On the first day of the holy month of Ramadan and the last day of my advocacy trip to Washington for the liberal democratic transformation in Egypt, the news about the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) involvement in forcing protesters to leave Tahrir Square and arresting some of them was received with shock and surprise. Contrary to expectations, the spirituality of Ramadan failed to calm the tension between the protesters, who are not satisfied by the laziness of the interim government in achieving reform goals, the grassroots population whose normal economic and social activities are on forced pause by protesters, and the SCAF, who is operating, as interim ruler, under enormous domestic and international pressure.
For the first time since January’s revolution, the fracture in the relationship between protesters and SCAF becomes so apparent. The most scandalous, though, is that people sided with the SCAF against protesters. According to the reports I received from my colleagues in Egypt, some shop-owners cheered the military soldiers and policemen who used excessive force against protesters in hopes that this evacuation would help them get back to business. The majority of the public outside Tahrir Square also helped the SCAF in what they considered a “cleaning” mission to return life to its normal rhythm. The religious minority terrified by the massive appearance of Salafists and Jihadists in Tahrir Square on July 29 chanting slogans praising Osama Bin Laden and emphasizing their willingness to “sacrifice souls and blood” for making Egypt an Islamic state, preferred to side with the SCAF against protesters.
In Washington too, there is a big tendency to side with Egypt’s SCAF in an attempt to avoid the most-terrifying scenario of having another Islamic Republic in the Middle East.
“The devil we know is better than the devil we do not know!” I have heard this phrase in almost every meeting I had with American officials, academics, and analysts on my trip. I became aware of the impression that everyone in Washington believes that Egypt would end up either in the hands of Islamists – the devil they do not know – or SCAF – the devil they know. Apparently, Washington’s strategic fears blinded them from seeing the angels; the young non-violent revolutionaries who led Egypt’s legacy and brought down one of world’s strongest dictators in pursue of democracy, freedom, and civil rights. They are neither the Islamists nor the SCAF. They are the Egyptian youth who changed the world’s perception about the Middle East and the Muslim world and inspired the Arab spring. Dr. Peter Ackerman, Chairman of the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, said recently that “the events [of the nonviolent revolution] in Egypt killed Bin Laden before Seal Team Six did,” in reference to the peaceful nature of the revolution that undermined Bin Laden’s violent/ jihadist theories. Thus, if the west really wants to avoid the Islamist scenario, it has to support the young Egyptians not the SCAF.
In the main time, it is essential for the young Egyptians to understand that they have a role to play outside Tahrir Square. It is time to get o a unified vision, clear strategy, and a general agreement on where and how to proceed. The political chaos and lack of coordination between political blocks in the past two months paved the way for the tension between Egypt’s triangle – protesters, SCAF, and grassroots – and shall further delay the impatiently-thought-after reforms.
The vibrant Egyptian civil society is the most sincere and coherent actor in the Egyptian scene so far. The block of nongovernmental organizations supporting democracy and rights in Egypt has built a strong relationship with Egypt’s elite and grassroots over the past decades, especially because they were operating under the so many restrictions the Mubarak regime used to create.
It is time now for those NGOs to consider working with the newly emerging political parties and young activists to guide them on how to pursue democracy and achieve justice. In my organization for example, we have already started working with young activists and religious leaders in both Tunisia and Egypt on civic awareness and social entrepreneurship. Yet, based on the new developments, NGOs – not only in Egypt but worldwide – are encouraged to step outside its socio-economic limitations and invest more time and energy in operating creative projects that help guide the Egyptian community into the right political direction. Some of the projects that I may give top priority are those which support building a brand new consensual constitution, credible state institutions, and qualify young people to working in different government positions and run for parliamentary elections.
It is not a secret that Egypt’s success in its democratic transformation shall portray the future of the globe. A liberal democratic Egypt is the only guarantee for a stable Middle East and for a secure West. I hope Washington will not repeat the mistake again and limit its choices to supporting one of the two devils. And, I hope for the angels to fly outside their comfort zone – Tahrir Square – and prove to the world that Egyptians can build democracy as clever as they have nonviolently brought down a dictator.