Tuesday, 29 May 2012

Five Neutral Criteria for Selecting Egypt's Next President

Well well well. Talk about a rock and a hard place. Just about everyone I speak with is not so much choosing a candidate as refusing his competitor. A mantra currently being repeated is "I am not voting for Morsy, I am just rejecting Shafik," along with its opposite number "I am not voting for Shafik, I am just rejecting Morsy". 

Far from attempting the futile and trying to prove who is a better candidate, the bulk of discussions focuses on who is "less worse." 

For one thing, you can remove that emotional pressure of having to opt for the lesser of two evils, because there are other options. You don't have to choose Morsy just because you can't tolerate the idea of voting for Shafik, and likewise you don't have to choose Shafik just because you hate Morsy. 

You may boycott or annul your vote.

But if - like me - you don't like the idea of the boycott for a reason or another, here are five, non-ideological, Egypt-centric, criteria for helping you (and perhaps me) decide who to vote for. 

1. The Constitution

The only real guarantor of future political diversity and stability, human, civil and minority rights protection, ending of the police state and setting the stage for the development of a modern country is a sound constitution. Which of the two candidates is likely to help produce that? What process will each candidate propose/support for the formation of the constitution committee? Who is more likely to minimise the number of "special" articles favouring this faction or that group or this ideology or that power base? 

2. Freedom of Political Activity

To minimise the risk of Egypt falling under the hegemony of the MB or remaining under the control of the army, freedom of political activity is a necessary ingredient. 
We need to ask ourselves, who, Shafik or Morsy, is more likely to tolerate serious political competitors? Which one will accept the possibility of leaving power in four years, not just in person but as the group they each represent? Who will ensure Egypt can take first steps down the road to real political diversity? Who is more likely to allow forming parties by notification? Who will accept demonstrations and protests? How would each of them react in the face of a hundred, or a hundred thousand, chanting against him in Tahreer? 

3. The Economy & Social Justice

All but a few Egyptian pockets are suffering to one degree or another. Some will have to skip the new Benz to be able to do the Cote d'Azure this summer; others are desperately saving to ensure they can pay school fees in September and others still are struggling to put even one daily meal on the table. But make no mistake, the past 15 months (and the year of the global financial crisis and rising food prices before them) have taken their fiscal toll on everyone. Which of the two candidates can get the economy moving again? To whose call will investors from the Arab Gulf and further afield respond? Who will be able to address the grievances and howling stomachs of the estimated 20%  of the population living below the poverty line (income less than $1.25 per day)? Who is more likely to offer solutions to tackle sky-rocketing prices including basic food items? Who has a stronger, more viable, more balanced economic program? 

4. Fighting Corruption

It has long been my contention that if you were to distil all of Egypt's problems and then filter the distilled product and put it through a fine sieve, you'd end up with: Corruption. Financial, political, judicial and indeed across-the-board governmental corruption were at the core of Egypt and the Egyptians' woes. Which of the two possible presidents do you believe will fight corruption? Which of the two will promote transparency in the awarding of government contracts and in the judicial system? Who is more likely to have the stronger impact on rampant bribery and nepotism? Which of the two can tighten the legal loopholes through which billions are syphoned from state coffers to private pockets?

5. Re-uniting the Country

Last, but by no means the least, Egypt is facing several rifts, between those pro and those anti the revolution, between Islamists and secularists and leftists and right wingers. These rifts threaten to widen and if they do, there is a lot at risk. Which of the two candidates is more likely to reunite Egyptians? Who can narrow the gaps between disparate and estranged groups? Who can provide the leadership needed to put differences aside and work for a common goal? Which candidate, Shafik or Morsy can paint a picture of the future which all Egyptians would like to be in? 

I haven't a clue. If you decide, let me know.

Wednesday, 23 May 2012

Presidential Elections: Two Thoughts

Two thoughts go through my mind when I see all these people lined up for an election WITHOUT a pre-determined winner: 1. WE'VE ALREADY WON! and 2. This is a game-changer for the Middle East.
We've already won because this was unthinkable a couple of years ago. Hosny would go (to heaven or hell or home), Mubarak Junior aka Jimmy The Beast would take over and we'd turn into the second monarchic republic in the neighbourhood (the Assads of Syria take the inglorious first spot). We've won, because that nightmare scenario is in the garbage bin of history, right at the bottom of the pile, underneath police brutality, arrests without warrants, torture in State Security cells, blatantly rigged elections, corruption etc..etc...ad nauseum.
History will not, in this particular case, repeat itself.
Not even if Shafik wins.
And let's face it, that's the only real nightmare scenario here. Another decorated military man with no more credentials than the ability to fly planes (building a billion pound airport on a three billion pound budget is no success) takes the helm attempting to recreate his idol's regime. Not a chance General. You so much as hint at putting a toe over that line and we're back to January 24th 2011 in no time. I suppose I should rephrase that previous statement, if his-story attempts to repeat itself, our-story will repeat itself too. Sharpish!
But let's briefly look at (only) the bright side of the other possible outcomes:
Mousa: Well-known to the outside world, he will likely succeed in quickly comforting Western and Israeli fears and possibly loosening Gulf/IMF/World Bank purse strings. Flexible (to use the euphemism for unprincipled) he will not take any stand which may antagonise SCAF, the MB or anybody else, ensuring more stability (to use the euphemism for stagnancy). Egotistical, he may well try and do a good job if only to nicely round up his CV.
Morsy: Spare tire or no spare tire (Morsi was only selected by MB as their candidate after first choice el-Shater was forced out of the race), the man has the greatest, best-organized machine in the country behind him. The MB/FJP's El-Nahda Project is arguably the most detailed and most realistic among the lot. He will have a (perhaps too) harmonious relation with parliament and for good measure MUST allay fears of MB/Islamic hegemony by steering clear of sectarian/libertarian land mines to ensure a second term for himself and match the success of his party in parliament five years from now.He is the only front-runner with a party and platform behind him.
Aboul Fotouh (my choice) is a centrist by all standards. As evidenced by his supporter pool (includes hardcore Salafis, liberals, moderate Islamists and strictly secular leftists), he is neither too liberal nor too conservative, nor too far to the right or left. He has an excellent opportunity to bring Egypt together on a moderate platform of civil liberties and economic growth based on bridled capitalism with a dash of social justice. He's one of us. I like that. No flash, no nonsense.
Sabbahy: How can you argue against the leftist in him with 70% of the population at or below the poverty line? (Well, you can, but it would be uncool). The man clearly has the worst off in mind and that's got to be a good thing. Besides, he (along with ma man AF) is the one who most comes across as "one of us". It would be a good thing to have "one of us" in power.
The rest of the runners, are no more than that, runners. No chance of getting into the runoffs,
So we've won.
The second thought is a bit further reaching. I can only imagine what must be going on in Saudi, Kuwaiti, Syrian, Sudanese, Yemeni, Moroccan and other Arab heads as they watch us partake in our elections. Envy? Perhaps, but probably also gratitude. we've opened a door which may prove impossible to close.Although there is a lot I dislike (and some I like) about Berlusconi, but the previous Italian PM did phrase it oh so well when after the ouster of Mubarak he declared "There is no surprise, the Egyptians are making history again."
And now I'm getting goosebumps, so I'll stop.

Sunday, 20 May 2012

Is Amr Moussa "folool" ?

The word "folool" has been bandied about for the better part of the last fourteen months and has served as a ketch all for a variety of sinners. Those who served under Mubarak, those who aided and abetted in the corruption of Egypt (financially, politically and even morally), those who benefited financially from their posts in Mubarak's regime, those who have a Master-Slave view of the relation between state and public etc..etc...

But the definition of the term has also been challenged. "Folool" to some minds simply means someone who wants the security and economic stability of  pre-revolution days to return at any cost, or alternatively somebody who given the choice between fascist Mubarak and fascist Islamists prefers Mubarak, or even someone who's just had enough of this revolution that promised so much and has, so far at least, delivered near nothing at all.

To many of us who believe in the revolution, electing a "folool" (by just about any definition) is simply unacceptable.

Over two separate coffees, one a few days, the other a week ago, a young intelligent and highly liberal friend and an older, equally intelligent and slightly less liberal friend said to me, quoting each other almost verbatim "I know Mousa may be the best technical choice, but I just can't bring myself to vote for him." They both had the same pained look on their face.

Upon probing I discovered that "best technical choice" meant the one with the most direct experience for the job, most recognizable internationally and most likely to lure back the investors and the tourists. So why not vote for him? I asked and both, again as if reading from the same script, literally word for word responded "I just can't, it wouldn't be right". I am assuming based on the rest of both conversations that they mean because of his long old regime ties.

Both my friends believe the revolution was a good thing. Neither wants Mubarak's regime and modus operandi back.

So what gives? Is Moussa "folool" or not?

The only smart thing must be to first offer my own personal definition of folool:

It is someone who satisfies three or more of the following conditions:
  1. Served for a lengthy period with Hosny Mubarak in a very senior capacity 
  2. Visibly approved of Mubarak's methods of running the country
  3. Gained financially from and/or contributed to the corruption prevalent during Mubarak's rule
  4. Has a proven view of the relation between government and people which is authoritarian, policing and superior
  5. Has an elitist, arrogant view of the majority of Egyptian people, sees them as ignorant and/or unintelligent, undeserving/incapable of entry into KG1 of democracy school
  6. Believes it was possible to reform Mubarak's regime and that revolution was not inevitable and/or necessary
  7. Contributed directly to the corruption of political life in Egypt and would again
  8. Contributed directly to the demeaning of Egypt's regional/international status and would again
I realise several of these defining characteristics are open to debate, and so they should be (especially in post-revolution Egypt). I also realise that some of the criteria are not conclusive enough. How does one for example confirm Moussa's views on the relationship between the government and people of Egypt? Well, one watches, one listens and one reviews history and then, one decides.

So here it is:

  1. YES (Mousa is Mubarak's longest serving foreign minister with ten years worth of tenure)
  2. YES (Mousa is on record saying "I know how Mubarak manages the country, I would vote for him if he runs for president")
  3. NO. Not so much as an accusation which is near miraculous given the amount of accusations chasing so many of Mubarak's previous cabinet members.
  4. NO. Actually arguable, he's pretty arrogant, but no evidence I have seen confirms that he would continue in this vein of "government as baton-wielding police force". Let's give the man the benefit of the doubt on this one.
  5. NO. Again, arguable, but nothing apart from the wiggling of the forefinger to prove this. Again, benefit of the doubt.
  6. YES. Refer to 2 above.
  7. YES and NO. Is being a senior member of the regime evidence of involvement? I'll leave it to you.
  8. OH YEAH! Moussa, like his ex-boss, is an adherent to the school of thought which basically says "Grovel to the Americans, their Israeli proxies and the Gulf Arabs, for they hold the purse-strings and more".
Final verdict: Moussa is folool, not as blatantly as say Ahmed Shafik or Safwat Sherif, but quite clearly folool. 

He's out for me.