En attendant… le salut

By: Albrecht Hofheinz, University of Oslo.

It is the Friday before the Last Supper. Before crucifixion. Before resurrection.

And for the seculars in this country: before hopes for Easter snow&sun, and fears that these hopes might not be realized this year.

So with a wink and a smile, I was tempted to make this an Ultra-short blog entry, saying: “This blog is on strike, in solidarity with the Egyptians who are on strike against [fill in your complaint]”.

But then my colleagues at work would probably not have liked this all too well. So I decided to open a bag of peanuts and cashews I still had lying around from my last visit to Egypt (= luxury goods from Muḥammaṣāt Garden City!) and write a couple of sentences more.

But what to write about? The Month of Rescuing Egypt? The maneuverings around the presidential nominations and procedures for the elections? The row over the constitution of the Constitutional Assembly? The arm wrestling between the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) over the Ganzouri cabinet? The workers’ strikes? The university sit-ins? The teachers’ complaints? The campaign for the rights of the handicapped? The continuing unrest in the aftermath of the Port Said football massacre (or catastrophe – choose according to preference)? The calls not to forget the political prisoners and hold accountable (or punish, or take revenge on – qiṣāṣ is an intimidating word!) those responsible for violating citizens’ rights? The #nowalls demonstrations? The Global March to Jerusalem?

A lot of possibilities – much debate – little clarity. This is the situation in Egypt at the moment. Some say, yes, this is precisely the revolutionary situation. There is upheaval, there is rearrangement, there is demands, there is resistance, there is dreams and power struggles, wariness and tiredness and hope. And there is frustration, and apprehensiveness, and quite a bit of uncertainty about how things will turn out. There is both waiting, and a sense of urgency, a feeling that once parliament, the presidency, and the constitution have been set up to the liking of the Muslim Brotherhood majority, the greater dreams of the young revolutionaries of 2011 will effectively have been blocked. To salvage these dreams, the Alliance of Revolutionary Forces last Friday proclaimed Shahr Inqādh Miṣr, the Month of Rescuing Egypt – yet another attempt to mobilize opinion, mostly via the new media, against the machinations and the maneuvering by the powers that be. This maneuvering has been dominated by two core issues lately:

(1) the question of who will run for presidency of the republic; whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood will support or even nominate a specific candidate [the latter has become more likely in recent days, after the withdrawal of Mansour Hassan, previously touted as figure that both SCAF and MB could agree upon]; whether SCAF will pull some strings behind the scenes to support someone to their liking; and how truly independent the Supreme Electoral Commission will be of the current powers.

(2) the row over the constitution of the Constituent Assembly: on March 24, MB and salafis in parliament rescinded a prior informal promise and voted in effect to increase the number of islamist representatives in the Constituent Assembly to 65 (out of 100). Outraged, most liberals (over 20) announced their withdrawal from the Assembly in protest; they were worried that the islamists would try to push through a constitution that limits the freedom of those who do not agree with the islamists’ social and cultural conservatism and who want better protection of women, of minorities, and of oppositional political activity – in effect, it would not be a constitution for all Egyptians but would at best enshrine majority dictatorship. Among those who resigned was Amr Hamzawy who has long been a champion not only of the institutional anchoring of democratic principles and procedures, but also of opening up the political sphere to the participation of Islamists – so his withdrawal was an important signal. The islamists, however, were unimpressed, claiming to have the majority behind them. Only after not only SCAF but also the Supreme Constitutional Court and the Azhar weighed in did the islamists agree to a slightly better representation of other political and social forces in the Assembly.

While the MB has decided to flex its muscles and step up the tone vis-à-vis SCAF (surely to convince the Egyptian public that contrary to many rumours, it is not engaged in behind-the-scenes power-sharing deals with the military), its maneuverings on the presidential and the constitutional fronts have only helped to confirm to the Tahrir revolutionaries that the Brotherhood is no vanguard of transparent democratic procedures and that the islamists’ emphasis of democracy as majority rule is worrying to anyone who does not conform to the outlook of this majority.

It’s an uphill struggle. The majority is firmly entrenched; the campaign “Ta3alo Niktib Dostorna” (Come Let’s Write Our Constitution) that dreams of ‘a constitution for all Egyptians written by all Egyptians’ has received a meagre 1780 “likes” on Facebook since it was set up in June 2011 (inspired by a Tunisian model), and the promotion video featuring revolutionary hero Alaa Abd El-Fattah has been watched 2869 times on YouTube…

So will the old (or: older) authorities prevail? Will they be able to derail the revolution of the young?

We don’t know. We are waiting…

Oh, and of course, the Pope has died. And what do we get to see?

The dead authority, embalmed, on the throne. The guards guarding access to where only the select are admitted. The show staged for the masses. The masses participate, millionfolding the embalmed authority on their mobile idols.

Happy Easter!