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Just where does the opposition stand?

Youssef Sidhom

17 May 2013 2:31 pm

Problems on hold

Three months ago, on 17 February 2013, I wrote in this column exploring the role played by the opposition in Egyptian politics. Back then, I saw tangible flaws in the mechanism of

operation of the opposition and the tools it adopted to reach its goals. So much so, that I used the title: “Salvation Front in need of salvation.” I wrote that Egypt stands bewildered between a regime that has failed to lead or unite its ranks, and a shaky outdated opposition which, even as it fails to lead the angry oppressed masses, merely works them up and drains their energies.
If President Mursi, his administration, and the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) group to which he belongs, are to be held responsible for the current political congestion, economic decline and security breakdown, the opposition should take its share of the blame for failing to steer the angry masses towards a positive course. So far, the opposition has only condemned, rejected, protested and called for boycott. 
I remember that, once President Mursi came to power, the various opposition movements announced their determination to join ranks to create a strong opposition front that would be capable of challenging the Islamist political movements. Such a front should have been able to restrain the Islamists from monopolising power, imposing their hegemony over State institutions, and hijacking the Constitution and legislation. The decision gave rise to optimism that the opposition had learned the lesson of losing the presidential elections because of the fragmentation of votes and calls to boycott. The only hope for them was to unite, and familiarise the street with their project for development and political reform, in order to mobilise a critical voting bloc that would see them through to Parliament. At this point, the opposition coalition was named the “Third Stream”, a name which appealed to the masses and upon which hopes hung. 
The events on the Egyptian scene then rushed at breathtaking speed. President Mursi determinedly defied the Constitution and stormed the judiciary, which brought on widespread Egyptian outrage. All eyes looked up to the Third Stream, anxious for its response, but the utmost it did was to fuel the public wrath, and baptise itself the “Salvation Front”. But what did the Salvation Front do?
The Salvation Front persisted in rejecting everything that emanated from the Presidency, the government, or the Shura Council—the upper house of the Parliament, which has been acting as the sole legislative authority ever since the Supreme Constitutional Court dissolved the People’s Assembly last year. The Front’s stance was understandable in view of the fatal mistakes committed by all three institutions. However, the Front’s persistence in rejecting dialogue, its failure in politically engaging with the regime, and its boycott of the political field, left the arena free for more despotism and power monopoly on the part of the regime; and more suffering and agony for the angry masses. The Salvation Front’s failure to sit to national dialogue meant that no-one was there to compel the President to honour his pledge to amend the Constitution. Today, this issue has been altogether put to sleep by the President. And why not? Every right not sought after is lost.
The secular political forces, among them the Salvation Front, called for the formation of a national coalition government. But the Front insisted that the current Cabinet should in its entirety step down, and put this requirement as a precondition for participating in a new government—a move tantamount to a planting a stumbling block on the road to political rapprochement. Again, this left the arena wide open for the Islamists whose claim that they had invited everyone to participate in the new government but that the opposition declined, seemed absolutely credible. Once the names of the new cabinet ministers were announced some two weeks ago, they betrayed the Islamist hegemony and the MB’s grab for power. But the new cabinet included a few names from outside the Islamist stream, most prominent among whom was Judge Hatem Begato who was appointed Minister for Parliamentary Affairs. What did the Salvation Front do? It rejected everything; it would not endorse any cabinet reshuffle unless the current Premier Hisham Qandil left. It rushed to publicise the shortcomings of all the newly appointed ministers even before they took office or had the chance to perform. The peak was the campaign waged against Judge Begato who is counted among the anti-Islamists in the judiciary. Instead of considering his appointment a positive move that should be seen as a reassuring message for the opposition, Judge Begato came under fire for joining hands with political Islam and betraying the nation.
So finally, what is the opposition agenda of the Salvation Front? Do they plan to engage politically with the ruling regime? It must be owned that the public wrath against this regime owes to its own errors and slipups; the opposition takes absolutely no credit for that pile-up of wrath. As the upcoming parliamentary elections approach, the opposition has not even reached a decision to participate or to boycott. So much for the Front and its unified coalition.
The epitome of the opposition’s disregard for the public’s searing rage at the current situation in Egypt came from the liberal Wafd Party which announced a political resistance ‘prescription’ that involves the formation of a parallel government and a parallel parliament. I fail to see what role such two entities can fulfil under the currently strained political situation. I remember a similar ‘prescription’ that was offered during the Mubarak days, and his response was: “Let them have fun”. We would have expected the opposition to run in the elections then, once represented in parliament, to form a shadow government that adopts an agenda different than that of the regime, preparing itself for the day it would be in power. There is a huge difference between this political scenario, known in all democracies, and an opposition that adopts a “we won’t play” childish attitude, deceiving itself and the crowds with the mock of a parallel government and a parallel parliament. I think Egypt is going through the labour pains of a new revolution. 
WATANI International
19 May 2013


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