Nada Zohdy
Last updated: 25 January, 2013

From protests to politics in 2013 Egypt

On January 25, Egyptians observed the second anniversary of their historic revolution. This moment presents an opportune time for reflection and discussion on a critical phenomenon that is slowly beginning to take place: the shift from protests to politics. 

Anyone following political developments in Egypt today knows that the seemingly endless series of crises can be quite perplexing. The formation, revision or break-up of the latest political coalitions, for example, often take place in rapid succession. On-going battles between the judiciary and the legislative and executive powers also result in baffling contradictions. 

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These frequent political crises remind us that fulfilling the fundamental social and political transformation demanded by the revolution will inevitably take years, if not generations, and there will certainly be many bumps along the way. 

While the public protests that have been taking place are symbolic of a fundamental shift from political apathy to a refusal to be silent, and in the short-term may have helped bring about significant changes such as the end of military rule, they often represent a desire to see the fulfilment of radical social and political change overnight. 

In the run-up to the revolution’s two year anniversary, there have been calls for mass protests in opposition to President Mohamed Morsi’s rule. Yet, over the last several months, many Egyptians have grown weary of disruptive protests, instead seeking stability and normalcy in their lives. Even more importantly, the majority of Egyptians desire political action that will lead to a tangible change in their lives. As Western journalist Dan Murphy of theChristian Science Monitor recently noted while visiting Tahrir Square, “…Egypt has moved well past the point where being against something was enough. Now is the time for being for something, and that’s the sort of political problem that doesn’t get fixed with mass protests.”

The social and especially economic hardships Egyptians face continue to grow. These problems cannot be solved overnight by protests, but instead require difficult, deliberate, long-term efforts by those in power. 

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Yet, the long-suppressed Muslim Brotherhood now has a monopoly on power; their incomparable penetration in Egyptian society results from decades of providing needed social services nationwide. Today the clout of any other political force pales in comparison. This has resulted in an imbalanced political environment that makes consensus-building, the necessary heart of any functioning democracy, a daunting challenge.

Recognising this, it seems that some prominent members of the political opposition may be shifting their tactics from protests to the ballot box. New parliamentary elections will happen this spring, and although the recently-created National Salvation Front – which brings together the likes of staunchly committed revolutionary youth with former ministers from the Mubarak era like Amr Moussa – is far from perfectly cohesive, it does represent an unprecedented coming together of diverse political forces. This coalition represents a serious effort by Egyptian liberals to engage and succeed in electoral politics, rather than expressing dissent primarily through street protests.

Egyptian liberals should not be the only ones to encourage this development. All Egyptians interested in seeing their political society mature over the long-term – whether secular, religious or somewhere in between – should be invested in the increased electoral engagement of liberals and other diverse political actors because having a viable opposition to check whoever is in power is the only way to avoid political monopoly and exclusion. 

In addition, Egyptian political activists will likely continue to serve as government watchdogs, regardless of which party is in power. Examples of this are the April 6 Youth Movement, and the unaffiliated youth behind the Morsi Meter initiative, which tracks the president’s performance. 

The evolution of Egyptian politics and society will undoubtedly continue to be messy, but the existence of these political and non-governmental initiatives is a healthy, encouraging development in Egypt’s complex, evolving political society. And the deep patriotism and commitment of so many Egyptians to rebuilding their nation is undoubtedly a source of hope and inspiration. 

Ultimately, the most equitable, effective playing field for competing visions over Egypt’s future will be negotiated not on the streets but through traditional politics and the ballot box. 

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Nada Zohdy is based in Washington, DC, where she works to support civil society in the Middle East and North Africa. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews). The views expressd in this article are the author’s and do not neccessarily reflect those of Your Middle East.