It appears as if the worst of all possible scenarios is manifesting in Egypt: The nation's Supreme Constitutional Court handed down two rulings on Thursday that dissolved the parliament as the only democratically elected institution in Egypt, while allowing the felool (‘the remnants' [of the old regime]) candidate Ahmad Shafiq to stand in the presidential runoff elections.
The result of these decisions could well be a country whose executive branch remains firmly in the hands of the military. Its candidate of choice is clearly Shafiq, the former Commander of the Air Force and Mubarak's last Prime Minister. With parliament paralyzed, the future powers of the president will also be decided by that same military, who, in the fallout of the court's decision, has conveniently re-assumed all legislative powers. At present, these include selecting the council that will draft Egypt's future constitution. The counter-revolutionary forces headed by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) that has seemingly perfectly scripted the chain of recent events have, or so it seems, scored a major victory.
The current attack on the revolution, however, could very well lead to another galvanizing of its forces. And indeed, Thursday's rulings were quickly met with fresh demonstrations. Moreover, and in an unprecedented show of solidarity with the Muslim Brotherhood, the revolutionary April 6 Youth Movement announced it would now be backing the Brotherhood's presidential candidate Mohamed Morsi. Some commentators already speculate that in creating a united front of the revolutionary youth and the Brotherhood, SCAF's recent attempt to derail the transition process could lead a second, much bigger revolution.
Whether these scenarios turn out to be true or not, we first need to remind ourselves that the revolution's most important accomplishment cannot easily be rolled back: the Egyptian people have found their voice. Irrespective of SCAF's tactics, of the force of batons and teargas, or indeed of the result of the presidential election, the voice of Tahrir Square will not cease to demand the very liberation that its name stands for so aptly. Anyone who has witnessed the incredible determination of the revolutionaries knows that the military is delusional if it believes people will ever again sit idly when the country's political future is decided. Put differently, during these remarkable eighteen days of revolution last year, the Egyptian people did definitely undergo a change that cannot be undone.
I believe that any analysis of Egypt's political future needs to build on this crucial insight. We then need to ask ourselves whether, after sixteen months of continuous protest, not only Egypt's citizens, but the political system itself has already entered a stage of more permanent transformation. I proposed this to be the central question in the German ad hoc International some months ago, and suggested there that what is happening in Egypt could best be understood as the advancement of a new form of a participatory political system which includes the elements of street pressure in a more permanent way.
Interestingly enough, such a participatory system would be rooted firmly in Muslim history, thus including a dimension which is difficult to understand for an outside observer. This is because Islam historically assigned the responsibility to ensure good governance by the state rulers (as defined in Islam) to the Ummah, the community of Muslim believers. Politically, this means no less than that the people themselves were meant to act as a check on government. In a very practical manner this included, for example, the announcement of the name of the rightful ruler at each Friday prayer. This element now seems to resurface heavily in the importance of Friday prayers for mobilizing protesters throughout the revolutions of the Arab spring. And while many reports in the Western media are putting it differently, even the revolutionary youth movements, are not secular in the Western sense of this word. To me, this suggests that the process of political transformation in Egypt might not be intelligible with our ideas of political liberalism after all. Rather, what the world could be witnessing is the birth of a distinctively Islamic political system that puts a very direct emphasis on people-power - a perpetual Tahrir.
Western countries should be aware of this potential. A
farsighted decision might even be to support the transformation, rather than
siding with the remnants of the old regime in the name of ‘stability'. As
historic developments are often inexorable, the West might otherwise find itself
not only on the wrong side of history, but encountering a very different Muslim
world which would certainly not embrace forces that tried to abort its
Jann Boeddeling is an economist and independent development consultant, currently based in London. He works mainly in the Middle East and lived in Egypt for the first seven months of 2011. Jann was a Mercator Fellow 2010-11 and has previously written for ad hoc international, the magazine of nefia and the CSP Network, the alumni associations of the Mercator Fellowship on International Affairs and the Carlo Schmid Programme for Internships in International Organisations and EU Institutions.