Egypt’s opposition needs to start playing politics

How will Egypt's opposition face the coming challenges?

A voter casts her ballot during the constitutional referendum


Another thoughtful piece from The Economist on Egypt’s constitutional woes.

The magazine notes the low turnout in the first round of last week’s referendum, and cautions the Muslim Brotherhood against reacting to their apparently waning support by seeking an ever tighter grip on power.

But there are also stern words for the National Salvation Front, the country’s main opposition group:

“The opposition, for its part, should start relying more on negotiation and less on demonstration. Street protests were a force for good before democracy prevailed—they toppled Mr Mubarak, after all—but if they become a routine way to change the law and remove governments, then Egypt will never learn how to reconcile interests and settle disputes through everyday politics.”

“The non-Islamist opposition, which is coming together for the first time in a broad front, should concentrate on preparing for the imminent general election. To compete with Islamists at a local level, they must start tackling the urgent bread-and-butter concerns of poor people.”

It has been a criticism routinely leveled at Egypt’s liberal, secular and leftist opposition since the toppling of Mubarak – that they are out of touch with the concerns of ‘ordinary voters’.

With fresh parliamentary elections rapidly approaching, the Economist argues that now is the time to start undermining that unhelpful perception.

Cairo Spring brings bright buds…and a few duds

The Egypt uprising has led to a surge of political activity

Originally published at, March 2, 2011

It reads like a roll-call of Marxist guerrilla groups.

The Egyptian Rebels; The Coalition of Egyptian Revolutionaries; The Council of the Trustees of the Revolution.

If it wasn’t for another group calling itself the Independent Academics and Development Workers Coalition, there would be the faintest whiff of Farc-style pistol politics in the air.

But the dizzying rush by activists to get a toehold in post-Mubarak Egypt is not as alarming as some of these names would suggest. On the contrary, sometimes it all seems rather farcical.

From one coalition to the next, various factions have been stepping forward under different banners in a bid to get a slice of the media limelight.

There is less of that now Colonel Gaddafi is using warplanes to bomb his own people in neighboring Libya. Yet the political space which has been created since the 25 January uprising has nevertheless provided a spur to myriad have-a-go politicos.

Bassem Samir is the director of the Egyptian Democratic Academy, an election monitoring group with ties to the youth activist movement.

He said: “We can say that it is a citizens’ revolution. There is no specific kind of person.

“My brother and his wife are working in a bank. They have problems and things they want to change, so they are trying to start a revolution inside their bank.”

With coalitions being comprised of factions within factions, it is difficult to keep track of the mutating political smorgasbord. But in reality, there is not a huge amount of difference between many of the groups.

Just ask Amar Al-Wakeel, a journalist who heads the murky-sounding Egyptian Rebels.

“There is no difference,” he admits. “We’re all trying to have one aim.”

As Samir points out, a lot of the coalitions are just keen for a bit of publicity. Yet he said the blossoming political activity is just a natural consequence of living for 30 years under authoritarian rule.

“In the past the state did not work, and now it’s the job of the people to make a strong civil society. The people trying to make coalitions are the people trying to make society.”

Some of the groups do have real clout. The January 25 coalition—which includes young Muslim Brotherhood members, Mohamed El-Baradei supporters and a number of other groups—is comprised of members who pre-date the recent uprising and have deep roots in the opposition movement.

On Sunday night they met with military figures in a bid to iron out differences between the Higher Military Council now ruling Egypt and disgruntled activists impatient for change.

Parliamentary and presidential elections are scheduled for the summer; too early in the minds of the January 25 coalition, who want more time to develop a body politic.

As one representative from the group told me with a grin, “none of the other coalitions really matter.”

And now that they are playing with the generals in the big league, it seems hard to disagree.