By Mohammed Nosseir
One of the many advantages of having a properly functioning democratic system is that heated elections are invariably followed by a period during which society settles down as winners get busy with the business of ruling and losers start preparing for the next round of elections. Ordinarily, the rule of law ensures that during the few years between elections, all citizens (whether they belong to the political majority or minority) enjoy equal rights. However, because no basic democratic mechanism is in place in this country, last year’s presidential elections concluded in a severe polarisation of our society, a polarisation that could eventually turn Egypt into a failed state.
For decades, Egypt has been ruled by a philosophy wherein a very tiny portion of society (the elite) harvests most of the country’s privileges at the expense of the great majority of the population. Mubarak’s consecutive governments administered this philosophy of rule expertly, and were also responsible for categorising the elite into groups, handling any tensions or quarrels that arose among them over government business opportunities. Mubarak was not a fair ruler, but he managed to appoint functioning governments and to rule over a repressed, intimidated society, manipulating individual citizens according to his will.
Although this philosophy of rule was completely dismantled after the 25 January Revolution, it has unfortunately not been replaced by a true democratic system and a proper enforcement of rule of law. Today, in the absence of any identifiable governing mechanism, Egyptians live in a loose social structure built on fragile relationships, a condition that is reflected in the millions of struggles between the state and its citizens, as well as amongst citizens themselves. The nonexistence of a proper governing mechanism has caused citizens to engage negatively with one another. With the elite’s loss of its traditional superior status and the refusal of the masses to reoccupy a subordinate position, conflicts in our society are presently settled primarily by muscle power.
This tension is not only well underway between Al-Sisi’s affiliates and his opponents; it also exists among the president’s supporters who are fighting to reinstate the old corrupt mechanism that serves their personal interests best. Many citizens used to argue that this loose state structure was purposely maintained so that the incoming president could gain easy credit by putting it in order. However, after over a year in power Al-Sisi seems to be capitalising on this fluid state structure to justify any harsh measures adopted against his opponents.
The president has blocked all channels that could lead to another uprising or revolution, claiming that his assumption of responsibility for ruling the country has satisfied the vast majority of Egyptians. However, state instability and popular uprisings do not always take the form of revolution; the current dysfunctional government and extensive social disintegration put the Egyptian state at risk of failure. Additionally, Al-Sisi’s opponents are fuelling the negativity that is already inherent in our society to realise their goal of hastening the collapse of the state.
The president has successfully intervened to solve a number of contentious events that arose among various professional segments of society; he defused the recent tense situation between lawyers and the Police Department and managed to resolve a number of strikes organised by members of various professions to demand salary increases. These efforts are really quite insignificant compared to the innumerable struggles that Egyptian citizens face daily; 90 million inhabitants are living together without any application of rule of law, and without even the possibility of resolving conflicts through social reconciliation and settlement processes, with no government intervention. Furthermore, not a single issue has been tackled at the roots and justly resolved; most conflicts are still alive and simmering and could become heated and erupt at any moment.
We were living with many challenges in the past, but they were ones that could be managed by bending the laws in favour of Mubarak’s affiliates. Our current challenges are uncontrollable; they concern the defectiveness of justice vis-à-vis society as a whole. Furthermore, Egypt is evolving, quite slowly perhaps, but change is definitely underway and the old methods will not survive.
The risk that we may well be facing today is not that of replacing one president with another; it is the risk of potential social collapse. The real threat that our country is facing lies in the dysfunctionality of all the Egyptian governments that came into power in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution, including the present government. Rather than pacify and calm society, the upcoming parliamentary elections (expected to be held within the framework of an extremely poor organisational structure and a disputed election law) will very likely trigger even more problems.
Mohammed Nosseir is an Egyptian Liberal Politician working on reforming Egypt on true liberal values, proper application of democracy and free market economy. Mohammed was member of the Higher Committee, and headed the International Relations of the Democratic Front Party from 2008 to 2012