Monday’s papers: Contemplating transitions and revolutions

As negotiations continue over the formation of the body that will write Egypt’s new constitution, and in the run-up to Egypt’s second and final round of the presidential election, opinion pieces in Monday’s papers are full of reflection.

Human Rights Watch’s Egypt researcher Heba Morayef is interviewed in privately owned Al-Shorouk about her fears regarding the transfer of power from military to presidential rule after the election, and her reflections on the transitional period since February 2011. “We have not been through a real regime change or institutional reform of the security apparatus,” the main caption reads. 

Morayef says “transitional period” is not an appropriate description of what Egypt has gone through over the last 18 months, because there has not been any real institutional reform, especially in the security sector and judiciary. She voices concern about future relations between citizens and the army, which has reached an all-time low not seen before, even under former President Hosni Mubarak. It will be the responsibility of the new government to manage this complicated relationship, she adds.

Morayef places responsibility and blame on the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, which has failed to implement inclusive policies with other political and minority forces. She cites the initial makeup of the Constituent Assembly as an example. The assembly had originally been dominated by Islamist forces, and its under-representation of liberals, Christians and women eventually led to its breakup.

She ends by saying that the main concern after the transition is that the law is applied so that “the door is closed to human rights violations.” The new president has this responsibility.

Gamal Eid writes in privately owned Al-Tahrir about the second attempt at forming a Constituent Assembly. He voices concerns that Islamists continue to dominate the seats, and that the results of the new round of negotiations look no different to the first.

Most papers lead with the news about discussions taking place on the final formation of the assembly. State-owned Al-Ahram reports that Parliament will discuss today a law passed by the Constitutional and Legislative Affairs Committee for the assembly’s formation. Al-Shorouk breaks the news that the army is trying to push for three out of 10 party seats to be allocated to the ancien regime’s now-dissolved National Democratic Party.

One of the major battles in the revolution’s transition is between revolutionaries and counter-revolutions, which the runoff elections seem to typify.

The elections are between two presidential candidates: Ahmed Shafiq, who is considered a representative of the old regime — he was the last prime minister under Mubarak — and Mohamed Morsy, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, who is unpopular among those who fear the domination of a single party and implementation of a religious ideology. 

Al-Tahrir captures this sentiment in a caricature on its front page. The dialogue reads: “Before the revolution, I voted for the Brotherhood because I hated the regime. Now I will vote for Shafiq because I hate the Brotherhood.”   

A Shafiq win would take the revolution one step back, while many doubt whether Morsy in fact represents a step forward. Either way, a character assassination war has been taking place between the two candidates, with both trying to paint the other as anti-revolutionary.

In the Freedom and Justice Party paper, Osama Nour Eddin writes about the rumor war taking place, fueled by members of the old guard through the media and other sources, that has created misconceptions about the consequences of a Morsy presidency. This creates fear, especially among the easily impressionable poor, he writes.

Rumors include allegations that the Muslim Brotherhood wants to implement religious militias and replace the military institution with its own, and that the group would curb the rights of women — all of which is not true, he says. The challenge is reversing these false rumors through time-consuming discussions to give voters a true picture of the Brotherhood’s intentions. He ends with a proverb from the Quran: “We will see if you were honest or among the liars.”

Two of Al-Shorouk’s main opinion pieces are concerned with transitions and revolutions.

Gamil Mattar writes a piece titled “The conflict of two poles in the Egyptian case,” by which he means the military institution and the religious-political organization of the Brotherhood. Mattar says that he met recently with an expert on transitions to democracy in Latin America, Eastern Europe, Spain and South Africa. The opinion piece relates this discussion and compares these experiences with the Egyptian context.

He laments that not enough time was spent in Egypt studying other countries to create something of a road map for Egypt’s transition. Instead, he said, over the last year and a half, we’ve been more self-reflective and “learned about ourselves, our country and our neighbors what we didn’t know before.” He then goes on to pose a question about whether reformers in South America faced similar problems with curbing the role of the military in governance.

Mattar says both in Egypt and South America, the army has a long history — in the latter, going back to the conquering armies of Spain and Portugal, which used religious men to help their settlements and the submission of the indigenous Indian population to the rule of foreign white men. Similarly, Egypt’s military dates back to the Mamluks and Ottoman Empire, periods in which religious men were also used to maintain societal order.

In Latin America, he says, the relationship between the military and religious men developed after independence, such that the men of the church separated themselves from the army, aligning themselves with the poor and oppressed. In this way, they played a role in the protests that eventually led to the fall of military governments and security sector reform programs.

He points out that the difference with the Egyptian context is the presence of religious political parties, which didn’t exist in South America. Egypt’s religious parties have not aligned themselves solely with the poor. In Egypt, the two poles are stuck in the belief that reform in one means the weakening of the other, Mattar says.

When Chile’s army agreed to reform the security sector, there was no other institution with the same size or power to take it over. In other words, it did not feel threatened.

In Spain, the transition occurred when the monarchy took over and the need for legitimate authority became obvious. The need for legitimacy has yet to make its case in Egypt, Mattar seems to say. In Egypt, the army rules on the basis that it has been the dominant force for the last 60 years; similarly, the Brotherhood believes in its right to rule in the name of religion. “This is the difficulty Egypt’s transition to democracy faces,” he concludes.

Wael Gamal picks up on the ‘foreign hand’ narrative pushed by the ruling military government ever since the revolution began — the notion that the call for change comes from outside and is not borne from the Egyptian people.

This week, state TV broadcasted an advertisement warning Egyptians against speaking to foreigners, who were portrayed as spies trying to undermine national sovereignty. “We admit … our revolution is not local,” Gamal’s piece is entitled. In it, he points out that it is in fact the former regime that has done most to undermine national sovereignty and legitimacy, through its business ties with Israel, selling gas to Israel at below-market prices and purchasing weapons and tear gas from the US.

Gamal reflects on revolutions of the early 20th century in Russia, Germany, France and elsewhere that once triggered set off waves across other countries — people identify in common causes — much like it has done across the Arab world.

He also points out a study by the United Nations Conference on Trade and Development, which finds that prior to the 2008 financial crisis, 20 percent of the world’s rich received 70 percent of the world’s income, while 20 percent of the poor received only 2 percent. It is these economic inequalities and social injustices that unite Occupy movements in Europe and the US with those in Egypt and elsewhere in the Arab world. “Yes … our revolution is not local,” he concludes.

Egypt’s papers:

Al-Ahram: Daily, state-run, largest distribution in Egypt

Al-Akhbar: Daily, state-run, second to Al-Ahram in institutional size

Al-Gomhurriya: Daily, state-run

Rose al-Youssef: Daily, state-run

Al-Dostour: Daily, privately owned

Al-Shorouk: Daily, privately owned

Al-Watan: Daily, privately owned

Al-Wafd: Daily, published by the liberal Wafd Party

Youm7: Daily, privately owned

Al-Tahrir: Daily, privately owned

Freedom and Justice: Daily, published by the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party

Sawt al-Umma: Weekly, privately owned

Al-Arabi: Weekly, published by the Nasserist Party

Al-Nour: Official paper of the Salafi Nour Party

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