By Anvi Mahagaokar
In December 2010, many people around the world welcomed the conception of the Arab Spring with joy and hope that democracy might finally reign in the Middle East. However, after three years, unfortunately, the situation is no better than it was before the revolution. Being one of the first (and certainly the most dramatic) of the “Arab Springlets”, Egypt has since devolved into a state of chaos. Egypt had the portents of being the most successful country because it had the largest population of the affected countries and that it was hitherto stable, pro-western, and secular. The prognosis for the Egyptian’s democracy and its implementation across the Middle East does appear grim – the military has exerted excessive power, there is a systemic lack of national identity and many advocates for democracy are wary of joining the political spectrum – the old adage of politics being the last resort of scoundrels is keeping the real leadership from emerging. Additionally Eygpt is an agrarian economy which is highly subsidized – education is cheap and jobs are scarce and with burgeoning youth population it is naturally creating an unsteady state. It is therefore imperative to reevaluate whether or not democracy is a viable goal for the Egyptian people at this point in the ‘revolution’.
Let’s examine the genesis of this issue – Egypt was a dictatorship prior to the revolution, and it had given the military significant power; in fact, the military wasn’t controlled by any one branch, but operated as a sovereign branch, independent from the Executive, Legislative, and Judicial branches. However, even after Morsi was elected, in the aftermath of the revolution and the subsequent transition of power from the military to civilian government, no constitutional amendments were made to diminish that power. As a result, when the rebellions resurfaced, it was easy for the military to seize power once again and come full circle. Currently, the power of the military is supreme and will not be amended because the military will not allow it. In the absence of constitutional amendments to rectify the absurd amount of power that the military possesses, the vicious cycle of military coup d’états will continue and Egypt’s democratic dream may prove to be a pipe dream.
More pressingly, however, is the issue that Egypt sorely lacks a national identity. One of the most important parts of a revolution (surprisingly) is a clear goal and plan of action of what happens after the leadership is overthrown. Revolutionaries cannot, however, create a cohesive post-revolutionary plan without a clear vision of their political and economic ideals. When the Framers first sat down to write the Articles of Confederation and subsequently the Constitution, they all had similar values upon which they wished to build their country. The Egyptians, however lack this unity of thought. There are a multitude of different political ideologies and in fact, the aftermath of the revolution saw the creation of a plethora of parties – several of which clashed in most aspects. Additionally, the driving force behind the initial revolution was the Egyptian youth, and while they may have been extremely disillusioned with General and President Hosni Mubarak, they are still unsure about what to expect from their government. The fringe religious parties saw democracy and secularism as a threat and yet others saw change from Mubarak regime as detrimental to the future. If Egypt is to be a democratic state, democracy must be an ideal to the entire population, not just by a part of it.
Finally, the most prevalent hurdle that is keeping democracy at bay in Egypt is the lack of willing and able leadership. After Morsi was overthrown, his party, the Muslim Brotherhood, and all those involved, were and still are systematically hunted down by the government for treasonous crimes. The atmosphere of fear elsewhere in the world and in history created and in fact legitimized revolutionary leadership, however in Eygpt’s case the lack of uniform revolutionary party and its leadership is completely missing. Those who the general populace once thought would unreservedly enter the world of politics for the betterment of their country now shy away due to the lack of personal security and fear of harassment. After all, if the government can persecute an 80-year-old party that was integral to the functioning of the country, what would they do to a couple of revolutionaries? Due to the government’s harsh and persecutory actions, politicians who advocate for the implementation of democracy are becoming gun shy. Games, political or otherwise, cannot be played without players. The absence of willing politicians will actually serve to be a downfall in Egypt’s democratic progress. Perhaps the new Egypt does not need seasoned political campaigners, perhaps what is necessary is the idealism that only the youth can galvanize and aspire for. The youth that formed the movement in early 2011 around Tahrir Square needs to use the Square once again, only this time to raise from amongst its rank a fearless principled leader who will lead Egypt from its depths of despair towards the light that is democracy.
Egypt is a country that is perilously balanced on the blade of a political knife – it can either easily go deeper into another forty years of military rule, or it could take the tougher road towards democratization. Regardless, without the emergence of a principled leadership that creates a common purpose, which will bond the entire country towards betterment and self-reliant economic growth, there is no viable way to institutionalize democracy in Egypt that will live longer than the all the kingdoms of glorious ancient Egypt.