The Egyptian Revolution Has Failed
Egypt is not a democracy now and it is increasingly unlikely to become one. The revolution has failed.
The failure stems from a lack of leadership, general incomptence and a lack of courage by protesters who let the old regime go when they had it by the throat.
Quick, name a single prominent opposition group or leader espousing liberal democratic credentials - aside from Mohamed ElBaradei (whose democratic credentials have been undermined by his supine flirtation with the Muslim Brotherhood). Let us assume that the international media that have swarmed Egypt over the past several months are actually doing their jobs and that local journalists are now feel free to print information that people need to know. So where are the profiles of Egypt's version of Lech Walesa or Nelson Mandela? Why aren't we hearing more about the leaders of the revolution?
You cannot have representative government if there are no representatives ready and willing - even after the dictator has stepped down - to be a voice for the people. Indeed, to this day, we can't even be sure what precisely the revolution was all about, aside from toppling the old pharaoh.
This stems from a profound misunderstanding of what democracy is all about. "Power to the people" does not mean that a government of army-appointed technocrats is supposed to try to listen to the mob in Tahrir Square shouting slogans and somehow come up with a 27-point plan for rebuilding the economy, supporting rule of law and ensuring that they soon vacate the premises.
The revolution is stillborn because the people do not have democratic representatives in the places of power. The country is still being run by the old regime. Does it really matter so much if Mubarak is gone if all of his apparatus is effectively still in place?
Recall that days after Mubarak left office, the police went on strike. Who were they protesting? No one except perhaps the army was taking responsibility for anything at that time. Yet the cops thought it perfectly natural that the first priority of the soon-to-be-swept-aside old apparatus was to throw money at them. It was particularly perverse, since the police were naturally beneficiaries of the old regime.
But they weren't alone. Wide swathes of Egyptian society continued to protest - but against whom? And on behalf of what, precisely? Yes, we all know Egyptians want jobs, better education, more freedom - everybody wants that, not just Egyptians. But the challenge is for individual Egyptians to start showing leadership, putting forth policy platforms that the rest can either agree or disagree with. That wasn't happening. It isn't happening, at least not on any level that's achieving any sort of publicized critical mass. It's just protest, complaint and frantic hand-waving.
The old boss is gone and nobody among the revolutionaries seems all too eager to replace him with something different.
This week we have a new example of this potentially lethal dithering. Egyptians are voting on constitutational changes, which sounds great at first. But who drafted these amendments? The army. And what democratic legitimacy does the military have to suggest changes to the constitution? None.
Were leaders of opposition groups sought out for input on these amendments? Well, in fairness to the army chiefs, maybe they just couldn't find them. Yes, millions have stood againt the old regime. But among them, who has stood out?
This is the horror of Egypt after the fall of Mubarak. Even weeks after this incredible event, it seems Egyptian civilians don't understand that they need to own the political realm. They need to be the ones setting the agenda, not the army. But Mubarak's prophecy that after he went, there would be chaos, could be self-fulfilling. The dictator's refusal to allow any genuine space for an opposition and ruthless torture of dissidents did what it was intended to do.
These days, it is easy to find relatively anonymous Egyptian political opposition figures who are happy to denounce "traitors" and sing the praises of "martyrs". But it is proving frighteningly difficult to find someone, some party or even some coalition of parties that is willing to step up and put forth practical ideas for modernizing the Egyptian nation. If this goes on for much longer, then one of two things will happen. The Muslim Brotherhood, which has no practical solutions but at least is capable of winning enough adherents to the idea that "Islam is the solution", will take power. Or, the generals will keep power for themselves. Either way, the Egyptian people will go back to their homes, disillusioned for another three decades.
Jonathon Narvey is the Editor of The Propagandist