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How many times did you say or hear others say that Egyptians are not fit for democracy? How often did you lend an ear to those who claim Egyptians need to be taught how to exercise their political rights, or say so yourself?
I heard this claim dozens of times inside and outside Egypt, and every time I would explain that Egypt’s modern history proves that Egyptians have always demonstrated political awareness. This nation is composed of millions of people who may have diverse social or cultural backgrounds, but who eventually share the same collective feeling and mindset that enables them to adopt a unified stance, which is usually correct, at critical moments. It was the Egyptian people who fueled all Egyptian revolutions.
I still remember 25 January 2011 when thousands of protesters arrived in Tahrir from the working-class district of Imbaba. Those simple, poor people were the ones who defended the protesters against assaults by Central Security Forces. If it had not been for them, the revolution would not have succeeded.
Over 16 months, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces implemented a careful plan to abort the 25 January revolution — creating a security void, sparking sectarian incidents, intimidating Muslims and Copts, conjuring up day-to-day crises, working systematically to smear the revolution, and carrying out consecutive massacres against revolutionaries.
The plan was to heap pressure on Egyptians to make anyone believed to be able to restore security a more appealing choice. Thus the stage was set for Ahmed Shafiq, who was politically shielded from 35 documented corruption lawsuits and the Political Isolation Law, to announce his candidacy. When the result of the first round of the election pitted Shafiq against Mohamed Morsy, all indicators were in favor of Shafiq. The Brotherhood had lost all sympathizing revolutionaries for failing to stand up for the revolution, and large sectors of Copts.
In addition, former regime remnants spent millions to support Shafiq, who embodied their last hope of regaining control. All state apparatuses supported Shafiq, from senior Interior Ministry and State Security officers to ministries, government authorities and state-run media, which relapsed to their old ways of lying. Even businessmen-owned private media worked to promote Shafiq to protect their interests.
At this point, several people, including myself, decided to boycott the election to object to Shafiq’s candidacy. Shafiq’s victory was inevitable, we thought. However, we were in for a surprise.
The Brotherhood mobilized 5 million voters in the first round, but in the runoff an additional 8 million Egyptians who do not belong to the Brotherhood decided to go to the polls and endorse Morsy, having realized that the return of the former regime, represented in Shafiq’s presidency, would deal a blow to the Egyptian revolution.
Egyptians ruined the scheme to abort the revolution when millions voted for Morsy. Sensing looming trouble, the SCAF issued a supplementary Constitutional Declaration to curtail the powers of the president shortly after the polls closed on the final night of the runoff. Then the official announcement of the runoff result was postponed for a few days, raising concerns that something evil was cooking and prompting thousands to pour into the streets to curb any attempts at rigging the result of the vote.
History will one day reveal the details of what happened inside the Presidential Elections Commission before the result was announced. Scattered accounts emphasized that even though the Egyptian judicial system is subservient to the executive authority, we have independent judges who have the courage and conscientiousness to say the truth, whatever the cost.
Zakaria Abdel Aziz and other of judges formed the “Judges for Egypt” group to monitor the election and they confirmed that Morsy comfortably won in the election, with a margin of victory close to one million votes. Zakaria, whom I know personally, does not subscribe to the Brotherhood’s ideology, but he is an honest judge, who does not say but the truth. Their report was a brave initiative that challenged those who were accustomed to falsifying the people’s will.
The Egyptian revolution achieved a significant victory by bringing down Shafiq and electing Morsy. Regardless of my political differences with him, Morsy is the first elected civilian president in Egypt’s modern history. This victory for the will of Egyptians will also lend momentum to the process of change in Arab countries wishing to get rid of their dictators.
We should congratulate Morsy for the presidency but also remind him of a number of facts.
1. It was not only the votes of the Brotherhood that secured a victory for him; in fact, their votes alone would have not helped him win. It was the millions of Egyptians who believed supporting Morsy was the only way to get rid of Mubarak’s regime that ensured his victory.
President Morsy is accountable to all Egyptians and we demand that he severs all organizational relationship with the Muslim Brotherhood immediately as he had promised. He should also form a coalition government that brings together ministers who belong to the revolutionary camp from across the political spectrum.
2. Over a year and a half, the SCAF has not achieved the goals of the revolution and rejected any changes to the structure of Mubarak's regime. Now that Morsy has been elected president, change cannot be put off. We expect Morsy to help issue the Judiciary Law to allow the justice system to act independently of the executive authority. We expect him to cancel the supplementary Constitutional Declaration, which vests the SCAF with excessive powers.
Everyone accused of corruption should be brought to trial, starting with Shafiq. The police apparatus should be purged of corrupt officers, torturers and killers of protesters. The State Security body should be dismantled along with all repressive state apparatuses. Civilians should not be brought to military trials and all 12,000 Egyptians detained in military prisons should be retried before civilian courts.
The maximum and minimum wages should be set and poverty and unemployment eradicated. This revolution was launched to achieve freedom, dignity and social justice; the new president will win or lose credibility depending on how sincere he is to the goals of the revolution.
3. Around 1,200 Egyptians died in the revolution, another 1,000 are still missing (most probably dead) and thousands more were injured for Morsy to become president. If it had not been for those people’s sacrifices, we would not be witnessing this moment. Morsy should bring fair retribution to the families of the revolution martyrs and provide state-funded medical care to the injured. The revolution’s injured should not depend on charity for health care, nor should those who killed protesters keep their jobs.
4. The new president will have to choose between either achieving the goals of the revolution or the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood through deals with the SCAF. I hope the Brotherhood will not repeat their historical mistakes, for since its inception, the group has considered its own interests to be necessarily the same as those of the nation. This has led the group to forge deals with people in power which eventually harmed the nation. Their last such miscalculation was their alliance with the SCAF after the revolution, which has delayed the drafting of a new constitution.
Morsy’s mission will not be easy because he will have to stand in the face of Mubarak’s regime, which very strongly resists change. In his battle with the old regime, Morsy needs the support of all Egyptians who will only back him up if he struggles to serve the interests of Egypt and not the Brotherhood.
5. Morsy has repeatedly pledged to maintain the civilian nature of the state. However, this pledge is open to several different interpretations. A civil state has four pillars, which are:
a. Citizenship rights
Egyptian citizens should enjoy their full rights regardless of their religion. The rights of Copts, which were undermined under Mubarak, should be restored in the new era, like genuine Islam preaches.
b. Protection of established personal freedoms
One of the manifestations of the civility in Egypt is that the citizen alone should determine their lifestyle within the limits of the law. If personal freedoms are curtailed under the pretext of implementing a moral program, then this would constitute a regression to the dark ages.
c. Protection of the freedom of thought
We warn the president-elect against listening to extremists who are wary of culture and arts, for Egypt has always been the home of Middle Eastern arts and thought.
We will never accept that creativity be monitored by dogmatic minds because this will waste our cultural legacy and kill creativity. Ideas should be confronted with ideas. This is the golden rule for safeguarding Egyptian culture.
d. Implementation of Sharia punishments should be put off
Any attempt to implement Sharia penalties will tear Egyptian society apart. Morsy knows quite well that the punishments in Sharia cannot be implemented before the elimination of poverty, illiteracy and disease. This is a humanitarian as well as a jurisprudential principle.
Egyptians expect a lot from Morsy and will support him strongly as long as he works for Egypt’s interests and for the achievement of the objectives of the revolution.
Alaa Al-Aswani is an Egyptian novelist and political writer.