Sunday night, during a late night call to the “Al-Hafez” television channel, I took part in a discussion with a prominent Egyptian political analyst regarding the country’s rampant political polarisation.
For those who don’t know, Al-Hafez is a relatively extremist channel that plays host to a number of far right personalities, including a sheikh who accused the country’s artists and musicians of practicing immorality and debauchery. For these statements he was taken to court, convicted of libel and slander, and the channel was subsequently shut down for a month. Other guests include the sheikh responsible for burning a copy of the Bible in Tahrir Square. Their extremism has caused them to go so far as to criticise many of the policies of the Muslim Brotherhood, which they have described as compromising the values and precepts put forth in Islam. However despite this, and perhaps in response to the sharp criticism they encountered from within the ranks of Egypt’s democracy movement, in addition to a number of prominent television personalities such as Bassem Youssef, Al-Hafez has largely taken to supporting the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohamed Morsi, perhaps in an attempt to overpower Egypt’s liberals while at the same time appearing to be more moderate.
I presume that my invitation to take part in a discussion on Al-Hafez, (which constituted the first time someone from Egypt’s democracy movement had been hosted on the network), came as part of an attempt by the station’s leadership to appear more moderate and receptive. I accepted the invitation, much to the chagrin of many of my friends and colleagues, who accused me of too often appearing on stations friendly to the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies, as opposed to those that oppose and are hostile to them. The latter in my opinion (networks that oppose the Brotherhood) are self defeating in that their audience is largely (if not entirely) made up of the advocates and supporters of Egypt’s democracy movement who are already firmly grounded in their beliefs. Appearing on such networks would therefore be preaching to the choir.
These people obviously also oppose me appearing on stations such as “Al Nas” and “25 January”, saying that by doing so I am lending legitimacy to such networks, whose audience they label as “hopeless” and largely beyond saving. Those who oppose my appearance on these networks accuse me of taking part in less than polite political dialogue, a fact which could threaten to chip away at my own legitimacy and the respect held for me by my supporters and viewers.
I feel that many of the burdens and the pressure I endure as a result of my political activities can be likened to that suffered by inmates locked away in prison. A member of Egypt’s democracy movement appearing on such networks can be considered a type of sacrifice, necessary in order to appeal to the Egyptian audience as a whole and potentially have an effect on their political persuasions. It is simply incorrect to suggest that the Egyptian populace is like a solid immovable block that cannot be influenced one way or another.
As I’ve made clear in previous articles, Egypt has lived through its fair share of struggle and political polarisation, such as the division between the country’s rich and poor, civil and religious, democratic and repressive, those with money versus those with power, and of course, between the corrupt and the hopeless. All of these divisions intersect and collide, with some at times taking precedence over others, only to melt away and fade into the background later. However despite these various fault lines, we can say that generally Egypt’s political scene is split between three primary factions: the first being the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies; the second being advocates of the old, hegemonic state; and the third of course being Egypt’s democracy movement. These three factions are primarily those that determine the nature and extent of Egypt’s political polarisation, and will continue to do so in the future.
The problem with polarisation lies not only in the lack of unity seen amongst Egypt’s various political forces, and their inability to reach a consensus regarding certain issues, but also in the way in which these groups conduct their struggle with one another in a way that prevents coexistence. For the third group, the problem has largely revolved around how best to remove the obstacles preventing us from establishing our long sought after democratic state.
All that being said, there are three possible outcomes for how Egypt’s political forces can seek to deal with one another: the first being ideological compromise, the second coexistence, and the third being antagonisation and the eventual removal and elimination of competing factions.
Those who advocate for political compromise are those who would consider themselves to be mediators, and include such parties and personalities as Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh, Misr Al-Qawiya, the Al-Wasat Party, the Conscience Front and the Al-Hadara Party. Their efforts to convince Egypt’s various factions that they can serve as true mediators have largely failed however. Their main failure has been their inability to present a specific political platform or set of ideas that is capable of transcending Egypt’s various ideological divides and encouraging unity within the ranks of the country’s politicians. They have been particularly ineffectual at bridging the gap between Egypt’s religious and secular forces, largely because at the end of the day their true persuasion and sympathies are closer to that of the Muslim Brotherhood than anyone else.
Acknowledging the existence of political polarisation, and the inability of the country’s political parties to breach or overcome it, is precisely what has led to the establishment of Egypt’s three competing political factions. Meanwhile there are some who would seek to maintain and preserve the country’s rampant polarisation for the purpose of providing justifications for the eventual removal of their political opponents, for example remnants of the previous regime and the country’s “old”, hegemonic state with regards to the Muslim Brotherhood. Those who would seek to preserve these fault lines are also those who are opposed to the idea of dialogue between Egypt’s competing factions either on television, radio or in the run up to any set of elections, and would also therefore be opposed to someone such as myself appearing on channels such as “Al-Hafez”. Others may go so far as to oppose the concept of elections all together, regardless as to whether or not the necessary conditions were set forth to ensure that they were conducted fairly and with transparency.
We believe that the Muslim Brotherhood, their allies, and the remnants of the country’s hegemonic forces, believe in this policy of removal rather than coexistence. For this reason, the latter are largely unconcerned with what transpires during the country’s professional and union elections, while the former seek to solidify their grip on power by ranking up the amount of repressive measures being implemented by the government. This last fact of course has manifested itself primarily in the passing of Morsi’s December constitutional declaration, which sought to provide the president with near total political immunity, and therefore push the country’s democracy movement to boycott elections by imposing provocative and uncompromising conditions on all who would seek to participate.
We as part of Egypt’s democracy movement however feel that there is no need to compromise our values in order to reach a consensus with our competitors regardless as to the severity of the polarisation that the country current finds itself in. We feel that what is needed is coexistence, not compromise mediated by an alleged impartial third party. All that must be agreed upon now is by what means we will implement such coexistence, in light of the country’s political polarisation. That being said, implementing coexistence does not necessarily mean reducing the level of political polarisation. I feel that my appearing on “Al-Hafez” in an attempt to explain with clarity the stances and convictions of the country’s democracy movement, is one way to achieve such a reality.
However the policies of removal would condemn me appearing on Al-Hafez, while at the same time supporting the arrest of Ahmed Doma, and would call for all of Egypt’s political parties to work towards compromising their values. However as stated before, we in Egypt’s democracy movement see no reason to do so. While the country’s other political factions may seek to impose repressive regimes, either under the cloak of religion or staunch nationalism, we hope to establish a state founded upon coexistence, where the right to engage in dialogue, along with that of protest and freedom of expression, is not only granted but also encouraged. This of course, in addition to adopting the necessary measures needed to ensure the existence of free and fair elections.
The policies of coexistence will work to lessen the country’s political polarisation not because it forces any one party to forgo or alter that which it believes, but rather because it discourages the propagation of politically targeted arrests and acts of violence committed against those one disagrees with.
Coexistence is based on a genuine belief in democracy, one that unfortunately has not been adopted by the Muslim Brotherhood or those who would seek to revive the country’s old, hegemonic regime. The burden now rests upon the country’s democracy movement, and those who helped launch the 25 January Revolution, to work towards achieving this goal.