“Be careful what you set your heart upon – for it will surely be yours.” These words James Baldwin wrote in 1961, concerned a man who was skeptical of his recent gain, and thought surely it must be a curse instead of a blessing. These days, you can easily fit all of the Egyptians who are worried about too much bliss into one Cairo coffee shop. Actually, you can probably fit them all into one cup.
Egypt behaved during the Mubarak Era as if it were in the eye of a slowly spinning hurricane. But it never spun quite hard enough to blow them over. As long as President Mubarak kept the trains running on time, (figuratively of course, almost nothing in Egypt is ever “on time” by the normal definition of the term), the nation somehow kept it together. But in early 2011, it all came unglued.
“I would encourage all Egyptians to work hard and exercise patience.”
The opposition factions have been deeply divided from the very start. The Salafi movement wanted a stricter adherence to their hardline interpretation of Islam. The Muslim Brotherhood has tried to brand themselves to this faction as “Lightweight Salafi”, but the light Coke is never the same as the real stuff isn’t it? For those associated with the old regime, it was simply a wish to return to positions of power. After being imprisoned and tortured by these figures for so long, the Muslim Brotherhood was surely never going to allow this to happen. And for many of the secularists, anything short of an extreme secularism was never going to suffice. And so it has gone, these separate factions never being able to work together toward a common goal. And so the tents were erected and the carnival of political chaos in post-revolutionary Egypt was begun.
Downward spirals have an end
In political terms, Egypt has been in a downward spiral since the revolution, and downward spirals have an end. This end may be coming in the very near future. Some suggest it may come perhaps as soon as this weekend at the planned June 30th protests. Yes, there are many in Egypt and throughout the Middle East who are very excited about the idea of President Mursi being pushed out of power. Using a street mob to topple a government in such a manner, which will most likely be accompanied by heavy violence, should always be the “nuclear option” (if at all). Should we really believe Egypt needs two such interventions in the span of only two years? Are we to believe this revolution will be so much better than the last one? We have no reason to think so.
Albert Einstein said insanity is doing the same thing, over and over again, and expecting different results. Egyptians would be wise to take note of his words. Repeating the same mistakes will not produce the desired ending. Banging your heads against the wall will not break it down. It’s only going to give you a headache, not much different from the ones you have now. New ideas are required. Our Egyptian friends can learn from the example of others.
I know this will offend many in the Middle East who feed off anti-American sentiment, but what I’m about to say is no less true. It’s easy to imagine America as a colonizing power and forget it was in fact, a colony itself. It was once in the same position Egypt is in now. And though many in the region despise America for a variety of reasons, some valid and some imagined, the American Revolution is still today, an example of how to get it right. But Egypt is not America and we don’t really want a Jeffersonian democracy in the Middle East. Before their revolution began in earnest, representatives from every American colony came together, and wrote their declaration of independence. These representatives were from factions and sects every bit as divisive as those in Egypt today. But somehow, they found a way to agree. They reached compromises. It took months to complete this document, and even when finished, it was not perfect. No one got everything they wanted, but everyone got enough to sign their name to it in the end. Despite all of this, it was not until the 1960s that U.S. emerged as a fully-fledged Democracy.
If the various opposition factions in your nation cannot come together, put aside differences, and agree on the principles of the vision they see for a future society, compromise, and compose such a document themselves, then your nation simply isn’t ready for a revolution. If you cannot agree on something, you should not overthrow anything. If you have no shared vision for the future, then you have no future. You’re not going to create freedom and democracy. You’re going to create more instability and thus will be doomed to failure.
Reminder from Turkey
Secondly, I want to suggest a reminder from my Muslim Turkey for those Egyptians who wish to see Mursi fall. Our democracy went through decades of rough patches before we reached a stable economy in the last 11 years. I’m hearing many making extremely harsh statements about President Mursi, including many saying he should be removed from office or even hanged. In my country, we used to do horrible things like that. We are a nation, which hanged Prime Minister Menderes in 1960, a move, which gave way to a military regime. This was a shameful chapter in our history. Egypt must not repeat it. When you take your nation away from a democratically elected civilian government and turn it over to a military junta, it can be a very long and difficult process to ever get civilian government back. Egypt just went through this process and should know how very true this is, but for some reason, many in the opposition seem to be completely ignoring this reality.
They believe if the Mursi government falls, the secular opposition will somehow form a government to take its place. This is a fantasy. The secular opposition is deeply divided and has spent far too much time in a state of argument and disarray to win elections were they to be held in the near future. Opposition still has no infrastructure in the Egyptian countryside. There are no match right now for the Brotherhood’s political machine, the Freedom and Justice Party. If fair elections were held today, the most likely candidate to replace Mursi would be someone from the old regime, with military support, someone like Ahmed Shafiq, who nearly won the last time. Do you really want to turn back time and herald a return to the previous government, and defeat the stated purpose of your entire revolution? If your desire is simply to reappoint the old regime, then what was the point of your revolution in the first place?
I’m no fan of President Mursi and his ilk. In reality however, hoping for free elections to be held again anytime soon would probably be a fantasy too. If President Mursi’s government collapses, the military will have no choice but to seize control of power and enforce stability, perhaps at the end of a gun, if things really take a turn into a very dark place. How long would it be before they decided to give democracy another chance? Democracy is not perfect. No nation has ever gotten it right overnight. Institutional reform takes time. Rome was not built in a day, or even a century. Patience, not revolution, is now required. Egypt has done itself no favors with such a poor start and no decisive vision, but it is certainly not too late to save it, if we decide to believe in it.
The United States was a deeply divided and troubled country for much of its early existence, as was my own Turkey, and as was nearly every democratic nation on Earth. England and France, while possessing thriving democracies today, arose from centuries of chaos and violence. No one can tell you better than Germany what happens when you get impatient and make a rash and foolish decision concerning your leadership. But the lessons learned from their failures of the last century are a large part of what drives their success in this new century. No one promised you that your first democratically elected President was going to be your best one.
The government of President Mursi will not be overthrown. For a variety of reasons, including international backing, which should never be overlooked, I simply don’t think he’ll be forced to leave office before his term is up. When you speak to diplomats, the one word they love to hear concerning the Middle East, maybe more than any other, is stability. Stability for many, is more important than even peace. The conflict between Israel and Palestine is a perfect example. While peace has been hard to come by and conflicts there have come and gone over the decades, the situation has been fairly stable, in political and situational terms. Western diplomats, while pressing for peace, have been able to tolerate the lack of a peace deal, because the situation has remained relatively stable and unchanging. I suspect they will do everything possible to protect the government of President Mursi, no matter if they actually support his decisions or agree with his efforts. Stability will be paramount in their calculations. An Egypt, which descends into the chaos of a failed state will simply be unacceptable to them.
In the meantime, I would encourage all Egyptians to work hard and exercise patience. Groom and develop your leaders of tomorrow and make a commitment to participating in a democratic process. Educate them in the mistakes of the past and prepare them for a brighter future.
Perpetual protests are not the answer. Endless revolutions are not a solution. When you revolve too often, you’ll come back to the point where you started. You must believe in democracy, even when it does not seem to believe in you. As you head toward protest this weekend put your country above party politics. The world will be watching you.
Ceylan Ozbudak is a Turkish political analyst, television presenter, and executive director of Building Bridges, an Istanbul-based NGO. She can be followed on Twitter via @ceylanozbudak