Aug 5, 2014

The missing link: Egypt's civil society

I was reading an article this morning about the shifting coalitions in the US and how both the democrats and the republicans are trying to adapt their strategies to adapt, survive and win and that even included some senior republicans wondering if their alignment with the Climate Change is a hoax is of best interest or not of the party.

That really make me reflect on whether politics in Egypt, will be anytime soon, based on the ability to build and maintain dynamic coalitions that cut across diverse groups and agendas. Having been working for a political party for the last couple of years makes me appreciate the complexities of accomplishing such a feat. Particularly when you consider the structural and legal obstacles these parties are facing.

Let's step away from the politics of Egypt and look at something less divisive, say policies. Say for example a party would want to launch an educational reform policy that would focus on reducing private tutoring in public schools. In most, if not all, mature democracies such party would have to engage with the civil society groups (unions, interest groups, etc..) that already have legitimacy in representing the interests of the different partners (teachers, parents). As a party you couldn't just depend on your technocrats on developing the most effective policy, but you would engage with the civil society in developing the policies and laws that have the most chance of getting passed. The challenge here is that such interest groups are largely missing in Egypt and the ones that exists are a facade, with little legitimacy. That makes it difficult for political parties to mobilize grassroots around issues of their concern.

The legal infrastructure that supports having such a vibrant civil society is lacking, all while very little effort is being put in mapping, networking and empowering the few fragmented groups out there. In order for either to happen, we need to have a legal framework that encourages civil society to mature and organize itself in a way where it is representative of the different groups of society and their opposing interest. One existant you need to strengthen that with information and data, this includes and is not limited to: transparency on, and circulation of, government plans and progress reports, raw census data, as well as the freedom to run and publish polls without police supervision/approval.

For this country to move forward, to address the needs of its people, and the dreams its youth we need to change the way politics and civil society work and interact. We will only have stability and progress that we demand once we are able to have information about the interests of the people and have their actual buy-in on changes that impact them. This buy-in comes from representatives of these stakeholders. You can't do this without a strong, vibrant and independent civil society. And that can't be accomplished with a security comes first mentality.

That's why we should all be wary of the last 7 attempts to pass an NGO law, because all of the ones proposed since 2011, ensure the weakening of civil society not strengthening it.