By Dr. Ronald Meinardus
For me, the best news on 4 November, the day of the historic trial of former President Mohamed Morsi, was that Egypt for a change did not bewail fatal victims of politically inspired clashes. Blood and death have become an earmark of Egyptian politics; the continuous violence has contributed to the image of an unstable and unsafe country. It will take both time and effort for these negative perceptions to go away. After all the turbulences, Egypt needs to return to normality, and 4 November may well have been a turning point in that direction.
The West, and with this I mean the various governments in Europe and North America, have problems agreeing on a common strategy vis-à-vis the transitional government in Cairo. Probably the single most important common denominator is that everyone is pressing for an “inclusive” order. This means that all political forces, including the marginalised Muslim Brothers, should be part of the political equation.
How to include the forces of political Islam in the democratic process remains one of the top challenges of the transition government after 30 June, an uprising aimed at neutralising, if not annihilating, the religiously inspired group. There are indications that the security apparatus has partly or completely achieved this objective. Long term stability, however, does not rely on security operations alone. Sustainable stability demands a political consensus or, as a minimum condition, an open-ended political process. The contours of this process are yet to be seen. There are no indications that political talks or negotiations are happening between the forces supporting 30 June and those opposing it. They are certainly not part of the much discussed political roadmap.
Everyone is aware that Egypt’s tattered economy will not return to the needed growth rates before stability is back. It is this simple truth that, more than anything else, explains the extraordinary political popularity of the military which understandably alienates many foreign democrats. Today, very many Egyptians trust that the military will get things back to order and also halt the downturn.
The events on 4 November have demonstrated the weakness of the Brotherhood at mobilising their followers. This has been a gradual process and become apparent over the past few weeks as the numbers in the demonstrations dwindled. This important turn may be a good chance for the government to approach the opposing side with the aim of cutting a political deal and thereby lay the groundwork for a sustainable recovery.
The government is demonstrating strength – and the people seem to appreciate this demonstration of force after all the unease of the past. However, there is little place for hubris. History teaches – and Egypt’s history is a case in point – that popularity and trust are volatile goods. Should the forces of 30 June fail to deliver on the demands of 25 January, and the people not sense an improvement in their daily lives soon, the general mood could quickly turn around again. We have seen it before and we may see it again.
Even though Egyptians do not like to hear it, the past few years have shown that regarding politics they have short memory spans. Let this be a warning and a wake-up call for those in power to get their act together and produce tangible results.
The Egyptian people have made it clear on more than one occasion that they have had enough of empty talk.
Dr. Ronald Meinardus is the Regional Director of the Friedrich Naumann Foundation for Liberty