Sunday, 1 January 2012

No mood for compromise

Rami Bathish asked: “Do you get the impression that a pluralistic society will stand a chance in the new Egypt? Mine is not a rhetorical question, I am actually wondering if this will happen or not, and I am not concerned with Copts and Muslims. I mean: do you think that there will be a pluralistic political structure, or will it be dominated by one party/ideology (as the old regime managed to sustain)?”

I do not have yet an answer to this question. But here are some observations, from the last two days only, that might give a clue.

- The liberals are sour as a result of the overwhelming success of Islamists in the first two phases of the elections. Some have accused the majority of Egyptians of being backward and ignorant for giving their votes to the Islamists. A few have suggested that Egypt is not yet ready for democracy, and that some of the population should not be allowed to vote.

- This Friday, an obscure coalition called for a demonstration in Tahrir square to signal the end of hostility between the revolutionaries, who have been demonstrating in Tahrir against the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and those who have been demonstrating recently in another part of town, Abbasiya square, in support of SCAF. Only a handful of people showed up, much to the embarrassment of those who issued the call. Major revolutionary groups, such as the 6th of April movement and the Union of Revolutionary Youth, boycotted the demonstration, announcing that there could be no compromise with the counter-revolution, and that those who issued the call represent no one but themselves.

- Pope Shenouda III, Patriarch of the Coptic Orthodox Church, invited representatives of all political forces to attend the Church’s Christmas celebration next week. A significant number of his followers objected and announced that they will perform a sit-in at the Coptic Cathedral in Cairo to prevent Salafis and representatives of the army from attending, by force if necessary. They argue that those responsible for burning churches (a reference to Salafis) and those who killed Coptic demonstraters in Cairo a few months ago (SCAF) are not welcome in the church. There has been a growing and, some say, irreparable schism inside the Church between an active young revolutionary generation and the older leadership. Of all major social forces in Egypt, the Coptic Orthodox Church remained loyal to Mubarak until the end, and it instructed its members not to participate in the January-February 2011 demonstrations. The Salafis, on their part, declined the invitation, saying they could not participate in such a non-Islamic celebration.

- A breakaway Salafi group announced the formation of a committee for the prevention of vice and promotion of virtue, a kind of an informal religious police modeled on a similar group active in Saudi Arabia since the 1940s The committee, made up of young volunteers who would go around asking people to observe the Islamic code in the street: women should be veiled, alcohol should not be sold and a strict separation of men and women in public should be strictly enforced, etc. They claimed they were part of the Salafi Nour party, which collected the second largest number of votes in the first two phases of the elections. The party, together with the Muslim Brothers and al-Azhar, denounced the group. Its Facebook page was hacked by other Islamists, and there was a general outcry in society. The founders of the group took to the offensive, allegedly resigning from the Nour party and accusing its official spokesperson of being an agent for the state security service.

There are many other examples. Conflict, and not mere competition, is in the air: between Islamists and liberals, Muslims and Copts, among Copts, among Islamists, between generations, men and women, old regime and revolutionaries, army and people, even inside the army: I was told by a retired army officer that the top brass of the army are so keen to hand over power mainly because of their fear that the officers and the rank and file would violently turn against them if they don’t. Egyptians are angry and are in no mood for compromise. There is a failure of communication everywhere and the values of tolerance and peaceful, rational dialogue, essential in any pluralist system, are buried deep beneath long years of authoritarianism and misrule. However, one should not jump to the conclusion that pluralism does or does not have a chance to flourish in Egypt. This is a more complex story, one to which I wish to return in a future postcard.

In the meantime, please keep your questions coming.

1 comment:

Michael Dahan said...


Great commentary especially the street level view which is missing. Thank you and keep up the great work!