This is a letter in response to a comment over at Sandmonkey by Rashid.
First, let me put my take on this in perspective. I am not "afraid" of the MB getting a piece of the political pie. They will, no matter what. I am glad they will get to really participate. Let them be part of actually having to govern a state rather than being on the outside shouting slogans. The reality is world's apart.
What I am concerned about is that those who went to Tahrir for freedom are not prepared to fight the next battle and will leave the MB with much more of the pie than they should get. Why?
I wrote about it here. The MB is organized, has a platform, has long time membership, has outreach programs and has its own news papers, TV, etc. They are light years ahead of you all (I'll give you a general term of "liberals")in terms of political experience, preparation and participation.
I realize what Mubarek was doing, but it does not negate the reality of practicing politics. When it comes time for elections, the difference can be quite telling.
Secondly, per my blog on political realities, in times of turmoil and crisis, people tend to do two things: fall back on their conservative roots as a bulwark against the insanity and bet on the people/things that they know. Also, urban groups tend to forget about their rural counterparts out in "fly over country" (as we call it). Those groups almost always trend more conservatively. Particularly because they are often older since the young tend to flee towards the urban centers for jobs and education.
Based on how Egypt's voting districts are carved up with two seats in parliament per district, that equates to at least twenty to twenty five seats, maybe more, that can very likely go to a "conservative" candidate, most likely with some affiliation with the MB or with Islamic conservative leanings, who will, by their constituent demands, go with the conservative block.
Third, if you look at how parliaments work with more than two major parties taking a majority one way or the other, even 25% (I say 30%) can act as a controlling block, especially when (I don't say if, but when) all of the other parties seated do not have a similar majority and have difficulty joining forces due to ideological/agenda differences or because they are working on solidifying and boosting their adherents in the public venue so they don't want to look like they agree too much with an opponent group. (Please look at Iraq's parliament and how they get things done...or not; they have at least six major parties there with none having a clear majority and their "coalition" government can barely get the trash picked up and the electricity staying on).
If the MB has at least 30% of the seats with some lesser Islamist/conservative leaning candidates/parties getting another five to ten, when it comes time for presenting a voting block to push through bills or, more importantly, block bills that might be too liberal for their tastes, they can act as a spoiler.
But, let's get to the other problems. You have mentioned our labor unions. They present a serious voting block in our country that can often push a candidate into Congress. You in Egypt have the same issue. The labor unions are a big part of your work force (27%). They, like the MB, have a ready made organization, information network, news papers, leadership and a captive funding base. And, they don't have to rely just on their union members, they will appeal to other laborers interested in improving their wages, health care, etc.
These will represent the likely second largest party in parliament. Among the issues facing you is that these groups have already had experience partnering with the MB out in the non-parliament world. Do not suppose that their issues of "social justice" etc are so different that they will not be willing to partner in Parliament for some quid pro quo (ie, you scratch my back, I'll scratch yours). This could see some support for tighter Sharia law enforcement (such as restricting alcohol, penalties/taxes for businesses that are open on the sabbath, etc) in exchange for support on workers issues and strengthening unions or opening other labor markets to unionization.
While that seems like no big deal, it is a) just the first line of encroachment on freedom/liberality and b) could be a serious hindrance to developing your economy with both the tourist industry and your own internal consumers. Once it happens, it is hard to turn back the clock.
I expect that the union/labor party(s) will get 25-30% as well. When you put that together with the MB, that is 50-60% of your parliament. Leaving only 40% to be divided between whatever groups are left over (Liberals, communists, coptic Christians, some form of revamped NDP - because you know they are not going to go away). That doesn't leave the liberal folks much power to play with. That's IF you can put together a party, leadership, funding and some form of organization within the next 60 days (the proposed length for the next election to parliament).
My liberal Egyptian friends keep telling me how the MB can only get 20 or 25% (you all don't even agree on that), but my question to you is really, what percentage of parliament seats do you think you can get? Between all of the possibilities of parties going to the ballot box, how will you perform? Can you actually beat that and/or create an amalgam of liberal parties to represent a real counter to their power? Who, by the way, will be busy in-fighting over important ministry and judicial appointments/sharing (see Iraq) while the other, more organized and disciplined block goes about the business of pushing their agenda.
If we are honest, you all have been very vocal about not having leadership and not caring who gets in as long as you can vote them out. Well, according to how the current committee for the (limited?) revision of the constitution to get to the next election is made up, once they get in, you are going to have a hell of a time getting them out or countering them.
The dictum goes: those in power are extremely reluctant to give it up. What kind of real change can you expect? Will you be more free or will it be equally repressive under new laws?
This isn't just some concern from the "West". This is a real friend who is concerned about the future for my friends over there.
You all lack an organization, clear leaders, an appealing agenda (besides being the revolutionary youth to topple the regime), funding and, beyond the internet, no voice into the rest of the non-facebook/blog/twitter polity of Egypt. They might love you for taking out Mubarek, but that doesn't mean they will love what direction you are going to take the country.
By the way, if your group of youthful folks want real participation in politics, the first thing you had better hope for is that the "committee" over turns the electoral rule that states members of parliament must be 30 years or older. They need to reduce it to 25. Otherwise, it is going to be the older folks doing the politicking while they pat you on the head, thank you for doing the work they couldn't and then tell you to run along while the adults take care of business.
It is the liberal Jan25 youths that are going to be lucky to get 20% of the parliament and they are going to be faced with making compromises with people they probably otherwise would rather tell to take a hike.
El Baradei and others have not even been invited to talk with the Supreme council, participate in the revision committee or otherwise participate in anyway for the new government. The "jurists" selected are largely MB related lawyers. What do you think you are getting out of that?
What I would like to hear right now is not some platitudes about not worrying about the MB. I am worrying because it feels like you all are not. What I want to know, for the sake of your own future, is what are you all doing to get organized right now for the next fight for freedom: the elections?
Because, that is what freedom is about. Constant vigilance and the fight to remain that way.
Yours in liberty,
Sunday, February 20, 2011
This is a letter in response to a comment over at Sandmonkey by Rashid.