On July 7, four days after the ouster of former Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi, London’s Observer newspaper published a cartoon by its cartoonist, Chris Riddell, showing an officer who resembled Nasser springing out of a box and directing a right hook that knocked out a man holding a truncheon representing political Islam. Under his left arm, he held a little girl representing secularism and saying: “It is only a coup if he [the officer] does not get back in the box.”
Last week, Riddell freed the officer, now resembling a lion, from all restrictions, added the color red to his cap and blood to his fangs and claws, with secularism now holding on to his tail looking at the joint enemy, the Muslim Brotherhood, while the officer screamed: “What now?”
Between what started on January 25, 2011, through to June 30, 2013, and on to July 3, right until now, the question “What now?” has been pertinent, although there is more urgency in the question, “Where to from here?”
This is true not only in Egypt, but in every place where Arabs were promised a spring which did not bloom, as millions of them had imagined, or wished - to be more accurate - fantasized about, and which has since been lost.
Deciding on a strong leader
On Egypt, I can say that I am of an opinion shared by many: deciding on a strong leader based on a popular consensus is a matter of time. Preparations of that are afoot in a plan included in the road map.
The Brotherhood talked themselves into a corner where they didn’t have to listen to anybody but themselves.Bakir Oweida
But from various announcements and presidential elections, we know what will happen next: a new constitution, parliamentary elections, then presidential elections, or… Maybe the opposite will happen. There is a strong movement that prefers to elect a president before a parliament - a president whom they want to win a landslide majority that unites Egyptians.
The favorite for that role, even if he tries to distance himself from the position, is General Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi.
It is known, that there are some political opportunities that cannot be wasted, as they will never happen again. It is a duty for Sisi, a man who enjoys the support of the majority of his people, to take this opportunity - even if it involves a sacrifice of privacy and of family life and the gamble of taking on the problems that come with authority.
Of course, Arab democrats and liberals - and I am one of them - will express regret and pain, but I think it is brave to admit that there is a huge distance between the Arab intellectual and political elite and the general public.
There is no argument that Riddell’s cartoon in the Observer, and dozens like it in world publications in the East and West, represent a point of view that has weight among the elite. It is likely, however, that it is not as important to millions among the general public.
To put it more directly, we can say that the elite sleep and breathe political analysis, but the general public doesn’t really care about such discourse.
The first right of a citizen
There is nothing wrong with pointing out that people want a simple life, to have their bread and clean water - because the first right of a citizen is to have a secure life. What is security, and where do we find it, if we do not provide the simple necessities of life without insult and hassle?
So what does that have to do with questions over where Egypt can go from here? Well, it is another sign of the failure of the elite. The Brotherhood ruled Egypt through the ballot box, and what happened? They looked down on others.
Their leaders refused to involve representatives of other sections of society, they adopted a policy of exclusion, appointed themselves as the most elite of the elites - the crème de la crème. They talked themselves into a corner where they didn’t have to listen to anybody but themselves.
Of course, we can all see how that turned out. Some may note that they have ruled before - in Sudan, Gaza, Ankara and Tunisia - so, why was there such a rapid collapse in Egypt?
The answer is not difficult for anyone who knows the Middle East’s political geography. Egypt is not the same as the others. It is strange that the Brotherhood ignored that fact. To be fair, the experience of the Brotherhood in government, which in Egypt was very short but which continues elsewhere, did not come from nowhere. It was not an evil plant that grew in the deserts of Arab political parties, and certainly was not a unique experience in the Arab world.
The equation to solve the mystery of the Egyptian Brotherhood’s rise and fall is, at the end of the day, very simple: Extremist ideology + Elitist group = Epic Fail.
This article was first published in Asharq al-Awsat on August 25, 2013.
Bakir Oweida is a journalist who worked as Managing Editor, and written for several Arab publications based in London. His last executive post was Assistant to Editor-in-Chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper, responsible for Op-Ed section, until December 2003. He can be reached on email@example.com and firstname.lastname@example.org