It is probably true that the political situation in Egypt is not what it used to be four years ago – specifically since 2004. One cannot overlook the changes that have taken place in the relationship between the state and society, in addition to transformation of public awareness.
The question is: Will the changes Egypt has witnessed in the past few years deliver real democratic reform, or are they akin to a phantom pregnancy that will serve only to prolong the current authoritarianism?
It would be difficult to claim that what has happened over the past two years reflects genuine democratic reform. It does, however, mark a shift from a state of absolute authoritarianism to semi or pseudo authoritarianism. This is what political scientists describe as “defective democracy .
The danger of this lies in the fact that it does not reflect the transitional phase between both states but could turn into a permanent situation for some societies where the authoritarian regime renews its tools of control to give a false impression of democratic reform even though at its core, it perpetuates its authoritarian practices.
Unfortunately it seems that we are going through such a phase right now and there is no way of knowing how long it might last.
The signs coming from the political regime indicate that the situation will remain stagnant indefinitely – apart from a few superficial changes here and there, to airbrush the picture.
The crackdown on all forms of political opposition – whether political parties, the Muslim Brotherhood, the judiciary or the press – following a relative widening of the margins of freedom throughout 2005 and 2006, proves the regime’s unwillingness to give up any of its powers.
In fact new legislation restricting the freedom of political participation is now being drafted to prohibit protests in places of worship, for instance. Another draft law will tighten scrutiny of non-governmental organizations, not to mention the highly controversial anti-terrorism law expected to violate human rights under the umbrella of the recently amended article 179 of the constitution.
The dilemma faced by the National Democratic Party’s new elite, who hold most of the cards in the political game, is that they want to bring together two opposites. The first is to convince the people that they come armed with a new vision that will change the political and social reality to give them the public appeal they desperately need to guarantee their coveted transition of power. The second is the fear that any real democratic reform would lead to the loss of power and a failure to reinforce social control; hence the dilemma of legitimacy and suppression.
This is the secret behind the regime’s sensitivity towards any criticism related to the state of democracy and human rights. It also explains the swift crackdown on attempts to invigorate the culture of freedom which spread in 2005 and 2006 and encouraged wide sectors of the population to demand their rights.
The future of democratic reform in Egypt, thus, partially depends on answering the question: How far will the new political elite be able to balance this difficult equation of legitimacy and suppression?
Khalil Al-Ananiis an expert on Political Islam and Deputy Editor of Al Siyassa Al Dawliya journal published by Al-Ahram Foundation.