“Who is the alternative?”
This was indeed the most repeated and frustrating question asked by the pro-Sisi camp during the past two weeks, before and during the surreal presidential election that brought a military man to power after three years of calls for democracy.
The question is frustrating because this camp thinks that the “revolution” can come up with one name, one leader to rule, as if the “revolution” is a single organisation or entity that can get together in a meeting room and pick its CEO. This way of thinking is naïve, if not outright ignorant of the rules of democracy.
There are theoretically three camps in Egypt: the military camp (Sisi supporters), the Islamist camp (Morsi supporters), and the secular camp (democracy advocates). The third camp, however, is hardly as cohesive as the other two, and represents a hodgepodge of political movements, philosophies, and plans.
Those calling for an Islamist state and those supporting a military man for president are by nature supportive of an authoritarian regime, simply because both frame their beliefs in a way that brokers no argument or debate.
For the Islamists, they do so by implying that any opposition to them is tantamount to opposition of religion, and there’s no competing with that in a country that is overflowing with public displays of piety.
For the military government’s supporters, the game is similar, only instead of impious, they label their opposition as “traitors”, while any call for freedom and democracy is met with booming nationalistic slogans. This attitude has been successful several times over across the globe, and has always failed miserably. Egypt itself fell victim to it during Gamal Abdel Nasser’s era, and suffered greatly from the ensuing crisis when Israel called Nasser’s bluffs in the disaster that was the 1967 War.
Now, the same rhetoric is all over the place, as Egyptians are told on the streets and in the media to work “for the sake of Egypt”, as if this “Egypt” is some separate entity from them. Anyone who does not support Sisi is a traitor working for the downfall of “Egypt”. State institutions mobilised to spread such rhetoric, and the Egyptian media has done their bidding brilliantly.
When any opposition is treason, then, how can an “alternative” arise?
This brings us to the idea of a revolution. The revolution that called for democracy and freedom in 2011, did not want to impose a leader, nor could it. The whole point was to be given a choice – to have several candidates with political and economic platforms presented to the people, and for them to choose what is in their best interest.
Egypt’s democracy advocates are not one entity; they do not have the same political affiliation, nor the same beliefs except for the desire to live in a democracy. They are not supposed to agree on a leader and impose him on the people.
Similarly, the people of Egypt, apart from those who support a religious state or a military one, have no particular political affiliation. Accordingly, average citizens need to be able to choose the candidate with the best platform for them, regardless of his leanings; he could be a leftist, a liberal, or a social democrat. The masses don’t really care. Their self interest is what matters, and this interest is indeed the interest of “Egypt”, which despite all the nationalistic slogans, in reality is nothing but its people.
If we put aside the nationalistic and religious rhetoric in our political life, then democratic groups can present alternatives for the people to choose from. So long as there is a candidate hiding behind religion or the barrel of a gun, there can no alternative, as they stamp out any competition. So long as the people are given no platforms but words of heroism or verses of Quran, there will be no proper political or economic debate, because what discussion can there be when there is no platform to discuss? A leader of a nation should be chosen based on what his programme can offer the people, not based on the group backing him or his personal appeal.
This is, after all, what a revolution does: it presents people with the opportunity to choose. The Muslim Brotherhood killed that opportunity and paved the way for the militarised nationalistic rhetoric to win. Until the day comes when no military man nor religious leader appears on the presidential candidates list, there will be neither alternatives nor a true democracy.
Rana Allam is the Editor-in-Chief of the Daily News Egypt. Follow her on Twitter at @Run_Rana or email at firstname.lastname@example.org