“And if you gaze for long into an abyss, the abyss gazes also into you.” Friedrich Nietzsche.
When we stand on the edge and gaze into the abyss, two outcomes are likely to introduce themselves: either our loss of balance is followed by a free fall, or an awakening prompts us to take a step back away from the murks of a sultry abyss.
Nations occasionally encounter similar outcomes. Egypt, for instance, seems to hover on the edge of a political crossroad. The discourse in Egypt, nowadays, is dominated by the appeals for wide spread popular protests by the end of June. The day is selected to coincide with the anniversary of the inauguration of the first elected president after the revolution. Rather than an occasion to celebrate the unprecedented event in the memory of the nation, the day is converted into an opportunity to call for the short presidency to come to an early termination. Others went so far as to label it a day of salvation from the incumbent regime. This outcry of fury, directed at president Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, is justified by its advocates as a consequence of the frustrations accumulated by the poor performance of the presidency in a year. According to the opposition who embraced these calls, Morsi has failed to fulfill past promises of an inclusive political administration that encompasses the entire political spectrum, has failed to accommodate the demands to form a national unity government that includes all political factions, has initiated an “Ikhwanization” process to instill the Muslim Brotherhood members in the state institutions, has made controversial appointments of policy makers, and other disappointments that include a constitution that is not an embodiment of the national rainbow.
Faced with what is described as a lack of efficacy and a conspiracy to dominate the backbone of the state, the target of the nationwide demonstrations is determined to push the president to step down, to name the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court as interim president, and to conduct early presidential elections.
These calls for assembly and mass protests come in a climate shrouded by acute polarization between the opposition and the supporters of the President. Some observers opted to describe this as a showdown between the Islamists and the seculars, or as a struggle between the democracy advocates and a potential theocracy. This is not necessarily an accurate description. Some Islamists either lean towards the opposition, or at the very least do not declare their explicit support for the president to avoid losing popularity by association. On the other hand, some non-Islamists are concerned about the instability that can be caused by the opposition’s pertinaciousness. This state of polarization lead each party to attempt to muster its allies and to garner its followers in what some perceive as a final show of power.
Naturally, the calls for demonstrations against the president were met by others to show support. These calls came from those who continue to believe that the legitimacy of the first democratically elected president is intact, that the opposition wants to overturn the votes that brought Morsi to presidency and approved his constitution, that the Islamic project is in peril by a secular westernized elite that does not reflect the true identity of the nation, and that the opposition attempts to sidestep the democratic process that does not typically work in its favor.
This state of a society that is more polarized than ever, where the opposing sides and their supporters are becoming more intransigent, and less willing to compromise, creates a dark cloud of uncertainty. This state of affairs, however, is a culmination of an atmosphere of polarization that has continued to take grip of the nation for a period of time.
Each of the parties concerned has been adopting an exclusionary approach towards the other. This is demonstrated by the adoption of fear tactics to sway public opinion against the other side in order to eliminate competition. To make matters worse, media tools were utilized, with a complete lack of professionalism, credibility and impartiality, to persuade the public opinion of their points of view. The waves of defamation, the deceitful slander, the manipulative falsifications and the overstatements are rampant in the media channels that proliferate the ideas of both sides for pure political gain.
The media venues relentlessly resort to fabrications to chastise the other side. This approach seems to be preferable to an objective criticism. For instance, some in the opposition propagate the idea that the Islamists will overturn the democratic process once entrenched in power, and only use the democratic tools until they install a theocracy. Not to mention those who called for a retreat to the practice of incarcerating the Islamists, as penitentiary confinement is the appropriate treatment to protect the society from their presence. The other side also promoted the image that the opposition is secular, non-religious, westernized, and that their ideologies contradict with the peoples’ faith and the doctrine of Islam.
This inopportune atmosphere to any constructive dialogue about the future of the country leads us to wonder what will transpire after the end of June. There are few possible scenarios that lie ahead of the Egyptians. Most of these scenarios will lead the country to a true predicament, and only one path will get the country out of one:
First Scenario: It is not challenging to foresee a scenario where violence erupts from the initially peaceful political rallies. This seems to be inevitable with a climate of tension and mutual intimidation. The possibility of clashes is especially intensified due to the growing frustration with the dysfunctional government, in addition to the public discontent over supply shortages, ascending cost of living, and lack of security. The shattered dreams and aspirations, that accompany dramatic changes in the lives of nations as in the case of the Egyptian revolution, also contributed to the ensued plummeting popularity and the sliding approval of those in office. These sentiments heightened the expectations that throngs of displeased citizens will participate in the events of the day. According to some observers, the violence can even exacerbate to an extent that leads the country to descent into chaos and turmoil. The country will then be submerged into instability for some time. This dismal scenario does not promise any payoff to any of the participants. Not to mention that all will be condemned by history for their role in allowing the country to sink to that destiny.
Second Scenario: Another scenario is possible if the fractured opposition, which is temporarily united in the face of a common foe, can set the momentum for huge demonstrations that last for an extended duration. That could eventually allow them to impose their demands for an early presidential election. However, their call for new elections is considered such a gamble in a delicate democratic transition. Premature elections set a precedence that will apply sooner or later to those who embrace it at the moment. If this demand is to be fulfilled, any president in the future will not be able to consummate the constitutional term if some politicians are not satisfied with the presidential performance. This demolishes the foundations of any future stable democratic system. The inability of some to accept the outcomes of the democratic process, even if it is unfavorable to them, will lead to a future arrangement that is susceptible to the whims of politicians.
Scenario Three: Protests grow to such a large scale that gets out of control. This scenario can force the top brass, who have declared their desire not to be dragged into the political altercations, to take over power as an attempt to restore law and order. The invitations for military intervention, surprisingly, came from those who claim to endorse the idea of a civil state. The realization that a popular uprising might not be sufficient to oust the president, lead some to perceive the army as a last resort. Their pressure mounted on the army to respond to what they described as a conspiracy to deform the features of the state. Some even called for the protests to intensify beyond a certain limit, to guarantee the interference of the armed forces. Unfortunately, these do not seem aware of the complications of a reinstatement of the military into the political arena. The military was able to reclaim its popularity during the last year. Accordingly, it can be relied on to maintain calm in such a tumultuous environment. If the army sinks once more into the quagmire of the Egyptian politics, the top brass would likely find itself forced to take difficult unpopular decisions. This is reminiscent of the predicament that the military had to deal with during the period in which the Supreme Council of Armed Forces SCAF administered the transition period. This will also set a precedence which will allow the shadow of the armed forces to continue to reflect on the political scene in Egypt for years to come.
Scenario Four: Another likely scenario is that the protests continue for some time and recede after a while. This has been the case with most of the protests in the last year. The problem with this scenario is that the expected casualties of the day will lead the opposition to adopt a more radical approach to the regime, the distrust between the two sides will intensify, and the calls for another round of revolutionary activities will continue. Thus, the country will be held hostage to a confrontation between two sides that adopt an elitist vernacular that does not deal with the daily ordeals of the Egyptian people. Both parties reduce the problems of Egypt to an issue of the true nation’s identity. Under this scenario, the country will continue to suffer from ideological disputes on the proper frame of reference without an actual concrete agenda that addresses the problems of the ailing economy.
Scenario Five: A final and more recommended scenario is for all the parties to achieve a political breakthrough. This is possible before the highly anticipated day if the parties involved realize that it is not too late to diffuse the ticking bomb. This can also occur afterwards if the politicians start to fear that the street activities are going beyond their ability to contain it. This scenario will culminate in a political deal. The deal has to include a national reconciliation process that ushers a more inclusive participation. The consensual political process will have to lead all parties to recognize that the problems of Egypt are so intense that they require the collective action and the contribution of everyone to solve them. This scenario of the national dialogue has to be based on an agenda that transcends ideological differences to one that emphasizes the common destiny. This seems the only option to avert a looming crisis.