Jun 18, 2012

Finding hope in the midst of darkness

The last 72 hours have been a political roller coaster, a parliament disbanded, potentially Morsi elected president and supplementary constitutional declaration that empowers SCAF while putting measures that ensure a balanced (not necessarily good) constitution.

These developments have fundamentally changed the (temporary) political power structures in Egypt, giving most political camps some wins. The biggest winner of those of course is the SCAF while one can argue that the biggest losers are the feloul.

But one can argue that what actually has happened is not too bad. Of course this argument hinges on the assumption that the SCAF has good intentions. And even though I truly believe in the utter weakness of such assumption, I think it is sometimes healthy to try to find some dim light after a year and a half of crawling through a pitch black tunnel.

These latest developments can be assumed to be actions in a parallel universe where the people of Egypt on March 19th, 2011 had refused the referendum and committed to a path that gives us a temporary president, to write the constitution first, then reelect a president and elect a new parliament.

In this parallel universe the SCAF have balanced the powers between the temporary president and itself. This balance of power is secured though the inability of the president to change the leadership or funding of the army and SCAF. Furthermore the current unofficial election results showcase that regardless of who wins the elections neither would have a broad mandate from the people to drive change, this is apparent from the turnout rate, the close results and the high number of spoiled ballots and boycotters.

The SCAF has furthermore put some generally reasonable rules that would govern the constitutional writing process.  These include a veto right to the president, prime minister, the judiciary, 20% of the constituent committee and SCAF itself. Furthermore that the final decision maker in the battle to write the constitution would not be SCAF but the constitutional court. Assuming the appointment of a diverse and representative constituent assembly, these changes would result in a more balanced conciliatory PC constitution.

As for consolidation of power with the SCAF, this is arguable at best, as the President will still have the authority to appoint ministers and set the government. Additionally the president as head of the executive branch must sign laws to bring them into effect, which brings balance to the legislative authority that the SCAF had stolen.

So in summary the SCAF had gained some power in the last 72 hours but so has the MB, this will result in the existence of checks and balances between both. The civil forces in this country have also won some structural guarantees that the constitution would not be hijacked by one party over the other. Shafik and the feloul have lost all these battles and made no gains.

I think this is a chance for us all to stop and catch our breath, and organize ourselves to ensure this very complicated chess game plays to our advantage. That means when we see the SCAF abusing its powers we side with the MB and one the MB abuses its powers we side with SCAF. We have a chance to be king makers in the short term. In the medium term we need to fight our way into a representative and diverse constituent assembly. We should ensure that presidential elections are done immediately following a successful referendum on a constitutional proposal.  And finally finish this transition process with reelecting the parliament. In all of this we need not forget that aside from the huge battles facing us there is a looming economic crisis on our doorsteps.

Because pretty much we are back to March 18th 2011, where we were asking for a temporary civil president to lead us while we write a constitution and prepare for parliamentary elections. We now have one with checked powers.

Now I know all of what I said is based on many assumptions, the two most critical are the good intents of the SCAF and the MB. These are difficult assumptions to swallow and accept, but nonetheless this is the harsh reality we are facing. Personally I have lost hope for any large transformational change in this country, but I would like to believe (maybe naively) that there is still some hope for some gradual change. This little hope is worthy of us clinging to it, fighting for it and demanding a more progressive civil Egypt. 

Update: Ok I was wrong and hopeful, and should have never disagreed with the cynic in me. The SCAF's appointment of Morsi's chief of staff and the new national security council without any collaboration assures me that my wild and hypothetical assumption is invalid.