sisi's victory is a foregone conclusion and the vote will be merely a farce. A closer look at both of the candidates' politics and programs reveals who has the highest chance of winning and who will shape Egypt's future.
Since the day he rose into the political arena, there has been an all-out propagandist campaign for the purpose of lionizing Sisi in the sight of the masses. State-run media glorifies him with many names: the savior who rescued them from falling into the pit of extremism, the tamer of terrorism and the national hero of the hour.
As for his general politics, Sisi stresses the dire need to enter economic austerity programs to salvage the country from bankruptcy.
He justifies his austere politics saying: "The internal struggle against terrorism depleted our resources and national treasury." Under this announced pretext of a "war on terror", Sisi hopes to appease the furious masses who are clamoring for better living standards and solicit the external support and recognition of the international community.
Sisi has managed to get all the logistical, financial and political support he needs from non-state actors such as the European Union and United Nations, as well as the main players of the region, most importantly Israel and its Gulf allies. He paved the way for future diplomatic relations with Russia by paying a visit to Moscow last February. He is also keeping in a constant contact with US leaders. All his attempts came to fruition in this regard.
In a series of speeches last week, Sisi addressed the people, especially the youth, asking them to expect not to take anymore, and start giving back to their homeland in which they were raised and lived for years.
In a recent TV interview, Sisi asked described almost all kinds of remonstrance as a plague. Yet when asked about the reason why he ousted Morsi, he answered, "It was because of the millions of protestors who took to streets renouncing Morsi's polity ... I felt duty-bound to side with them."
It seems Sisi, like his predecessors, lacks the political finesse and vision to weather the perplexing issues the nation is staggering under. There won't be an end to the people's struggle if a new pharaoh ascends Egypt's throne to rule it with an iron fist once again.
On the other hand stands the leftist candidate, Sabbahi, whose presidential program isn't distinct from his rival. His program revolves around demagoguery and rhetoric that appeals to the masses. His only clear plank is the intention to politically cleanse the Muslim Brotherhood (MB): "MB as a holistic group, organization or party has no place in Egypt's political future under my term," stated Sabbahi.
Sabbahi's nostalgic call for the heyday of Nasser's era seems unrealistic and problematic. Firstly, it is unrealistic in terms of timing since Nasserite figures are generally deemed as an elitist clique isolated from the ordinary citizenry.
People are in dire need of a leader who is aware of the people's social and economic concerns. Sabbahi's call is problematic because it is at odds with prominent rising youth movements calling for a civilian polity neither backed by nor affiliated to the military institutions. There is the Keyfayah Movement, the April 6 movement, and other Islamist and liberal fronts showing political dynamism in the street.
A lack of enthusiasm on the part of voters suggests a bleak future for Egypt. Although the military-backed media is spearheading wide-ranging electioneering programs in favor of Sisi nationwide, it has failed to build the desirable rapport with many sections of society.
Amid despair and disillusionment, people know their voices don't matter. Hence they disenfranchise themselves from the very right to vote. This clearly manifested itself in the recent constitutional referendum that was approved by 98.1% of the electorate, with a considerably small turnout, the vast majority of whom were apolitical.
It unfortunately seems that Egypt has to choose between two wrong candidates. Sisi representing the long-standing military institution that won't provide for the country any better than it had done before (in 60 years of military rule). Or Sabbahi, representing the outdated ideology which was consolidated by a military nationalist Nasser in the 1950s. Sabbahi is basically calling for a military state covered by a civilian attire.
Under the leadership of either candidate, Egypt will be reinventing its wheel. In other words, Sisi will be recycling the old elitist regime with its infamous coercive and scarecrow measures to subdue opposition. Sabbahi will be imposing the ossification of the nationalist cause he ardently supports on other factions of the society. Neither of the two approaches will be helpful in Egypt's pursuit of democracy nor in decentralization of power away from the top brass. Rather, Egypt will surely fall into the clutches of political stagnation and long-term militarization.
What Egypt has to do in order to avoid such a potential trap is to resort to start a sincere reconciliation among all the conflicting parties. It is by far the best solution that lies in the hands of Egypt's policymakers to find their way out of this political impasse.
Reconciliation needs compromise, but also the establishment of a common ground for ensuing positive results such as, an Egypt devoid of marginalization of every stripe, a government inclusive of all, and responsive to its public will, with a good measure. Reconciliation will just be the stepping stone to steering Egypt towards a viable democratic path, and to reach the political symbiosis which is always possible in such situations.
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Mohamed Arabi is a Cairo-based political writer, commentator and blogger