Sunday 29 May 2011

Why Politics in Egypt could end up like, well, Politics in America.

NOTE: for those with strong familiarity with politics in both of these countries, this article might seem quite elementary.

Someone was just asking me to elaborate about what I said in my Die Zeit Interview, so here I go. (yes, I am using every shameless chance to plug my interview and promote it, and I even wrote it in bold!)

There is no secret that pretty much everyone in Egypt is in a state of tension regarding the future of the country, but for different reasons. Disregarding fears of an Economic collapse or a military-dominated State or the return of the Ancien Regime, we are left with those afraid of a Religious-leaning State where "Hijab is mandatory and freedoms are curtailed or altogether ostracised", and those afraid of a Liberal Secular State where "fornication and alcohol slowly devour the values of society."

And while some of us here worry about an Algerian FIS-like Scenario, where an Islamist anti-democracy majority wins an election with a landslide on a(n indirect) platform of overturning democracy forever, forcing the army to intervene and begin what turned out to be a decade of a militias-vs-army day-to-day scenario, the conservative side worries that the Liberals (though less in numbers) are rich and powerful to overtake the country in one way or another, turning Egypt into a fully Western Secular/Laïque State that (going a step further) is even anti-religion in practice, much like the Early Post-Ottoman Empire Turkey Days and certain facets of the Bourgeiba regime in Tunisia.

To be sure, the fringes on both camps had their high hopes. Those on the extreme Liberal Left saw the revolution as a chance to establish a modern Liberal State with no or little censorship and an almost entire range of 21st Century Human Rights, while those on the extreme Right saw it as a divinely inspired Revolution to bring forth an Islamist or an Islamist-leaning State.

I am repeating myself.

While there is no shortage of possible frightening scenarios that could take place in the future, I find myself strangely seeing (maybe hoping for, at least) some sort of modern Turkey scenario or even a modern Tunisia like Scenario, a scenario with coexistence cautious respect. But one Scenario that might take place in a way, is a more conservative variant the United States Scenario.

The United States, unlike most other Western States, is deeply divided into a more secular and/or Liberal Left and a more conservative and/or religious right. While there is clearer separation of Church And State, the constitution retains several religious tones and references that are often used by the Right (Essentially The Republicans) to justify certain laws that are seen as curtailing freedoms. There is a SHARP divide, and it gets VERY militant vocally and politically, with frequent verbal attacks denouncing the others as "Liberal" (Yes, even for their Right Wing that is slander!), "Socialist", "Atheist", "Religious Nut", "Ignorant Hillbilly" and "Glenn Beckish".

And while the Right and the Left (Predominantly The Democrats) have been in fights for quite some time over much of the same issues (sometimes for decades), including the role of Social Security, Free Trade, Environmentalism and other dry strictly policy-based wonkish matters, they have also been divided over personal matters such as abortion rights, Stem Cell Research, sexuality issues, censorship and art, the role of religion in the public sphere, and so on. While the Left remains dedicated to the concept of "Freedom of Choice", the Right (which ironically campaigns against government interference in people's lives) will try to restrict much of these "choices" or at least "government support" for them, based mostly on reasons that have to do with a Christian/Protestant-based attitude to Politics. For example, Democrats often campaign for a woman's right to having Abortions without problem (and have been self-labeled as Pro-Choice), while The Republicans campaign actively to restrict such choices, viewing the foetus as a living being (and they label themselves Pro-life).

I do not see Egypt even debating many of the topics being debated in the States today to be sure, not for quite a few years at least (regardless of where I stand on them). But Egypt will have its own Liberal Vs Conservative issues. There will be debates on Civil Marriage, on full freedom of expression and opinion and religion, on moderate Public Displays Of Affection, on Media and Art, on the role of Women in Society, on the Status of non-Muslims in general including Atheists and Agnostics, on the right to donate one's own biological organs in case of one's death, on the extent to which a person can disagree with official religious interpretations, and much more (again, regardless of where I stand on these issues). The key question will be this: how far does freedom of choice go? To what extent can the Egyptians as a whole live with and handle the concept?

While the US has achieved, oscillatingly that is, a rare centre between the Right and Left overall in compromise, allowing it to maintain the basic freedoms of a modern society but not for the balance to to tip towards one side rather than the other, Egypt will start further from the Right to begin with.

Egypt is most likely to end up with a loose Socially Liberal Coalition against a (somewhat loose) Conservative Coalition. All basic liberal societies are born when there is a balance of power between divergeant groups, creating a common social contract that allows them all full exercise of their rights as groups and individuals (Pertinent Case in Point: Lebanon). The problem however is that the conservative coalition already starts the rally with a massive advantage in numbers, in indoctrination of ideology and acceptance, and in winning the common man's blessing, against what is seen as the Elitist Rich Man's ideology, Centrism or Liberalism. The Liberals will HAVE TO start working now in forming a grand coalition of parties and movements if they are ever to withstand the first tidal wave and onslaught of conservative political campaigning, and if a true balance of power is to exist, come September.

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