For Egypt and all those who have a stake in its future, the real significance of June 30 is located in the rubble of Mohammed Mursi’s first presidential year. And lying dead or seriously injured among Egypt’s human victims are so many of conventional wisdom’s own children.
To identify those and bury them is not to lay claim to a disturbingly unruly future, but to have a much humbler respect for its promise.
We can go on endlessly about the immediate details that attach to the volatility that is currently tearing at Egypt: the constitutional crisis, the haplessness of the Muslim Brotherhood, burgeoning economic problems, the stubborn resilience of the so-called deep state, the factionalism that plagues the opposition… But there are trends that run like wild currents underneath this ceaseless tug of war. They will not tell you what is immediately next for Egypt, but use them as guideposts and they will help you better interpret the long days ahead.
1. It is finally time to concede that Islamism is not an easy shortcut into the political and social fabric of Egypt. Formidable though it is, Islamism neither commands this country’s society nor its politics.
And hence the assumption (even hope) by the powers that be that the Muslim Brotherhood will stabilize and reign in polities in transition is proving dangerously shortsighted and ill-considered.
For more insight about the trials and travails of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood, check out Winter in Cairo by Marc Lynch.
2. The main challenge to Islamism is post-Islamism. Secularism does not belong anywhere—yet!—in the raging debate between Egyptians. The chief opponents mobilizing against political Islam are true, bona fide believers who have embraced Islam’s role in the public arena and are now keen on establishing their rights under it. The push, in other words, is for a more generous interpretation of Islam’s exhortations and a more rigorous recognition of its serious limitations as a “solution” to life’s mundane problems. This trend is not new and it is not sudden, but has been decades in the making.
For more insight on post-Islamism, check out Asef Bayat’s two must-read books: Making Islam Democratic and Politics as Life
3. Grassroots activism matters. The notion that mighty international and local forces dictate events and the rest of us just live them is plain wrong. People working bottom up can bend wills and win a seat at the table.
Moreover, the official opposition is but one gauge of Egypt’s tense mood. And much like all other traditional political actors they’re not leading but scurrying behind the people’s manic trajectory.
For more insight on the pulse of the Egyptian people, check out Mona al Ghobashy’s Egyptian Politics Upended, Mariz Tadros’ Egypt’s Unfinished Transition or Unfinished Revolution and my own post, Don’t Peep at Egypt Through the Keyhole.
4. We already know that the ballot box is not a byword for democracy, and it certainly is not a guarantor of legitimacy. More significantly and of infinite more relevance to a case study like Egypt’s, elections under murky, helplessly complicated, skewed electoral rules in climates that resist the fundamental benchmarks of transparency and efficiency give the winners little more than the pretense of victory.
For more insight on the oft neglected issue of the electoral process, check out How to Win an Election and Lose a Presidency by the Atlantic Council’s Nadine Wahab.