The only authentic attempt to establish democracy in Egypt—the revolt against Mubarak in 2011— was a complete failure. There is no doubt that Mubarak’s entourage played a major role in bringing Egypt back to square one. Nevertheless, Egyptian politicians and revolutionaries should admit that they too bear a large part of the responsibility; a proper understanding of their shortcomings and limitations will better enable us to avoid further failure. Our key political weaknesses and faults are presented below.
Democracy, a means to realising autocracy
Egyptians, by nature, have an authoritarian mind-set. Living in an authoritarian country for a good few decades has led a large portion of society to believe that authoritarianism is the only functioning ruling mechanism. Egyptians, unfortunately, are not skilled in the use of the soft power of democracy to resolve political disputes. They want to capitalise on elections, which are generally rigged, making use of the democratic label to accede to power and, eventually, put their original autocratic beliefs into practice.
Life isn’t ‘black and white’
Egyptian activists, who consistently call for democracy, do not realise that life is not all black or all white. Even assuming that the demands of political activists are authentic, after over half a century of authoritarian rule, Egypt could not realistically, in a few short months, become a genuinely democratic nation. Advancing a country like Egypt with its 91 million inhabitants, of whom a large portion are poor, illiterate and, opportunistic citizens, necessitates passing through several shades of colour—combined with a resolve to steer the country back to the correct political track from which it has so often diverted.
Desire for perfection
Like the rest of the world, Egyptians don’t live in a perfect political sphere. However, decades of existing in a corrupt environment means that we probably have a greater degree of immorality than do many countries. When casting their ballots, Egyptian voters tend to look for a perfect political candidate who, literally, does not exist. We need to understand that every citizen has his/her personal deficiencies, although in varying degrees. In order to establish a truly democratic system, Egyptians must engage in the existing semi-authoritarian process armed with a genuine intention to advance the system—and, of course, the politicians.
Neither rebels nor politicians
Ever since our attempted revolt in January 2011, many citizens enjoy labelling themselves as either “rebels” or “politicians”. In reality, however, the vast majority of Egyptians are not truly fulfilling either role properly. Unlike most politicians, Egyptians don’t compromise and collaborate with others. Nor do they know how to organise and mobilise citizens towards achieving a specific goal. Egyptians did their utmost in the revolt against Mubarak in 2011, but the average mainstream Egyptian does not relish maintaining the country in “revolution mode” permanently–even if this would bring the country to a more favourable status.
We are all ‘presidents’
When we Egyptians think of politics, we don’t think of how to team up, with each citizen playing a significant role in order to fix our outdated political apparatus. Instead, we all tend to look to a single person—the president—to overcome all of our challenges. Egyptians are individualistically driven, always inclined to place their personal desires above the nation’s interests. Not joining forces to address the many shortcomings of our inadequate political mechanism has led every single Egyptian politician to think of himself as a potential presidential candidate. As a result, we have many presidential candidates—and no real political mechanism.
In conclusion, democracy is not a switch that can be turned on by revolts, thereby converting the entire nation from an authoritarian mechanism to a democratic one. It is a technical political process, entailing art and science, like any process in any other field. As Egyptians, we are generally overly proud of our historic achievements. Blinded by this pride perhaps, we tend to ignore our mistakes completely. If we are to avoid repeating our political failures, it is crucial that we recognise and acknowledge our errors.
Mohammed Nosseir is a liberal politician in Egypt, and was a member of the higher committee at the Democratic Front Party from 2007 to 2012, and headed the party’s international relations efforts.