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Alaa Al Aswany Headshot

How We Can Save the Revolution

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Suppose you live in an apartment building and in the apartment opposite you, there is a neighbor you don't get along with. You've had numerous problems that have proven to you that this neighbor is selfish and thinks only of his own interest. This neighbor talks about principles but often, for the sake of his own personal interest, ignores them. So your relationship is troubled, and you develop such an aversion to your neighbor that you no longer have anything to do with him. Then one night a fire breaks out in the house and the tongues of flame are spreading everywhere. Suddenly your neighbor bangs on your door and asks to help put out the fire. What do you do? Do you tell him, "I'll have nothing to do with you even if the whole building burns down with my children and your children inside"? Or do you take the gravity of the situation into account and join your neighbor in putting out the fire in order to save the building and the people living in it? The right choice is obvious and no two people would disagree what it is.

This analogy summarizes the situation we are in now: Egypt is the building and the neighbor who prefers his own interests over his duty and who has let us down many times is the Muslim Brotherhood. The current situation in Egypt is no less serious than the fire in the building. The Muslim Brotherhood, together with the military council, is responsible for the dark tunnel we are now fighting to get out of. The Brotherhood allied itself with the military and made the flawed constitutional amendments that it is now complaining about. It was also the Brotherhood that mobilized people to vote 'yes' in last year's referendum when they didn't fully understand it and turned the referendum into a showdown between believers and infidels.

The Muslim Brothers abandoned the revolutionaries at the time of the massacres at the Maspero building, in Mohamed Mahmoud Street and at the cabinet offices. They refrained from condemning the military council for these massacres, and instead condemned the revolutionaries, accusing them of thuggery and of working for outside interests. It is the Muslim Brotherhood that hijacked the constitutional committee so that they could monopolize the process and write Egypt's new constitution at their whim. They also tried to take control of the Central Audit Agency with a bill that would have given the speaker of parliament the power to appoint the head of the agency. These are all serious mistakes committed by the Muslim Brothers in order to serve their own narrow interests. The price for them has been paid by the revolution, which has been obstructed from achieving its objectives, and by the hundreds of dead, the thousands of injured and the Egyptian women abandoned by the Brotherhood when soldiers dragged them through the streets and abused them.

The Muslim Brotherhood finally discovered that all their political gains have been undermined because the military council wanted to play them like puppets. At that point the Brotherhood ran into conflict with the military, went back to the revolution and passed the political exclusion bill that the revolutionaries had advocated for ages. The Brotherhood went back to Tahrir Square, calling for the downfall of the military council.

What should we do with the Brotherhood? Should we join hands with them and restore unity, recreating a firmly united revolutionary force as in the first days of the revolution? Or will any form of cooperation with the Brotherhood end as usual, abandoning their principles to serve their political interests?

It's not possible to answer this question without first understanding what's happening in Egypt. Since the overthrow of Mubarak, the military council has succeeded in obstructing the change advocated by the revolution, and Egyptians have been the victims of an organized campaign to empty the revolution of meaning, to abort and disfigure it, and to put pressure on Egyptians through various serious crises, all of them artificial: the breakdown in law and order, the shortages of foodstuffs and a crippling economic crisis. In the end, when life for Egyptians had become a living hell, Omar Suleiman was suggested for the presidency as if he were the man who would save Egyptians from all their troubles. Regardless of whether Omar Suleiman has been disqualified or not, the significance of his candidacy stands, and it betrays the intentions of the military council, which seems to want nothing less than to finish off the revolution and restore the Mubarak regime at any price. What the presidential election commission is doing confirms that its rulings are political and not judicial, because everything takes place according to the wishes of the military council and not at all according to the law.

How could Omar Suleiman stand for the presidency before the many complaints against him have been investigated? How could Omar Suleiman obtain 50,000 endorsements in two days and why was he suddenly disqualified on trivial grounds that are not convincing? Is it credible that the head of General Intelligence miscounted the number of endorsements he submitted with his candidacy papers? Why hasn't the election commission given the media details of the passport that proves that the mother of presidential hopeful Hafiz Abu Ismail was an American citizen? Its failure to do so can mean only one of two things: either it doesn't have evidence that Abu Ismail's mother had U.S. Citizenship, or it is being deliberately vague in order to provoke Abu Ismail's supporters to go out into the streets in their thousands and create enough chaos to prevent the elections from taking place. How can the election commission accept the candidacy of Ahmed Shafik before the complaints against him have been examined? Thirty-five complaints accusing Shafik of wasting public money were submitted to the public prosecutor more than a year ago but not a single one has yet been investigated. The prosecutor's office says it referred the complaints to the military judiciary and officials in the military judiciary say they have received no complaints against Shafik.

Everything happening in Egypt shows that the military council is pushing us towards a planned scenario that will lead to one of two possibilities: either a candidate tied to the military council will win the presidency, bringing the Mubarak regime back to life and enabling the military council to control the levers of power from behind the scenes, or, if the military's candidate cannot be imposed, there will be so many problems and such chaos that the presidential elections cannot practically go ahead and the military will stay in power indefinitely.

The Egyptian revolution is going through the hardest moment in its history. The danger threatening the revolution is like a great fire that has broken out in a building full of people, and so our national duty obliges us to save the revolution, and can only be achieved through the following steps:

First, the Muslim Brotherhood should make a frank apology for the serious mistakes that they have made. They should provide proof of their good intentions by creating real consensus in the committee drafting the constitution -- a consensus that satisfies all shades of opinion and gives the constitution real legitimacy. In return the non-Islamist revolutionary forces should accept the Brotherhood's apology immediately and unite with the Brotherhood to restore the unity of the revolutionary front, a prerequisite for saving the revolution.

Second, we must all learn how to get along with those who disagree with us and respect their rights. The liberals and leftists must learn that the Brotherhood and the Salafists are not a bunch of fascists with reactionary ideas, but patriotic citizens who took part in the revolution and some of whom gave their lives for it. They have an Islamist program and however much we may disagree with it, we should respect it and defend their right to advocate it and present it to Egyptians. In return the Brotherhood and the Salafists should understand that they cannot take sole responsibility for Egypt, even if they are the majority, and that they can never change Egypt's character to turn it into an Afghanistan or a Saudi Arabia. They must understand that the liberals are not enemies of Islam, libertines, degenerates or Western agents. In fact many of them are no less pious than the Islamists but they are simply not convinced by the Islamists' political agenda. The bitter struggle between the two wings of the revolution (the Islamists and the liberals) has been one of the major factors enabling the military council to obstruct change in Egypt.

Third, all the signs indicate that the presidential elections will not be free and fair. Once the unity of the revolutionaries is restored, pressure must be put on the military council to provide real guarantees that the elections are fair. Article 28, which makes the rulings of the electoral commission immune from appeal, must be scrapped, because it perversely defies logic and the law. In fact it contradicts Article 21 of the constitutional declaration, which bans immunity for administration decisions of any kind. The campaign budgets of the presidential candidates must be subject to monitoring by the Central Audit Agency and every candidate must declare where his funding comes from. There must be real guarantees that the state apparatus will stay away from intervening in the elections, so that voters are not rounded up by decree to vote for the candidate favoured by the military council, as happened when endorsements were submitted for Ahmed Shafik and Omar Suleiman.

Candidates affiliated with the Mubarak regime must be disqualified in line with the political exclusion law passed by parliament. There must be an immediate investigation into the complaints against Ahmed Shafik and Omar Suleiman. Without fair rules ensuring transparency, equal opportunities and the rule of law, the presidential elections will become another trap into which the revolution falls and we will all pay a heavy price. Holding fair elections might be a tall order but it can be done if we all unite for that purpose. Experience has shown that the military council moves in the right direction only under popular pressure. It has been mass rallies alone that have made the military council respond to any of the revolution's demands, from putting Mubarak on trial to disqualifying Omar Suleiman's candidacy.

Finally, the institutions of the state are subject to the military council, from the civilian police and the state security agency (which is now working at full strength) to the military police who dragged Egyptian women along the street and killed young revolutionaries and certain cooperative judges responsible for the scandalous escape of the Americans accused in the foreign funding case. In other words, the military council is still using all Mubarak's instruments to control events. On the other hand, the revolutionary forces will have two tools for change for the first time: Tahrir Square and parliament. Tahrir Square is the general assembly of the Egyptian people who made the revolution and it can always impose the will of the people. Parliament will also be an important tool to protect the revolution and achieve the revolution's objectives. We have seen how the Mubarak regime was shaken when parliament passed the law excluding leading members of the old regime from political life. By uniting, the revolutionaries will have two tools capable of thwarting the plan now being put into effect to terminate the revolution. The revolution faces a real danger and we have to choose. Either we keep apart, exchanging accusations and insults, while the Mubarak regime tries to finish off the revolution once and for all, or we overcome our differences and unite immediately in order to achieve the revolutionary goals for which thousands of Egyptians have paid the price with their blood. The revolution will continue until Egypt is free of despotism and, God willing, it will triumph.