First, while the Constitution First Campaign might instill a sense of common purpose within the urban liberal base, as a strategy for action
the group will only polarize the identity debate in ways that risks
undercutting the quest for a pluralistic democracy. This does not mean
these groups should drop their efforts in, for example, a bill of rights
to accompany the referendum-established reforms. But the campaign to
reverse or nullify the March 19 constitutional referendum is a waste of
resources and energy that could be directed elsewhere.
the CFC should consider setting aside anything that might alienate
religious voters in favor of themes that cut across the mosque/state
debate, for example on the crucial question of economic reform and social equity.
The continued eruption of protests throughout every sector of society,
as well as the efforts to build an independent labor movement in the
middle of an economic crisis, suggests allies for a political-social
project that could have broad popular appeal.
Third, this social
project cannot be limited to Cairo. It must be extended in the
provincial capitals and where possible into the rural areas themselves,
which account for some 40 percent of Egypt's 85 million people. Left to
itself, this "other Egypt" will provide fertile ground for Salafist
mobilization or the restarting of the patronage networks of the old
Fourth, as they seek to widen the boundaries of political
debate and mobilization, advocates of pluralism (both Islamist and
non-Islamist) should focus on strategic common interests rather than on
short-term political tactics. The recently announced alliance between
the New Wafd Party and the Muslim Brethren's Freedom and Justice Party constitutes a marriage of convenience
that is bound to fall apart (or to split the Wafd Party, as did a
similar alliance in 1984). Given its liberal-secular heritage and its
public support for the Constitution First Movement, Wafd leaders might
be better off allying with more like-minded parties, and in so doing,
fostering a more competitive playing field.
Five, to promote a
more level and -- most of all -- credible political contest,
parliamentary elections should not be held in September or October of
this year, as the military has proposed. The fact that only 41 percent
of the registered electorate participated in the March 2011
constitutional referendum highlights the huge logistical hurdles that
still stand in the way of organizing national elections. All political
forces, including the military, have an interest setting elections for a
somewhat later date, perhaps January 2012.
Ultimately, the goal
of the groups that led the Tahrir struggle should not be to recapture
the glory days of mass protest, or to discredit their Islamists rivals
in an epic contest to define the national identity of Egypt. The more
prosaic aim should be to make sure that when elections come, these
groups can obtain a small but loud organized voice in a new parliament,
and in the constitutional council that the parliament will create.
Although they may imagine that the military is against them, leaders of
the SCAF have openly hinted that the generals would probably prefer a
diverse or even fragmented political arena, thus assuring the military a
continued role as arbiter, even after it has formally handed over
authority to a civilian government. Such a state of affairs will be the
beginning of a long road. As in other states that have taken this road
to democracy -- Turkey, Chile, and Brazil, to name just a few --
democratic forces will have to compromise with the past as they build a
new political future. That won't be easy, but democracy rarely is.