What is Egypt’s politics all about?

It has already become clear that Egypt’s revolution has deep socioeconomic roots that cannot be quelled through the establishment of a formal or procedural democracy.

Even though the country has an elected president, a Constitution and a Parliament (and will soon have an additional one), the state seems quite dysfunctional. The new political order seems to be running on a set of defunct institutions rife with inefficiency, corruption and lack of trust from significant constituencies of the populace.
Hence, critical political and economic decisions cannot be made, and the country is left to slide into a never-ending spiral of political turmoil, social strife and economic decline.
Despite the weakness of the left and the absence of a unified and well-organized labor movement, socioeconomic grievances have been quite present in Egypt in the last two years.
On the one hand, the incapacity of the Muslim Brotherhood, allied to the military and security, to consolidate the new order can be explained in social and economic terms, as significant urban constituencies are quite resistant to the reproduction of the old order under a new guise.
On the other hand, direct social and economic demands are the prime mover of a considerable part of the protest movement in urban as well as rural areas. This has taken the form of labor strikes and demonstrations calling for better working conditions and higher salaries, side by side with popular protest and even violence against fuel shortages, the collapse of public utilities and recurrent police atrocities.
Accordingly, it is safe to say that the inability of the new/old regime to address socioeconomic grievances and demands is a reason behind its unconsolidated status.
However, are there immediate or short-term solutions to Egypt’s deeply rooted social and economic problems? The answer is: Of course not.
Does that imply that the country will never stabilize? The answer, again, is in the negative.
Politics has never been about delivering direct and immediate solutions for long-standing problems. Indeed, the transition to democracy in many Latin American and East European countries had very little to do with the proposition of solutions.
On the contrary, the majority of people in both regions faced mounting economic hardships during the simultaneous processes of political and economic transition. Yet the consolidation of the new systems in these countries took place, and less significant resistance was faced by the new order.
The new settings did not offer any short-term economic and social solutions. Rather, they proposed a way to reach solutions that were convincing for the majority of people, which is not happening here in Egypt.
Politicians are no wizards, and politics is not expected to be the silver bullet or magic stick that will end immediately legacies of misery and injustice. Rather, politics is all about rallying people in favor of the way or the arrangements through which solutions can be reached, even if it is in the long, rather than the short, term.
Many Egyptians, even the most hotheaded revolutionaries, can be convinced of the need to wait for change to take place. However, it is much harder to convince them that change is happening when it is not, and this has been the case in Egypt for the last two years.
Successive rulers — the military council and then the Brotherhood — have not shown any credible or genuine interest in addressing the roots of social and economic injustice in the country. They have only been interested in dividing the post-Hosni Mubarak cake through some sort of elite pact that ignores the interests and expectations of groups that became politicized or mobilized.
In one sentence, politicians, especially those in power, have to sell Egyptians some hope that change is on the way so as to be able to rule and consolidate their power. Conversely, the president and his groups have been babbling instead about the procedures through which they attained power.
For them, that is the objective of the revolution, rather than just a means of achieving its objectives.
Egypt has just passed a failed transition to a failed democracy, at least in the procedural sense. More elections cannot save the country. It is time for politicians, or those who claim to be, to understand the other dimensions of politics and convince people that there are measures than can lead to the improvement of their lives and the establishment of a more just order.
But this cannot be achieved through some kind of populist discourse or by just paying lip service to the people. Rather, this can only take place by taking real measures that will change the status quo in Egypt, instead of making the preservation of the status quo the sole project of whoever is in power.
Amr Adly is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Social Sciences Cluster at Stanford University in the US.
This piece was originally published in Egypt Independent's weekly print edition.

Related Articles

Back to top button