Egypt's opposition still hopeful, despite many defeats
Egypt's opposition has been notoriously disorganized and unable to rally its supporters. However, it may have finally been beaten badly enough to overcome its troubles.
When a controversial constitutional draft went to a vote earlierÂ this month, the Egyptian opposition was, as usual, in disarray.
It waffled for weeks between boycotting the referendum and calling for aÂ no vote. When it finally chose the latter only days before the first round of voting on Dec. 15, it was too late to overcome the Muslim BrotherhoodÂ and their salafist alliesâ strong campaign for a "yes."
But the backlash facing President Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim BrotherhoodÂ for rushing the constitution through without input from the opposition hasÂ given his opponents new hope for electoral success.Â
âThe divisions are a thing of the past now and we have Mr. Morsi to thankÂ for that,â says Mostafa El Guindi, who was an independent member of theÂ now-dissolved parliament and played a role in organizing the main facets ofÂ the opposition into a new coalition, the National Salvation Front.
âThe marriage between ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahi is now fact,â heÂ says, referring to two politicians with often clashing policies. That the Nobel prize winner and former head ofÂ the International Atomic Energy Agency, Mohammed ElBaradei, andÂ Hamdeen Sabahi, the leftist candidate who came in a surprising third inÂ Juneâs presidential elections, have come together shows the strength of the determination to create a united front against the Brothers.
This gives the opposition new hope heading towards parliamentaryÂ elections which, according to Egyptian law, must happen within two months of the approval of the constitution.Â
Rejecting political games
But there are also those who say the opposition has only itself to blameÂ for its failure to chip away at the electoral successes of the MuslimÂ Brotherhood.
âMany people wanted to vote no in the referendum about the constitution,Â but they were looking for a good reason to do so,â says Fady Ramzy, who runs the think tank Messry.Â âThe problem is that the opposition doesnât have a political product to sell. They should have spent their time convincing people that this constitution is [a waste] for any number of reasons, and that we shouldÂ do a better job. Because what we have now is just a bunch of niceÂ words with no mechanism to hold those in power to the promises contained in the constitution. Instead, the opposition chose to make a lot ofÂ noise about the influence ofÂ shariaÂ in the new constitution.â
Mr. Ramzyâs assertion was echoed by voters in some of the districts in the Nile Delta last week.Â Most Egyptians voting "yes" cited a desire for stability as their mainÂ reason, while most "no" voters had very specific reasons to be against the constitution. Among them were the absence of a minimum wage in Egypt âwages are instead linked to productivity â or the fact that free healthÂ care is subject to a "certificate of poverty," which many see asÂ humiliating.
Not a single voter cited the role of sharia, or Islamic law, as a reasonÂ to vote either for or against the document, despite the fact that bothÂ sides had campaigned mainly on this issue.
âThe religious factor is decreasing with every election,â saysÂ Ramzy. âPeople realize that political games are being played withÂ religion, and they are starting to refuse being put before the choice ofÂ voting for or against Islam.â
Disillusioned by democracy's slow pace
There is also a growing belief that Egyptâs chaotic path sinceÂ the overthrow of Mubarak in February 2011 was perhaps an inevitable one.
For all the criticism of the opposition, âit is unreasonable toÂ expect Egypt to have a healthy political landscape just two years afterÂ the fall of a dictatorship,âÂ political activistÂ Alfred Raouf says.
âWe need at least five years to get to that point, especially with a MuslimÂ Brotherhood that is not really intent on having a diverse politicalÂ landscape, but rather wants to take the place of the NDP,â he says, referring to Mubarak's former National Democratic Party.
Writing in the Egypt Independent this week, Mr. Raouf said that even if the revolutionaries had been the ones to assume power, they would have "quickly oppressed the people."Â What happened instead â military rule followed by a landslide forÂ the Muslim Brotherhood â âseems to most people like a catastrophicÂ outcome to a very hopeful revolution," but is actually "the best course for the revolution,â Raouf wrote.Â
Nevertheless, Raouf, a founding member of ElBaradeiâs Dostour (Constitution) party,Â sees an opportunity for the opposition to make inroads in the nextÂ parliamentary elections, even if the current opposition coalition dissolves before then.Â
Mostafa El Guindi believes the opposition has a chance to win a majority in parliament. But Raouf is more conservative. âI think we have aÂ good chance of getting 45 percent of the seats in parliament, up fromÂ around 30 percent, provided there is no rigging,â he says.
What worries him most is voter turnout, which is lower withÂ every election or referendum.
âIt suggests that people no longer believe in democracy because they donâtÂ see it helping them in their daily lives.â