Cairo the city vanquished

Hani Shukrallah
Hani Shukrallah
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Constitution or not, the Brotherhood and their Salafi allies are not able to bring their authoritarian project to fruition

Hani Shukrallah
Separate the latest ballot in the main urban centres of the country from their rural, or ruralised environs and almost invariably you’ll find a clear “No” vote in the cities, a “Yes” vote in the countryside.

Yet, and for the time being, the balance of forces in the country is too evenly balanced. Egypt remains a deeply divided nation. Constitution or not, the Brotherhood and their Salafi allies are not able to bring their authoritarian project to fruition.

Egypt in 2012/3 is a largely urban society (with the urban-rural ratio around 60 to 40%). The fact that this is yet to express itself in the ballot box is a function of a number of factors, including big pro-democracy majorities in the cities as opposed to overwhelming pro-authoritarian majorities in the countryside; the bussing or rather half-trucking of rural voters – en masse – to the voting stations as opposed to the individual, rather moody, at their own steam, and easy to lose faith voting patterns of urban citizens.

Indeed, the Constitution was passed not only by virtue of an overwhelming “Yes” in the countryside, but also because a great many of the urban potential “No” voters did not turn out. Add some rigging, intimidation and ballot station-barring against potential opponents, and the 64-36% result would seem inevitable.

Stalled and hijacked

For its part, the power structure remains deeply fractured. The ruling Muslim Brotherhood do not have control of either the army or the police. And, not for want of trying, they are yet to succeed in their concerted attempt to bring the judiciary to heel.

Yet, equally, so are the revolution and the cause of democracy in Egypt incapable of realisation; the revolution remains stalled and hijacked, and a genuine Egyptian democracy continues to be an unreachable dream.

And it will continue to be so if rural Egypt remains a counter-revolutionary reservoir. Talk shows and press conferences will not do it, and neither will putting tens, even hundreds of thousands of protesters on urban streets, over and over again.

Peasants are a suspicious lot. As they should be. They’ve been oppressed, neglected and tricked too many times and for far too long by urban masters of all kinds. To win their trust, to break through the monopoly of state and religious patronage over their political will, you need to go to their very doorsteps. And you need to make the revolution and its democratic aims relevant to their lives.

Thirty years of Mubarak’s eradication of political space in the country can no longer serve as a pretext for persistent political amateurishness by the revolutionary and democratic forces. When the National Salvation Front finally came to the position of calling on the people to go to the ballot and vote “No”, they did so as if surprised by their the failure of their initial, legitimate attempt at preventing the blatantly illegitimate draft from being put to the vote.

Yet, this should have been a contingency, even the most likely contingency, for which they should have been well prepared all along.
And it is high time to shatter the distortive lens of “civic” versus Islamist forces, which by the time it reaches Upper Egypt is translated into atheists and Copts against Islam. Revolutionary times are equally a time of the primacy of politics, certainly not of ideology. The fact that from within Egyptian Islamism, indeed from the very heart of the Brotherhood, a growingly potent democratic trend is emerging is something to be welcomed and cherished, not neglected and side-lined.

And revolution is not merely about protesting, as brilliant and courageous as this has been and continues to be. It is equally about political savvy and organizational skill. It’s about the ability to translate the aims of the revolution into strategy and tactics, and the many forms of political and popular organization able to put these into practice.

And as we approach the second anniversary of the Egyptian Revolution, is it not also high time the revolution’s objectives were put into concrete proposals and demands, staggered as urgent, middle- and long term?
Social Justice is not merely a noble sentiment to be realised in the repetition. It must, and should mean a concrete set of proposals for the here and now, for the poor and dispossessed, both urban and rural.

In short, it is high time the revolution and the democratic forces in the country put their act together.

*This article was first published in Ahram Online on Jan. 4, 2013. Link:

(Hani Shukrallah is chief editor of Egypt’s Ahram Online, he is also the executive director of the Cairo-based Heikal Foundation for Arab Journalism. Previously, Shukrallah was founding co-chief editor of the Egyptian daily, Al-Shorouk and served as a consultant with the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies, one of the leading think tanks in the Middle East. He has also written for the British The Guardian, the Indian Outlook magazine, the Arabic Al-Hayat, and the Journal of Palestine Studies. Shukrallah is also a founding member of the Egyptian Organization for Human Rights.)

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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