Islah al-Sassa; al-Hizb al-Watani wal-Ikhwan wal-Liberaliyun (Reforming the politicians; the National Party, the Muslim Brothers and the Liberals ); Abdel-Moneim Saïd; The General Egyptian Book Organisation; Cairo 2010
Islah al-Sassa; al-Hizb al-Watani wal-Ikhwan wal-Liberaliyun is a new book written by the researcher and writer Abdel-Moneim Saïd, chairman of al-Ahram Organisation and former head of al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. The book is published by the General Egyptian Book Organisation within its subsidised series of Maktabit al-Usra (Family library), a project founded by Mrs Suzanne as an initiative to make books affordable for all Egyptians.
The 398-page book is divided into four chapters, the first discussing the means and forms of reform in Egypt and the second and third the National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), while the fourth tackles Egyptian liberals and their role in Egyptian society.
Throughout his book Dr Saïd sends a message to the three main Egyptian political streams: the NDP, the MB and liberals, especially to their leading figures of politicians and intellectuals. He starts by stressing the importance of reaching a critical mass powerful enough to develop and improve conditions, not through rebellion and violence but through development and building on what has already been achieved. The critical mass, he writes, can only gain weight through public support, and would function within the current regional and international tides which endorse reform.
The book then takes the reader to the issue of capitalism and the economic reform that has been taking place over the last few decades. The author believes Egypt is going through an unprecedented era during which intellectuals stand up against capitalism, the market economy and other key social movements. The attack on capitalists is particularly savage, he explains, even though it is the capitalists who are behind the modern industrial base of the country, the introduction of modern technology, the exports of Egyptian products, and a substantial portion of the job opportunities on the market.
An entire chapter is dedicated to the NDP, of which the author is an active member. It is therefore essential, a priori, that he explains to the reader the reason for this loyalty. “The amount of freedom I enjoy, as a political analyst and researcher within the NDP, is not enjoyed by members of any other political party”, he writes.
According to Dr Saïd the NDP has witnessed a number of changes in the last few years. Some three million Egyptians are now NDP members. In the last two years, he writes, more than a million young people have joined the party, meaning that Egyptians aged between 18 and 40 now represent 65 per cent of NDP members. This means that a new generation of Egyptians is becoming the NDP majority.
Dr Saïd writes that the NDP has a clear stance regarding the peace with Israel, the United States, the Arabs and the world in general. In a country under the burden of 80 million inhabitants, he writes, and with a long history of being several steps behind the contemporary world, Egypt cannot achieve progress or reform if it does not enjoy peace and stability. After a long struggle, he adds, the NDP has finally reached the conclusion that Egypt’s salvation from poverty and international crises will only be achieved through investing in the nation’s people, land and resources. Along with the young people who have recently joined the NDP, some investors who care deeply for the welfare of Egypt and the increase of its national income, have also joined.
Go for slate
According to the author, amendments to the Egyptian Constitution are pressing, especially concerning the law on the practice of political rights. In order for elections to adopt a political rather than a personal nature, Dr Saïd insists, the slate system has to be applied. In this case, the personal conflicts that occur between voters will decrease and, more importantly, poorly represented groups will have a better chance within parliament. The slate system will ensure better chances of political participation for women and Copts and will force political parties to assume their responsibility in representing all segments of the nation. The conditions of Copts are especially painful and should not be ignored in coming elections, the author says, not only for the sake of granting Copts their rights as Egyptians, but also because of the price Egypt is now paying in social solidarity as a result of ignoring these rights. The NDP, Dr Saïd suggests, should not overlook this point. Worth mentioning is that, out of some 90 candidates, the NDP fielded three Copts and one woman in the Shura Council elections which were held earlier this month. All four won.
Loyal to whom
Under the title “The MB’s lost chance”, the author points to several local and international incidents that gave the MB a chance to function as a legitimate national political movement, and how they lost these opportunities and thus revealed where their true loyalties lay. During the Gaza crisis in 2008 and 2009, the Egyptian government refused to open its borders with Gaza indefinitely and instead allowed goods, medicines and aid to pass to Gaza during specified periods. The MB, Dr Saïd reminds, took the side of the regional Islamist movements against Egypt and completely disregarded Egypt’s national interest. The MB lost its legitimacy with flying colours when it became obvious that its loyalty was to the Islamic World rather than to Egypt.
The MB represents a political conflict for all Egyptians, Dr Saïd writes, especially in that the space it occupies in mainstream Egyptian and in Parliament is impossible to ignore. Officially, it remains a banned movement, most importantly because it never acknowledged the Modern State of Egypt announced in February 1922 and asserted in the 1923 Constitution. On the contrary, the MB advocates an Islamic State.
In many passages of his book the author insists that real, positive change can only come to Egypt when conditions on its political arena change. First, the NDP should give up the traditions it inherited from the Arab Socialist Union, the single party of the one-party system of the Nasserist era. The MB should stop mingling faith with politics; and the liberals and other political parties should succeed in relinquishing their elitist traditions and directly communicate with the man in the street.
We may not have clear liberal and democratic systems in place, Dr Saïd writes, but we do have systems that are capable of changing with time, needs, and economic and technological evolutionary constraints. So if liberals desire to be part of the evolutionary process they should work hard and seriously to resolve a number of conflicts they never looked at seriously so far.
Economic and social changes throughout the past decades have given rise to political and economic freedom that was necessary for evolution. That is where the liberals should step in, Dr Saïd says; they must lead awareness campaigns among political parties and liberal groups, and move on to the civic community as a whole. Liberals must assert the concept of the national identity of Egypt, which is much broader in essence than the popular slogan of “Egypt first”, since it includes wider Egyptian awareness of Egypt, geographically and demographically. Liberals should market “evolution” as the main target of Egyptians for the coming years. Respecting and defending basic human rights, as well as working to augment Egypt’s economic wealth, should be made a way of life for all Egyptians.
11 July 2010