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Egypt’s missing political middle

The answer to Egypt’s political crisis is for the middle class and the country's revolutionaries to build durable secular political alternatives.
Anti-government protester holds a national flag during clashes at Ramsis street, which leads to Tahrir Square in downtown Cairo, on the third anniversary of Egypt's uprising, January 25, 2014. Seven people were killed during anti-government marches on Saturday while thousands rallied in support of the army-led authorities, underlining Egypt's volatile political fissures three years after the fall of autocrat president Hosni Mubarak. Security forces lobbed teargas and fired in the air to try to prevent demon

Dear reader, I know that these lines will be heavy on the eyes and on your conscience, but I ask you to consider them and I hope that they motivate you to take action.

I always recall my meeting with Ahmed Zaki, an Egyptian journalist living and working in London. Zaki explained to me that the modern Egyptian state — since Muhammed Ali — has monopolized the ruling elite and the production of this elite. This began with the educational missions Muhammed Ali sent to France and continues even to this day. As a result, the ruling elite has naturally been closer to the authorities than to the public, to the point that sometimes this elite's vision and demands are separate from the reality and popular needs. Another syndrome that has managed to survive since the days of Muhammed Ali is the conflict over power between the army's institution and the religious current. This has persisted from the time Muhammed Ali sent his son Ibrahim Pasha to eliminate the Wahhabist religious movement until today, where we see this syndrome in one way or another. Egyptian writer Farag Foda, who was assassinated by the Islamists in 1992, spoke about this topic.

He said that the only way out of this syndrome and vicious cycle is the formation of a strong secular political current in Egypt that is outside the cloak of the authorities — whether military or Islamic.

The regime of former President Hosni Mubarak has left Egypt void of any uncorrupt political or administrative cadres. The deepest problem facing the revolution and the state is the absence of uncorrupt cadres capable of managing the state efficiently. Indeed, Mubarak's heavy legacy is the corrupt cadres that have experience in managing the state, and nationalist cadres without any experience in managing the state. Here I'm not just talking about ministers, governors and members of parliament but also about second-, third- and fourth-level state employees. We live in a country where only a single department in a single university teaches public administration. This is a state whose experienced political cadres have graduated from the school on the National Democratic Party, with all its corruption.

On the other hand, most of the educated middle class sees no need to involve themselves in public or political work, in light of this totalitarian regime. Likewise, the regime has persisted in propelling and supporting all types of charitable projects that will put the minds of the middle and upper classes at rest, through giving money to the poor. This allows them to sleep well at night, convinced that they did everything they could and what is dictated by religion and conscience. The middle class submitted and completely abandoned their public role, their societal role and — most importantly — their political role.

Even today, after the revolution against the regime and the emergence of the role of the middle class in the popular movement, many believe that the middle class had performed its role by taking to the streets for a few days to protest once against the Mubarak regime, and another time against the Muslim Brotherhood regime. However, this is absolutely not true and not sufficient. And even those from the upper and middle classes who were doing their societal duty have shied away from these efforts in a political framework or through a political party, using as a pretext the corruption of the political elite and the stances of political parties. The majority of the middle and upper classes persist in criticizing political parties and all that they do merely from behind their iPads and on their mobile phones. Everyone is waiting for the other to do something, and everyone is ready to criticize any act, but who wants to actually do anything?

Those who have busied themselves with public work since the January 25 Revolution as well as those affiliated with the revolution have entered into many battles with opponents and enemies of the revolution. And the revolution did in fact succeed in toppling Mubarak and his National Democratic Party, and then the Military Council, and then the Brotherhood regime. However, every time the revolution did not reach the seat of power, the latter was always usurped by a third party. The worst thing about all of this — until now — is that a lot of the "revolutionaries" did not learn the most important lesson on these three occasions — that is, what is more important than toppling the regime is what kind of regime comes after it. I argue that the primary battle facing the revolution, and which the revolutionary forces did not focus on sufficiently, is how to establish a political alternative that is outside the control of the state and the regime. All battles — without building an alternative — against one party to topple it, will lead to the same result: Power will fall in the hands of a third party that is more radical and violent. This is a vicious and terrifying circle.

The only way out for the revolution, the state and society is for the revolutionary current to realize that the primary battle in the Egyptian revolution — and what they need to focus their efforts and time on — is building a civil alternative. The latter should be composed of partisan cadres and organizations that have societal roots, not under the cloak of the state. Furthermore, the state must realize that the era of controlling production of the ruling elite has ended, and that this is not befitting of a modern state. Only a peaceful, partisan political current — in which political parties operate with full freedom in the framework of competition — is capable of producing a strong deep-rooted political class that always strives to master their work to serve citizens. These efforts must be carried out so that these parties can compete, and their primary concern should not be flattering the authorities to reach a political post.

The most important of all is that the upper and middle classes realize that they have political and societal responsibilities that must be met, otherwise these classes are inevitably transient. Many of the cadres that have good experience in managing institutions and international companies must begin to shoulder their responsibilities toward society. They must begin public work and building experience in this field, to produce partisan cadres that work in political parties — for they are the most capable of doing this. Criticizing political parties and those working for these parties is of no use. The only way to make progress is working with these parties, competing and replacing these old faces. This class must realize that if in the next 10 years they are not able to lift a sufficient number of people from the lower class to the middle class, the economy and the state as a whole will not be able to continue. This is because the middle class, which is the most productive, does not have enough people to produce what is needed to support the economy. This is the duty and responsibility of that class toward their children and future generations.

Everyone must realize that the biggest problem and the primary battle involves rebuilding the Egyptian citizen himself, before anything else. The thing that the Mubarak regime corrupted the most and persisted in its destruction were the citizens themselves. Our primary battle is to build an alternative to the regime and not to topple the regime, for the regime will not fall unless we have created an alternative.

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