Savir's Corner: ‘Square-tocracy’

This should be the lesson from the second Tahrir revolution; it has now become the challenge for Egypt, the region and Israel.

By
July 18, 2013 21:19
Men Dancing in Tahrir Square, July 4, 2013.

Tahrir Square celebrations390. (photo credit: Reuters)

In recent weeks, protesters at the squares of Cairo spoke out loud and clear, and for the second time in two-and-a-half years brought down a powerful dictatorship, first a military, then a religious one. As this process continues, even with bloodshed during the confrontation between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood, the significance of the revolution seems exceptionally important – the people of Egypt, mainly the young, will no longer tolerate an oppressive ruler who fails in providing a better future.

In this, Egypt is setting a new model of politics in the world – ongoing mass protest to replace bad government.

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This phenomenon has precedents in the 1960s – such as the demonstrations in the United States during the Vietnam War, in Warsaw and Prague during the Soviet rule, and in Paris during the 1968 student protest. While those were temporary outbursts of optimism, the Egyptians have turned mass protest into a system – Tahrir I, and now Tahrir II.

President Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the people, the army was only the manager, as he had kidnapped the revolution, betrayed democracy by enforcing a constitution close to religious law, with abuse to minorities and women, and did not deliver on jobs and economic development. Egyptians would not stand for this: “Walk like an Egyptian” became a battle cry in Istanbul, Rio de Janeiro, and even on Rothschild Boulevard in Tel Aviv.

This Egyptian system is more of a “square-tocracy” than a full democracy. People, in millions, gathering at the squares, bridges and streets, mobilized through social networks, expressing powerful views on Facebook and Twitter.

As a result, no Egyptian ruler from January, 25, 2011, on, not even the most despotic pharaoh, will be able to stay in power without the legitimacy of the people, and not only at the ballot box.

There is also a more powerful message in the recent drama – the marriage of religion and politics has failed. It may work in the Vatican, but should be resisted elsewhere.

Religion has a prominent place in the lives of many individuals as in collective culture; but when infiltrated by political interest – when God is brought into the service of petty politics – it becomes dangerous. People who aspire to run other peoples’ lives with Almighty pretentions create a system of superiority, not dependent on legitimacy, oppressing and excluding everyone who is different, should not be in government, not in Egypt and not in any country.

Religion should be practiced at the mosque, church, synagogue, in the home, but not at parliaments or government offices.

Tahrir II is, in that respect, more meaningful than the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. What Gamal Adbel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak failed to do, Morsi succeeded – to defeat the Muslim Brotherhood and to sideline it for a long time.

With secular and religious dictatorships out, the future leadership of Egypt will face a formidable double challenge: • The creation of an inclusive political process, in which all streams of society will have a role, including the Muslim Brotherhood and the liberal seculars, the urban unemployed students and the traditionalist farmers in rural Egypt, women and religious minorities. Change and reform will have to take place, not only with a relative consensus, but also with leadership that is effective in running the country.

• A profound reform in the economic system toward the creation of a large, educated and skilled young middle class, through the development of a free-market economy led by modern Egyptian entrepreneurs, as well as a transparent and accountable public sector; an economy that with time will become part of globalization and will be supported by American and European investments.

Egypt’s most important resource is its young students. Their managerial, entrepreneurial and technological know-how is essential for a reform to succeed. Another condition is, naturally, peace.

The Egyptian “July 3rd” (when Morsi was toppled) will have repercussions for the whole region. Egypt remains the leader of the Arab world, and in many ways, the region will go where Cairo goes. The Arab Spring brought with it an illusion – that within the impressive democratic change brought by the young, political Islam could find its place, even a leading one. Initially the Islamic leaders paid the necessary lip service to democracy and inclusion, yet with power came also the betrayal of the people.

As a result of the Muslim Brotherhood’s defeat in Cairo, Islamic leaders in Morocco, Tunisia and Libya will probably be weakened and are already finding it harder to create coalitions with more liberal forces.

It is clear today that the necessary economic solution will not come from the Islamic parties. As in Egypt, they will find it impossible to convince the people that they can bring a magical or divine remedy. The Arab societies are today more interconnected and connected to the world than ever before. One hundred million Arabs are on the Internet; they are more knowledgeable and empowered, and will not let themselves be fooled by the old media propaganda of archaic regimes.

In parallel, the regional forces supported by the Brotherhood, politically or by inspiration, such as Hamas and Hezbollah, will be weakened. They, too, with time, will face frustrated and angry constituencies in Beirut and Gaza – demagogic preaching cannot replace bread and butter.

The Arab Spring is now an Arab summer, and will last its “four seasons.”

It is an ongoing mass protest fueled by a normal human desire for a better life, education and employment, within a more just society. In this way the Arab world does not differ from much of the rest of the world, moving away from ideology-based leadership to a more pragmatic one, in which managerial skills and good governance matter to people more than flamboyant speeches or preaching.

For Israel, too, there is also an important message emanating from the second Tahrir revolution.

We too have our “brotherhood,” not just Yair Lapid and Naftali Bennett, but definitely Bennett and his powerful settler friends. They too believe, like Morsi, that they are the representatives of the Almighty’s will on earth; and that we “infidels” must follow their messianic belief in a Greater Israel.

Another “Jewish Brotherhood” is the haredim, who believe that the law of the Bible supersedes the law of the land, and that non-Jews and women are second class. The infiltration of organized religion into our political system is disastrous.

It leads to gross injustice within our society and it distances Israel from a necessary historic peace deal with the Palestinians, which now with the weakening of Hamas is more possible than ever.

As in Egypt, the political-religious drive to power must be stopped.

This is not an anti-religion position, on the contrary: Religion should be protected from politics and must stay out of it. Its abuse of politics is blasphemous. Social good is about human beings’ well-being, and what people can do for and with other people, based on the recognition of full equality.

It is not about dictation – secular or religious. The squares of the region must be listened to and inclusive government leading with pragmatic effectiveness and courageous decisions, in the name of the people not in the name of God, must lead the way to free, just, growing and peaceful societies.

This should be the lesson from the second Tahrir revolution; it has now become the challenge for Egypt, the region and Israel.

The writer is president of the Peres Center for Peace and served as Israel’s chief negotiator for the Oslo Accords. Barbara Hurwitz edited this column.


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