Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Egypt and Democracy: Winning the Revolution, Losing the Political Battle - Organization

Now that they've won the revolution (so to speak), what do the revolutionaries need to do?  Many realize that they must coalesce into some form of political party to contest the elections, but there is a difference between organizing a revolution and organizing a political movement.  There is a big difference between being the revolutionary and governing a state.  In a democracy, the popular leader of a revolt may get the first votes in a free election, but it doesn't mean they will survive (politically or physically) to the next election.  

What if you have a revolution and no one can claim to be the leader?  What if you have a revolution whose main, universal objectives are to over throw the current government and allow open elections?  

Basically, they end up where they are now.  The most organized political forces own he political battle field and the liberals are wondering what to do next.  

Part of the problem is that a main body of the revolution is still acting like revolutionaries.  Probably because they do not see the revolution as "won" since the military is still in control and the people appointed to the cabinet are either nominal members of the previous regime or distantly connected to its old apparatus.  Further, they see the existence of the old party of the old regime has not been dismantled and the constitution that they believed was the tool of that old system effectively remains in place. Note their demands:

1. The trial of all of the former regime’s corrupt officials and those responsible for deaths during the revolution.
2. Dissolving the former ruling National Democratic Party and confiscating its assets.
3. Dissolving local councils and removing their governors.

That is only their top three. All of them could be achieved once these groups gain political power in the assembly, but they are not the reasons why people will elect representatives to the new parliament.

From the perspective of the current situation, they are going down the wrong path.  The Egyptian people have voted overwhelmingly to accept new constitutional amendments.  Largely on the basis of hoping to get to the new democratic process sooner rather than later.  In doing so, they have set the wheel in motion for the next parliamentary elections.  Those elected to parliament will then select/elect 100 members to either write a new constitution or reform the old.

The revolutionaries believe that the process should have been different.  Select representatives to write a new constitution then elect parliamentary representatives based on the new laws.  It is a procedural issue, but one they believe will allow the many parts of Egypt's newly minted democrats the opportunity to participate in building this constitution where as they fear that groups like the Muslim Brotherhood will have an overwhelming power to shape the constitution. 

That is the potential as the MB is set to win a number of seats in parliament.  They have recently upgraded their potential for gaining seats from 30% to 35% or more.  In fact, they are already acting like the party in power by pronouncing that they will not "maintain an exclusive role".  Some believe that this is the Muslim Brotherhood still trying to allay the fears of the more secular organizations and citizens.  Never the less, the fact that they issued this statement indicates that they recognize their power in the face of a disorganized opposition.

There are an untold number of organizations, loose groups and individuals who represent the more liberal or secular part of the new opposition.  That is the recognition that the liberals must come to realize.  The political field is shifted.  This is no longer a unified Revolution with all parties supporting a short list of demands to get to a new form of government.  In fact, the fissures were present during the revolution when the MB attempted to hedge their bets by sending or allowing some of their members to attempt to negotiate with the old regime. 

It is moving even further apart as the Muslim Brotherhood has already had a political platform and is beginning to spread those ideas.  More so, they have considerable practice is presenting their ideas in a politically acceptable way.  For instance, in their announcement concerning their involvement in the formation of the constitution:

Helmy al-Gazzar, a member of the group's Shoura (consultancy) Council, said the Brotherhood will not create the new constitution alone.
"Excluding the other is a violation of the social pact," al-Gazzar said.
"It is certain that within less than a year, we will have a new constitution that achieves the aspirations of those who backed, or rejected, the amendments," said Saad al-Husseiny, another member.

"Social pact".  "Achieves the aspirations of" all Egyptians.  The MB already speaks the language of politics while the opposition is still speaking the language of revolutionaries with their list of "demands". 

That is water under the bridge.  The amendments have passed and, to date, while their have been many demonstrations for this, that and the other thing, the likelihood of the revolutionaries to be able to carry out a two to ten million strong protest to achieve their demands is about zero.  They are stuck with the political process the referendum allowed and now they must organize to confront the opposition. 

That is the first step towards organization for the liberals on the right, center and the far left.  They must recognize that the Muslim Brotherhood is the opposition.  The "loyal" opposition as they are Egyptians and were part of the revolution, but they are the opposition none the less.  Not simply because they are "Islamists" and the liberals are secular, but because the revolution was meant to obtain the civil rights of ALL Egyptians.  By their platform and their organization, the Muslim Brotherhood are exclusionary and do not support civil rights for everyone. 

The Muslim Brotherhood have already announced that they do not support either women or Christians (anyone who is not Muslim) for president and hope to have this as a "test" instituted by law within the constitution.  Further, they helped to institute a test of birth and marriage for the presidency in order to exclude potential rivals and consolidate their power.  Not unlike the previous regime.  That does not even touch the difficult path they supported for a candidate to reach for that election through parliament approval in the first place. 

Of course, any organization that begins their "official" political life abrogating any individual or groups' rights, however minimal they phrase it, will not be adverse to stepping on anyone else's rights.  They will phrase these denial of rights as minimal and reasonable, but they will be a denial of rights.  That is the issue that the liberal opposition must take as their position.  The liberals must be the party that will protect all of the rights of all the people.  The MB and their fellow travelers only want to protect the rights of some of the people.  That is not why the people went to the street.

First, the liberals must BE a party.  Or even two or three, but they cannot be twenty or thirty parties.  Too many parties trying to support too many candidates, spreading too many votes makes for a weak campaign.  Those candidates can be beaten by a single candidate with a more organized campaign and support base by winning less than 30% of the votes in a district.  In short, it could be an MB candidate with a minority in a district and still get the parliamentary seat. 

This is the reason that most "mature" democracies have two or three major parties.  In the United States it is two major parties with one or two smaller parties that rarely win even a congressional seat, much less presidency.  There are some who believe that this is the worst part about US politics, but politics and elections are about money, votes and organization as much as they are about ideas.  A split party or several parties vying for the same set of voters in a similar subset will not get enough votes for any candidate to win against the larger, more organized and centralized party.

For instance, in 1992, Ross Perot ran as an "independent" against George H. W. Bush and Bill Clinton.  Ross Perot was not a democrat.  His main supporters were either Republicans or independents that leaned Republican.  George H. W. Bush was a Republican.  Bill Clinton was a Democrat.  At the time of elections, Ross Perot peeled off a number of Bush supporters (19%), but not enough to win the presidency.  He did take the votes away from Mr. Bush.  That made Mr. Bush's numbers lower (38%) and Bill Clinton won the presidency with less than half of the over all votes (43%).  Had Ross Perot not run and split the Republican or Republican leaning vote, George H.W. Bush would have had a second term as president without even getting all of Ross Perot's 19% (surely some of those were Democrat leaning voters who just liked his business approach).

The same issue confronted the Labour, Conservatives and Greens parties in England with the Greens peeling of a number of parliament seats from Labour and it is the same problem, even worse, in Iraq where they have a multitude of parties with all of their various agendas.  None of them are popular enough to actually to form a majority "governing" block in parliament by themselves.  They are forced to cooperate and this makes their ability to govern weak, allowing fractures that the one party out of governance majority with less than 30% of the parliament can exploit.  In short, the one party with the least number of seats can control whether a law gets passed or not over multiple parties with conflicting agendas with a majority of the seats.

Worse, if the multiple parties with the majority cannot cooperate and form a government, the single minority party can take power and rule, choosing the prime minister and cabinet posts.  This is called "minority rule". 

With the MB, the Salafists and the remnants of the NDP, the advent of three or more liberal parties will split the votes and the parliament into multiple weak blocks who will be at the mercy of any party who has at least 30% control (the MB).  Worse, that means that the parliament will be weaker than any president elected instead of creating a check or balance. 

The worst might be that the presidential candidate who wins only has support from one of the smaller blocks in parliament.  The president will then be weaker than parliament instead of on equal footing.  In a country that has just suffered under one strong "president" for 30 years, that might not be so unappealing for limiting powers.  However, it would lead to weak leadership that cannot get anything done because he/she does not have the support and any (or all) actions can be vetoed by the minority party in parliament.  Then the people will suffer from that weakness and the state itself will be considered weak by any outside nations or leaders.

The second issue confronting a multitude of parties is exhaustion of funding and organization.  Campaigns take money and people to run.  Too many parties with too many candidates means that the funds and people are spread too thin.  They will be unable to compete effectively against an organized and even slightly better funded though minority party in a district. 

What that means is that the liberals are going to have to decide how many parties and candidates they are going to field.  They are going to have to decide this quickly.  More than one or two candidates in a district will divide their funds, efforts and votes, thus, losing the district to any conservative opposition.

It is the parliamentary seats by district that they will have to contest first.  It is these seats that, for the moment, are important because it is the people sitting in parliament who will form the constitution.  The constitution will be the LAW OF THE LAND from which all other laws flow.  It will either guarantee individual rights of the ALL the CITIZENS or it can be formulated to deny some rights to some or many. 

The constitution will be the document that organizes all future government and elections.  To put it bluntly, those in power tend to try to stay in power.  It will be in their interests to create some form of road blocks for various groups to participate.  Even if it is only some minority, such as Coptic Christians or women or anyone who is not sufficiently Islamic enough from obtaining the presidency, they will have limited multiple small parts of society from participating. 

As with the lessons on minority rule in multiple party parliaments, even denial of only small groups from participating makes their minority position more powerful than it should be against any remaining parties or groups of citizens.  Aside from degrading all people's rights when they degrade anyone's rights, this maneuver to improve their power should make the liberals stand up and take notice. 

The liberals are being out maneuvered.  They may have won the revolution, but they are losing the political battle.  They're only answer is to become organized, now and stop playing the revolutionaries.  They need to concentrate on how to win seats in parliament otherwise they are going to be relegated to doing nothing but marching in the streets and chanting slogans while everyone else decides the future of Egypt. 

They have momentum now, but it is quickly fading.  Fortunately, some are already discussing how they may use insurgent tactics of the rebel to make it happen:  A Parliamentary Plan 2011

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