Basem Sabry-Egypt’s Liberals and the Elections- Ahram
|Monday, January 2,2012 07:16|
|By B M Sabry|
“Panicked” doesn’t even begin to describe the feelings of many of Egypt’s more liberal and secular citizens. The results of the first and second rounds of the nation’s first apparently free parliamentary elections have been nothing but cause for serious existential introspection for the country’s entire liberal movement. In fact, many outside of Egypt share the same disheartened emotion, whether in the public sphere or governmental circles. To be sure, almost everyone expected an outright Islamist victory and majority in parliament, but few expected such staggering scores, with the Islamists set to easily dominate eventually at least 65-70 per cent of parliament. The one side of the debate that grabbed most of the headlines and airtime centered on why Islamists were doing so well. But the question of why the liberals haven’t done as well is equally important.
First, and perhaps foremost, there’s the question of defining what the ideologies themselves mean to the people. The words “liberalism” and “secularism” themselves have been under heavy assault for decades in Egypt, and much of the Arab world, most particularly so since the end of the January revolution, framed as the antithesis of everything that a tradition-respecting Egyptian should call for. And both liberals and seculars have failed to project an alternative and proper public image and understanding, or create a uniform, clear, realistic and attractive message that could rationally appeal to a wide base of predominantly conservative citizens and voters. In fact, they often appeared to the public just as the opposition to conservative political forces, rather than entities with their own clear and unique project. This failure was both the result of the apparent lack of presence of such a consensual, consistent, coherent and presentable mainstream ideological construct from the start, as well as the difficulty of defining in clear terms the proposed delicate legal and de facto relationships between liberty and tradition in a society like Egypt.
And things were only further complicated following the formation of the nation’s electoral alliances. While at first there were two major coalitions, with one of them (the Democratic Alliance) led by the Muslim Brotherhood yet still inclusive of household liberal names such as Al-Wafd Party (whose head later stated that Al-Wafd was neither a “liberal” nor an “religious” party, but a centrist one, in an effort to appeal to the mainstream), and another more outright liberal bloc lead by the Free Egyptians Party (FEP), by the time the elections actually began to take place the Democratic Aliance had lost many of its mainstream parties, including Al-Wafd, and became more essentially a Brotherhood-based coalition. And with both blocs offering somewhat identical and very broad platforms and economic programmes, including the later-arriving Salafist third bloc, the debate further shifted to reinforce the perception that people were voting over the “identity” of Egypt, rather than a range of public policies, with one bloc appearing to represent the negatively-perceived ethea of secularism and iberalism, and the two others appearing to better represent local traditional values.