On Tuesday, I described thepredicament in which Egypt finds itself and argued that things are likely to get worse under the current circumstances. As Egyptian voters will go to the polls in less than three weeks, they will be voting not just for the next president but also for the future of Egypt.
Egypt's current situation is a far cry from the initial optimism of the Tahrir spirit. What started out in 2011 as a mass movement for greater freedom, democracy and better economic conditions turned out to be a painful experience for all Egyptians. With several thousand deaths, thousands of political prisoners and a deeply divided society, Egypt faces enormous social, political and economic challenges. Military rule, oppression and economic crisis do not bode well for Egypt's future.
As John Voll has argued recently, the current conflict is not between secularism versus Islamism. Both categories are misnomers for the real issues facing Egypt. Secular or Islamist, all Egyptians demand greater freedoms, equality and better living conditions. Liberal or religious, whoever provides these opportunities will win the future of Egypt.
The fact that there is no clash between secularism and Islamism is clear from the fact that the Egyptian Salafist Nour Party supported the July 3 coup. It is also underlined by the banning of the liberal April 6 Movement. What united the multifaceted coalition of the Tahrir movement was the hope for a free, democratic and prosperous Egypt. This is where the Muslim Brotherhood erred politically. Even though Morsi shared power with different stakeholders including the army, liberals, technocrats and Salafis, his short term in power, disturbed by economic woes and military-judicial interventions, was not enough to convince all Egyptians of the promise of greater freedoms and better economic conditions.
Looking forward, there are lessons to be learned for Egypt's future. Egypt is already a deeply religious society and does not need more Islamizing. It needs greater democratization. Secular and religious identities will find their natural course in a free and democratic Egypt. Military rule will not make Egypt more democratic or prosperous. The alternative to a supposedly Islamist-dominated government should not be military rule.
This raises the fundamental question of the role of the army in Egyptian economy and politics. Since Gamal Abdel Nasser's coup in 1952, Egypt has been ruled by different versions of military government. The Egyptian army is estimated to control anywhere between 30 to 40 percent of the Egyptian economy. It decides on the key issues of domestic and foreign policy. To use Steven Cook's suggestive term "ruling but not governing" has been the perennial problem of civilian governments in Egypt. As modern Egyptian history tells us, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) will not give up its economic power and political privileges. Egypt needs greater democratization, not deeper militarization.
The solution lies in national consensus politics. A free and inclusive political environment is essential for peace and stability. Ensuring wide political representation is also the key for legitimacy. While Morsi was criticized for not being inclusive, the military regime has created an even more exclusivist political structure. If the presidential elections at the end of this month are to have any legitimacy, it has to ensure a free and fair playing field for all groups and political parties.
Reaching out to all Egyptians is probably the most difficult political job in Egypt at the moment. If General Sisi's election promise of "wiping out the Muslim Brotherhood" is any indication, Egypt is heading towards a period of division, demonization and polarization. But this is where leadership comes in. Liberal, secular, nationalist or Islamist, all political and religious leaders need to rise above their tent and seek consensus on the key issues of freedom, political participation and economic equality. This applies to the presidential elections in the first place.
Secondly, the issue of political prisoners is another area in which national consensus should be sought to ensure that a significant segment of society is not demonized and oppressed. Releasing political prisoners can open up a new space for consensual politics before the elections.
Thirdly, the Egyptian economy cannot solve its problems with loan/cash money. The economy was already in bad shape before the Tahrir revolution, and things have not improved since then. Egypt needs to move to a production economy and attract foreign investment. This requires at least a minimum of political stability and economic predictability. Egyptian society is faced with hard choices. My hope is that they will choose the path of freedom, democracy and prosperity - a path that will benefit all Egyptians.
About the author
Presidential spokesperson for the Republic of Turkey