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Egypt's challenges

Matthias Sailer / jrbJuly 11, 2013

So far, Egypt's non-Islamists have remained united. But the conflict between supporters of the Mubarak regime and liberal revolutionaries continues to be a problem.

Egyptians wave the national flag AFP PHOTO / MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo credit should read MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)
Image: Mohamed El-Shahed/AFP/Getty Images

Since the Muslim Brotherhood was toppled last week, Egypt's non-Islamist opposition has gained political momentum. With Mohamed ElBaradei, the opposition now has a vice president alongside the military-appointed president. The hard-fought unity among the numerous non-Islamist political parties and groups is still holding up.

No one has forgotten the defeat suffered in the first round of the presidential election in 2012. If everyone had agreed to one candidate back then, the Muslim Brotherhood would probably never have come to power. The Tamarod movement, which brought millions of Egyptians to the streets to protest on June 30, is another sign of unity. Most of the Tamarod organizers come from these same political parties and groups, according to Moheb Doss, one of the founders of the campaign.

Lessons learned in 2012

Ziad El-Alemi (Foto: Matthias Sailer)
Ziad El-Alemi is a co-founder of Egypt's Social Democratic PartyImage: Matthias Sailer

But it is becoming increasingly difficult to maintain this unity following the ousting of Mohammed Morsi, observers agree. Ziad El-Alemi, a founder of the Egyptian Social Democrats and former member of parliament, is nevertheless optimistic. "During the past two-and-a-half years, the revolutionaries and civilian forces in Egypt have gained a lot of experience, for instance, in making compromises," he said. "I think all of this will help these groups agree on how to form a moderate government."

One of the central challenges of the non-Islamist parties is to cooperate with former supporters of the Mubarak regime. Many of the Egyptians who joined the protests on June 30 come from this movement; it's questionable whether Morsi could have been ousted so quickly without their support. The young revolutionaries from the first wave of the revolution in 2011 find it especially hard to align with them. They encountered much violence and brutality among these supporters, some of whom are still active members of the country's security apparatus.

For the revolutionaries, it's absurd to see the military, police and demonstrators now embrace on Tahrir Square. Political compromises are difficult because many of the revolutionaries are demanding respect for human rights and a genuine reform of the political institutions, but find cooperation with these old powers difficult.

"We can't get rid of the hatred between the revolutionaries and representatives of the old regime if we don't ensure real justice," said El-Alemi. "The most important thing that we learned in the past two years is this: You can't make a new start for the future without completing the past."

Difficult reconciliation

El-Alemi believes it is essential to deal with the past. But this will likely complicate a reconciliation among supporters of the Mubarak regime, the military regime and the Muslim Brotherhood in the short term.

The sore spots are clearly visible, as the military council's recently announced constitution declaration shows. And Ziad Abdel Tawab, deputy director of the Cairo Institute for Human Rights Studies, confirms the situation. "We saw yesterday that the most important groups that initiated the June 30 uprising have been excluded from the decision-making process to appoint the prime minister," he said. "They also had no opportunity to integrate their rights and views in the constitutional declaration."

Egypt's interim President Adli Mansour (R) meets with Egypt's former Finance Minister Hazem el-Beblawi at El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo July 9, 2013 in this picture provided by the Egyptian Presidency. The interim president on Tuesday named liberal economist el-Beblawi as prime minister in a transitional government, as the authorities sought to steer the country to new parliamentary and presidential elections. REUTERS/Egyptian Presidency/Handout via Reuters (EGYPT - Tags: POLITICS CIVIL UNREST) ATTENTION EDITORS - THIS IMAGE WAS PROVIDED BY A THIRD PARTY. FOR EDITORIAL USE ONLY. NOT FOR SALE FOR MARKETING OR ADVERTISING CAMPAIGNS. THIS PICTURE IS DISTRIBUTED EXACTLY AS RECEIVED BY REUTERS, AS A SERVICE TO CLIENTS. NO SALES. NO ARCHIVES
It's too early to assess the work of Mansour (right) and el-BeblawiImage: Reuters

While supporters of the security apparatus were hardly bothered by that, the outcry of many liberals was loud and clear. Initially, the non-Islamist parties within the National Salvation Front (NSF) rejected the constitutional declaration completely. But they later showed support after interim President Adli Mansour agreed to allow changes to the document. Meanwhile, the NSF rejects only parts of the declaration.

A beginner's mistake?

"The president has only been in office for a few days," said El-Alemi. "So it is too early to assess the cooperation of the parties with the president. We still can't say whether his position is not to cooperate or whether it is a beginner's mistake."

Another point of contention is the question of how far one should go to accommodate the Islamists. The constitutional declaration clearly shows that the authors have attempted to please the Salafists. The appointment of Hazem el-Beblawi, a recognized economist, as interim prime minister can be interpreted as a concession by the military to the Islamists. He is a far less polarizing candidate than Mohammed ElBaradei.

All these sources of conflict are fueling great tension among the non-Islamist parties. To keep them under control could prove to be a Herculean task.