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Sunday, 2 December 2012

Five Facts Beyond Good and Bad. SCARY

Much has been - and I am sure, will be - said written of the rights and wrongs of the past two years. And much has been and will be said about who's to blame and what could have been or should have been, if only this or that.

But with the political scene in Egypt as it is, with opposing groups taking unbridgeable opposing stands, how this is relevant at this dangerous juncture is beyond me. Who did what to whom and who to blame for what is irrelevant. 

Who is responsible now though, is very clear.

Responsibility lies with the President. The buck stops with him. He who took it upon himself to guide Egypt into the future.

As things stand right now, that future is scary.

Not because the liberals may never unite and stop bickering and get themselves organized; sooner or later, they probably will. And not because the MB et al will turn Egypt into Afghanistan/Pakistan/Iran/Saudi Arabia; they probably won't. Not even because we are moving blindly, but at full speed, towards a more-likely-than-not soon-to-be-approved constitution which many are unhappy with and which by most reasonable accounts is not what post-revolution Egypt had hoped for and deserves.

All of the above is just more material for discourse i.e. not scary. More discussion, more blame throwing, more endless eloquent lines added to each side's argument. It doesn’t scare me.

What does scare me is the extreme and deepening polarization in my country.

We are at a point where on one side some are calling for boycotting MB owned businesses – yes, a la Israel-aimed Palestinian BDS movement - while on the other, some are advising liberals who dislike the way things are to leave - as if Egypt were their private club and not all of our country. 

This is not a sustainable situation. We have to learn to live with, talk to and (I dare dream) cooperate with each other.

The deeper these positions get entrenched - and all evidence points in that direction - the harder it will be for them to get de-trenched. And de-trenched they will have to be, regardless of who "wins".

The following five facts necessitate de-trenchment. 

1. Neither side is going away any time soon.

What both sides seem to be thinking is that by "winning" they will somehow eradicate the opposition. Just before the presidential elections, happy rumours were raging among the Shafik crowd that as soon as he wins, there will be a massacre of MB leadership and survivors will be thrown back into jail "where they belong".

Likewise among the MB/Salafists many believe that once the referendum is over (and they win), the liberals will just shut up and/or disappear. As if the mere cosmetic of an approved constitution will lead to change in people's minds and dreams.

You know what? It's not happening. We're all here to stay.

2. Both sides have sincere hopes and beliefs

Through a steady "demonization of the other" process, both sides now fail to understand that "the others" are sincere in their positions. Being lucky enough to have (and unlucky enough to have lost a few) friends on both sides, I can assure you this is true.

On the one hand, the MB and their supporters have a sincere belief that if only we were to have an Islamic constitution, things will get better for all of us (there are strong theological - let alone logical - arguments against this, but this is not the venue for them).

On the other, the liberals point to the prosperity of secular nations and the failure of theocracies worldwide as evidence of the veracity of their claims (again, there are many arguments against this line of thinking, and again, this is not the venue for them). 

You know what? It is as impossible to expect a Salafy to forget about Sharia as it is to ask a liberal to forget about personal freedoms. (Between you and me and imho, the two platitudes are just about completely compatible).

3. This is Egypt! Accept it

Whether or not we like it, Egypt is home to both these sets of Egyptians. The "MB can only win votes by handing out oil and sugar" mantra may or may not be true, but its truth or lack of it are  irrelevant. The fact is some  40% of the population lives on less than $2 a day, and any time you give such a person a jerry-can of oil and a few kilograms of sugar you're a good guy. Similarly the silly question "what ill has God ever done to you that makes you hate his Sharia?" is equally irrelevant. Many Egyptians want the freedom to decide their level of religiosity or lack of it without it being mandated by law. 

Egypt, as has been made crystal clear over the past 24 months, houses us all. 

4. The Economy is a Time Bomb

Of all the statistics that came out of the presidential elections, the one that scared me most was the 50% of eligible voters who never even bothered to go to the polling stations.

Think about this for a second please.

This was the first ever presidential election in the 7,000 year history of Egypt and half those allowed to vote couldn't care less. Barring the thousands (or hundreds of thousands) who decided to boycott, the rest of that 50% is people who are apathetic to the outcome. 

This is the 50% who could care less whether Sharia is applied or whether the constitution specifically mentions Baha'i rights or whether the President is from the MB, the army or whether we even restore the monarchy. They are living hand-to-mouth and so long as there's enough in the hand to fill the mouth, they will neither participate nor, crucially, complain. 

But, and here's the biter, the hand in these last couple of years, hasn't been earning enough to fill the mouth and soon (I hope I am wrong), those who cannot put food on their tables will become angry. Nobody wants to see that.

More pragmatically, nobody will be able to do anything to stop their anger should it erupt.

5. Morsy is an elected President

For better or worse, this is an undeniable fact. He may have won by the slimmest of margins, and there are even claims of foul play, but the fact remains. Dr. Morsy is our first ever elected President. The success of any stupid adventure aimed at removing him without due process will be disastrous. I am happy to report that to date his wisest opponents have not set this as their goal.

His being an elected President doesn't just mean we need to respect the democratic process (flawed as it may have been) which brought him into power.

What it means is that ultimately, he is responsible for closing the schisms which are widening by the day. He must offer confidence building measures (yes we're flat in the middle of conflict-resolution linguistic territory now) to his opponents. He needs to reach out to those who see him and his clan as tyrants in the making and reassure them with concrete steps.

Such steps might look like this:

A.   Given the sweeping powers he has given himself, Morsy can and should alter the acceptance threshold for the Constitutional referendum from 50% to 67%. This is a constitution, 50.0001% just doesn't cut it.
B.    Voting should be Chapter by Chapter rather than wholesale take it or leave it.
C.    Define what exactly the limits are on decrees he can make with immunity/impunity. He has already vaguely hinted that they only include a certain level of decision. We need specificity.
D.   Commit to and implement a bi-weekly state of the union type address where he talks less and says more than he usually does. We need a performance report. What is being done, why, what is the level of achievement. Facts only please, no rhetoric

Such steps would go a long way to starting the dialogue which must be started. Tough positions can and likely will be taken by the opposing parties, but as President, Morsy needs to elevate himself above this conflict and send all Egyptians clear signals of neutrality, wisdom, foresight and levelheadedness. 


  1. Hatem ... who r u talking to .. . I dont c anyone on both sides who is capable of understanding what u wrote ..... morsi is not the president .. badee3 is .... tbe liberals led by hamdeen n barade3y r very distant from the masses n sadly tbey r after personal glory...... we hv ruined our country ...we r just waiting for God'd mercy .... i only pray for a better egypt .. but looking at the brains on tbe stage , reasoning wont solve a thing

  2. What to do now and what to do next to re-unite and reform the country should THE target!
    How to do is another issue as it depends on how the president handles it along with his advisers (whoever they are, MBs or not).
    Glory is not what Hamdeen nor Baradei are looking for, as I might differ with Hussein on that, but I consider them the balance against the MBs and minds to lead as no one can deny their experience in internal political life and that goes for Hamdeen not the international experience and that goes for Baradei. Deprioving them from such experiences is unfair.
    If any of them had been in the president's shoes and would have taken the same decisions and performed the same, I would have opposed them as much as I am opposing now.
    There is much to be said in regards of the past years right and wrong decisions and actions but the lessons to learn are of greater importance in order to build a vision of what to be done next...
    Right now we are in the process of exercising the rights we fought for and we are still intermediates and facing an opponent that is much more organized and have been on grounds for years, one reason why we called for a Presidential Council long ago and since we started this revolution! That, helas, is the past!
    I agree to the concept of what you are trying to call for and if I understand it properly, Hatem, you are looking for solutions for the situation we are in since the president latest decisions.
    But solutions can have way pending on the President's reactions against the people's actions and reactions also.
    There is much more to be said as the subject is dense, very dense... Extremely DENSE!
    Cheers Bro!

  3. How do we go about it? We are now faced with a power frenzied president who has reneged on his every promise...

    1. Marwa B, I don't know sadly. I have been advised to translate and try and reach the MB with it

  4. i dont believe in a fatalistic thinking. this is egypt accept it! that's what makes people to sit on a couch & not move a millimeter to change their reality

    you cant chang the fabric of the egyptian society but you can change it's identity, the values you wish to highlight - worth fighting

    other than that i think it's a very very good and interesting post!!


  5. Thanks a lot for your encouraging comment Perlova, it was meant as more a wake up call from denial rather than fatalistic. Of course we can change over time, but reality today is this, make your decisions and base your strategy with this in mind.

  6. The steps offered, I believe are pretty relieving, BUT, who listens?
    I believe Dr. Morsi only listens to his thoughts which I don’t have the slightest idea where they might be coming from.
    As for me, I've a point of view. I guess all Egyptians are Liberals and all Egyptians are Islamists!
    Don’t we all seek freedom? Even Islamists? Freedom which allows them to practice and freedom of their speech?
    Don’t Liberals and Seculars seek justice and many other values which are offered by Islam? Aren’t most of them Muslims?
    Where is the conflict then? If we all take our time to think and reconsider, I am sure, we will find we are not different. Differences are very minor.
    Thank you for the article. A very well organized analytical one.