As Egypt’s tumultuous politics reached a new milestone Wednesday with the military taking away presidential powers from Mohamed Morsi, many media outlets in North America and Europe have spoken out against “attacks” to the nascent Egyptian democracy.
What Egypt is experiencing is a political tour de force aimed at resolving a slew of problems shared by most Egyptians in the most efficient way. Running a country and, most importantly, stabilizing it during revolutionary times is not always all about democracy. Granted, the Western world may feel like democracy is the end-all, but such assumptions are missing two key points in the Egyptian case.
When Egyptians came down in the streets in January 2011, their demands had two main objectives: create jobs for the millions of unemployed, and put an end to police brutality. Back then, there were no talks of democracy. Actually, at the beginning no one even spoke of ridding of then-President Hosni Mubarak.
Mubarak proved unwilling to satisfy these demands, and after much popular pressure, was forced to leave office. The Egyptian military took over the country, but they also proved inept at fulfilling the people's requests. Then came Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, who did very little to stimulate the economy. Police brutality slowed down, but did not disappear.
And as was proved over the past two years, Egyptians take issue with leaders who treat them like whining children. People need food on the table, and they want to work. If you can’t help, move over. Four years is a long time when you can’t pay the bills.
The second point to recall is that the electoral process that brought Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood to power was not exactly fair play. All parties but the Brotherhood started off with a heavy handicap.
The Muslim Brotherhood is a political organization that has existed since the 1920s. It has 90 decades of experience doing political manoeuvres and surviving underground, as it was banned for a large part of its existence. When Mubarak stepped down, the Muslim Brotherhood’s machine was well oiled and ready to step to the plate.
Meanwhile, all the other parties were created in the aftermath of the January 25 revolution. Most had been grassroots non-governmental organizations, with a very narrow political base, if any, and hailing mostly from Cairo, which manifestly is the country’s political center, but by no means represents the voice of all other Egyptians.
Six months later, when the elections came, these parties had gained some power in Cairo, but they were very far from being as organized as the Muslim Brotherhood in the Nile Delta and Upper Egypt.
Of course, the parliamentary and presidential elections were fair: Everyone had a chance to vote, with little to no irregularities. But the dice were loaded. The small political parties stood no chance against the Muslim Brotherhood.
So what we’re witnessing today is not a “setback against democracy.” Rather it’s a “back to square one” scenario, where all the players are coming out on an equal footing. It could very well be a step forward for democracy, if the military were to hold their promise.
Although they didn’t give any deadline, the military made it clear that it is only a matter of time before new elections are called. Their own experience at trying to man the Egyptian state between Mubarak and Morsi’s presidencies taught them to stay out of active politics. Their popular image suffered greatly two years ago, and in their attempt to hold on to their interests, it’s likely that this new interim period will be short.
That’s why small opposition parties must hit the pavement quickly if they want to grab some power, which is what this whole exercise is about. The Muslim Brotherhood has definitely lost some skin in the game this past year, but it remains by far the best organized political party in Egypt.
As such, it could well win new elections, albeit with a minority. The Muslim Brotherhood’s failed attempt to force its vision upon a heterogeneous society should be viewed as a lesson learned, and if managed well internally, it could even come back stronger. That is why small parties have to put a halt to the bickering with which they’ve been too consumed this year. Rather they must focus on forming durable alliances with each other, creating strong political bases, and putting forward ideas as to how to put an end to the hardships, lest they get kicked out just like their predecessors.