08 December 2012

Partisanship in Egypt

It's been a dramatic day in Egypt, beginning with rumors of martial law but ending with President Morsi apparently rescinding the controversial decree granting himself extraordinary powers while reaffirming that the country's constitutional referendum would take place as scheduled on the 15th. Morsi's opponents have demanded a delay after many boycotted the drafting process. For many Egyptians, if not a majority, any proposal identified with the Muslim Brotherhood is not to be trusted. From outside, it's easy to see this as a showdown between secularists and salafists, and Islamophobes around the world instinctively see all the bad on Morsi's side. Americans can empathize with the political paranoia rampant in Egypt today, but those of us who want Americans to transcend that paranoia should want the same thing elsewhere. There are unavoidable grounds for suspicion of Morsi's political party, an offshoot of the Brotherhood, but Egyptians and outsiders need to remember that the Brotherhood still represents huge numbers of Egyptians, if not a majority, while Morsi himself represents a bare majority of the electorate, having won a runoff election. The most interesting comment I've seen today comes from the Brotherhood's "Supreme Guide," who acknowledged with a degree of maturity not normally associated with fanatic organizations that his organization is widely feared, hated and mistrusted. "Get angry with the Brotherhood and hate us as much as you like," he says (in translation), "but be reasonable and preserve Egypt's unity." Unity is to be preserved, he argues, through dialogue. He's right, of course; the Brotherhood, however odious their perceived agenda, has to be part of the Egyptian revolution. It's unrealistic for dissidents to demand that the Brotherhood or Morsi disappear, to deal with an apparently legally elected leader like he was Mubarak. But revolutions are paranoid moments. Counterrevolution is seen around every corner and in every furtive glance. Everyone assumes that everyone else is out to become the new tyrant. Revolutions are also coercive moments; to a certain extent, someone is going to be a tyrant, at least for a while. If anything, Egypt's revolution is complicated to the extent that it's been half-assed, but what else could it be when it began with an abdication and a void at the top rather than a sweeping seizure of power. Despite all the accusations it's been a remarkably pluralist revolution so far, and all the more riddled with accusations for that reason. It's been a multi-party revolution but every party is maneuvering for advantage and none want to hear that a no-party revolution might have been the better option. To the extent that all the parties are ideological, compromise may come less easily than it did in the post-revolutionary U.S.A., when only interests had to be compromised, however temporarily. Compromise and reconciliation in Egypt may still depend on a recognition of interests rather than ideologies and some good old neo-Lincolnian horse trading. If the Brotherhood and its antagonists prove capable of such horse trading, Egypt may turn out better than many people fear, as long as the revolution has something to offer everyone beside the power that can only go to a few. If the Egyptian parties can manage this feat, they may even turn out better than the U.S. in the long run. Wouldn't it be a pleasant surprise if such a supposedly benighted Arab Muslim people could set an example for the rest of us?

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