Why Now Is the Time for Dialogue in Egypt

At times it was the plague. At others it was cholera or scabies.

Supporters of the military takeover in Egypt sure aren't shy about expressing their contempt for the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters. Now they're spreading rumors about the outbreak of various horrible diseases amid the pro-Morsy protestors who are camped out in the center of Cairo. There's no basis for any of the accusations -- and that's not really the point. Morsy-haters are eager to depict the sympathizers of the deposed president as a bunch of dirty and illiterate bumpkins.

This past weekend, the military dropped leaflets on the Brotherhood protestors, warning them to abandon their sit-in. That prompted the pro-military crowd to unleash another wave of contemptuous comments about Morsy's supporters. Among the views I've heard: "Those village hillbillies can't even read." Or: "They should just eradicate those rats, not try to reason with them." Running through these remarks, with their condescending references to the poverty and illiteracy of their opponents, is an unmistakable strain of class warfare. This isn't political discord anymore. It's unabashed hatred, and it's festering.

The sentiment may not be universal -- such an assertion would be impossible -- but it's common enough to be a legitimate cause for severe worry.

Of course I'm only too aware of the violence that the Muslim Brotherhood is responsible for, and I'm vehemently against it. The hostility displayed by their supporters, even against children, is gruesome. This article isn't about defending them at all; it's about us, the opposition to Morsy, which opposed the military before him, and opposed Mubarak before that.

At the height of the ambient violence today it is important that we remember the values we stand for. The irresponsible call to exclude the Muslim Brotherhood from the political process, now uttered by many who once demanded justice and political participation for all, must be strongly rejected.

Naturally, the criminals among the Muslim Brotherhood must be brought to justice; the leaders who would be found guilty of incitement of violence or other crimes by a court of law can be banished from political participation until it snows on Tahrir. But many of the MB voters aren't guilty. And most of those at the pro-Morsy sit-in at Rabaa al-Adaweya square aren't guilty. In fact, many of them believe that if they leave the perceived safety of their sit-ins that they will be massacred by the army. It's difficult to squarely lay the blame on people who were cornered and made to fight for their -- real or perceived -- survival.

In fact, this is a self-interested demand. Alienating the MB supporters, confirming their sentiment of constant victimization (which is inherent to the culture of their group), will only drive them further apart from the national fold. An important purpose of the January 25, 2011 revolution that brought down Mubarak was to redefine the political playing field, which was ruled by the army and controlled by Mubarak and his inner circle. For 30 months, we struggled to wrestle away the control of the politique from the military establishment, and then from the Brotherhood religion-flavored establishment, who insisted on unilaterally defining the rules. In fact, a large part of the reason why the masses took to the streets on June 30, 2013 was precisely in reaction to the unilateralism of the Muslim Brotherhood and their insistence to extend their control to every institution in Egypt.

It is unfortunate that the army interfered in the June 30 protests. With its coup, it cut short a strong popular movement that would likely have removed the Brotherhood regime, or at least pushed it into quiescence. Though the army claims to be on the people's side (and now has a lot of people believing it), it just isn't. As a sign of things to come, the new rulers have pushed through the reinstatement of senior police officers [Ar.] to their previous jobs in Mubarak's political police, which was supposed to be reformed in the aftermath of the 2011 revolution. Hardly the actions of rulers with the people's best interests at heart.

But we must make do with the hand we've been dealt. If civil forces are to have any control over the political drawing board, then we must endeavor to create an inclusive political system, one that will allow the participation of all political forces under a set of rules: respect for human rights and dignity, separation of church and state, guaranteed women and minority rights, basic social and economic rights, etc. Under such rules, which are to be enshrined in a new constitution, all parties should be allowed to compete.

I understand that the continuing brutality makes it hard for many of us to imagine pluralistic participation, but there's just no other way out. And after all, if pro-Mubarak and SCAF-worshipping political forces are allowed to compete, then all should be able to.

In the existing climate this is a difficult position to take. Any discourse that could remotely be interpreted as being sympathetic to the Muslim Brotherhood supporters is promptly stifled. I've never received so many hateful comments on social media as I have this week. (My thanks to @Jack, by the way, for creating the block feature on Twitter.) Established columnists such as Amr Hamzawy are also being compelled to defend themselves [Ar.] against attacks from extremist voices.

"If you want to make peace, talk to your enemies, not your friends," goes the adage. Direct dialogue is necessary and unavoidable. And whatever backchannel negotiations are currently ongoing, if any -- unlikely as that may seem given the army's ideologically driven adversarial position regarding the Brotherhood -- must be made public.

This is the only way we can ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood doesn't descend once again into secret and violent action and that the army won't be allowed to further push the clock back into the Mubarak era. But most importantly, it will relieve a lot of popular pressure that is threatening not only the present, but the future of peace in Egypt.    

Mohamed El Dahshan is the Egypt blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here.



A Bad Omen for Libya

After considerable and heated debate, the General National Congress (GNC), Libya's interim legislature, has finally approved a set of ground rules for electing the members of the Constituent Assembly that will draft Libya's new constitution. Some of the details may sound arcane, but the election law is extremely important in determining the future of Libyan democracy. 

Currently, no date has been set for the elections yet. As for the actual constitution, Libya's current legal framework stipulates that referendum should be held within four months of the Constituent Assembly's first session. 

The 60-member Constituent Assembly will be elected so that each of the three old provinces (Cyrenaica, Fezzan and Tripolitania) are equally represented; a structure identical to the country's pre-Qaddafi constitution of 1951. Once elected, the Constituent Assembly will convene in the Cyrenaica city of El Beida, where the old parliament building is located. The GNC hopes that by hosting the assembly in El Beida, the drafting process will be less susceptible external pressure than it would be in Tripoli. 

But, the long-awaited rules approved by the GNC are not at all encouraging for the constitution drafting process in Libya. The new law leaves women underrepresented in the Constituent Assembly, allocating only six seats for them; an obvious setback for gender equality in post-revolution Libya. Female members of the GNC were put under immense pressure to accept the 10 percent quota, according to Najah Salouh, a GNC member from El Beida. 

Initially, women requested a 15 percent share of the seats, but that failed to materialize due to opposition from the Islamist blocs (i.e., the Martyrs bloc and the Justice and Construction bloc). This underrepresentation of women highlights a significant drop from the 17 percent allotted share of seats in last year's elections. The liberal leaning National Forces Alliance tried to introduce alternate party lists and ensure higher representation for women, but it faced huge opposition from both the GNC and the public.

Another key issue has been the representation of Libya's ethnic minorities (the Amazigh, Tebu, and Tuareg people). These minorities have only been allocated six seats altogether. The High Council of Libyan Amazigh have announced their intention to boycott the Constituent Assembly elections, unless their members are given veto power over issues that directly affect their heritage and rights in the constitution. The Amazigh say the six seats (two each) are merely a symbolic move that has no actual weight or power to protect and safeguard their rights and heritage which suffered from persecution under Qaddafi. 

The federalists in eastern Libya are yet to make their position clear about the approved law. It's likely that they will object to the lack of safeguards to prevent political parties from influencing the elections and subsequently the outcome of the constitution. 

The representation of various interests will, of course, provide important signals about the ultimate form the Libyan constitution will take. 

First, there is the issue of sharia. Many Libyans support the idea of using sharia as the basis for law, while hard-line Islamists and their sympathizers regard it as the "only source of legislation." This would have huge implications for individuals' rights and freedoms and universal principles of human rights. 

Second, the system of government needs to be decided. Federalists in eastern Libya expect a decentralized form of government to be adopted, or at least recognition of the autonomy of Cyrenaica. They favor an arrangement similar to that enjoyed by Kurdistan in Iraq. The federalists believe that the majority of Cyrenaicans support federalism -- but they tend to say relatively little about the fact that the majority of the people of Tripolitania oppose the idea. Federalists are demanding that the referendum takes place in the three old regions separately, and that regional results be considered -- especially if there are clear differences between the three regions. 

Finally, we have the issue of the political isolation law that forced out the former GNC chairman from political participation. The new constitution could drop the isolation law in order to guarantee equality and human rights for all. However, such an approach will face strong opposition from the Islamists and militias affiliated with them, who might once again resort to the same dubious means they used to pressure the GNC into passing the controversial law. 

The process of drafting a constitution in post-revolution Libya promises to be extremely complex. The institutions and procedures chosen for the constitution-making process could have a big effect on the legitimacy and longevity of the adopted constitution. Inclusiveness and consensus will be key for a successful constitution drafting process. However, the constitution-building process should not be hijacked by the need for consensus. It is crucial for the Constituent Assembly to strike that balance. 

Mohamed Eljarh is the Libya blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here