Monday, January 28, 2013

National unity, a must to keep Egypt afloat

Running a country with an eclectic population of up to 90 million sick of heavy-handed governance and all clamoring for different things, isn't as easy as President Muhammad Mursi might have imagined. Everyone wants better salaries and improved living conditions which the president can't deliver unless he can lay his hands on a magic wand.

It might be my imagination, but it seems to me that he's lost much of his early confident swagger. Hardly surprising when public buildings, police stations and Muslim Brotherhood (MB) offices torched by angry protesters on Jan. 25 still smolder and the government has had to beef up the army and impose a state of emergency on three cities flanking the Suez Canal.

As the President says himself, violence and instability is battering an already ailing economy. Egypt's wealthiest man, media and telecommunications billionaire Naguib Sawaris, left his homeland in despair after selling his ONTV channel to a Tunisian businessman. He accused Mursi of "taking over the legislative and executive apparatuses of the state, dominating the economy and changing its identity, excluding the opposition and silencing the media."
Authoritarian measures, such as curfews, media censorship and clampdowns on public protest are not only reminiscent of the Mubarak era, they are anti-democratic - and, in any event, they are nothing more than a Band-Aid permitting fury to fester. A side effect is the emergence of underground radical organizations like Black Bloc, a right-wing militia willing to use violence to "topple the regime." Its members clothed in black, their faces hidden by bandanas or ski-masks, were visible for the first time during recent protests and have claimed responsibility for attacks on state buildings and MB offices. As yet, Black Bloc's numbers are comparatively small but it has put out a video setting out its anarchist credentials before touting for recruits. Peaceful opposition protestors are distancing themselves from this new and sinister kid on the block, fearing the authorities will seek to tar them with the same brush.

While it's arguably true that Dr. Mursi still retains the support of the majority, albeit small, he cannot afford to shutout opposition parties representing the interests of moderates, secularists, liberals, moneyed elites and Copts if stability is high on his priorities.

The opposition, that's broadly coalesced under the banner of the National Salvation Front led by Amr Moussa, Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahi, will continue calling for protests until its demands are met. These include the setting-up of a non-partisan committee authorized to amend the tradition-weighted constitution, a loosening of the Muslim Brotherhood's illegitimate sway over the Mursi-administration and the cancellation of a constitutional declaration threatening the judiciary's independence.

Most crucial of all is this: "We demand the formation of a National Salvation Government that ensures efficiency and credibility, that will implement the demands of the revolution, particularly social justice after the policy of the President and the Cabinet has led to a deterioration of the lives of Egyptians."
During these troubled times when Egyptians have never been as polarized, a government of national unity headed by the democratically-elected president makes the most sense. Of course, no government can please all of the people all of the time, but one that represents the needs of most Egyptians, thus quelling fears of a Muslim Brotherhood take-over, could work wonders to calm the streets, restore investor confidence and strengthen the weakening Egyptian pound.

A national unity government with, say, ElBaradei as prime minister, Amr Moussa as foreign minister, Sabahi as minister of defense would be a force to be reckoned with; it would be empowered to issue unpopular edicts for the sake of the country because it would be shielded from charges of bias. Opposition figures would also bring experience to a table that's looking increasingly bare of knowhow and political wisdom.

Accusations by fiery young counter-revolutionaries that veteran pticians are 'faloul' or Mubarak regime remnants serve no one. ElBaradei lived abroad for much of his life. Former Foreign Minister Amr Moussa's popularity was once so great that Mubarak sidelined him to the Arab League where he could do no harm. Nasserist Sabahi opposed Mubarak and his predecessor Anwar Al-Sadat and was jailed on 17 occasions for "political dissidence."

I'm utterly convinced that a government of national unity would be an instant panacea for Egypt's woes encouraging people from all sides of the spectrum to come together with one hand and work side-by-side for a better tomorrow. However, this would require President Mursi to put his own place in history and love of country above his affiliations with the MB's Freedom and Justice Party and his seeming allegiance to the MB's supreme leader. But even if he were so disposed, he would need to steel himself against the MB hierarchy's anger. The Brotherhood's main aim is to tighten its grip on power after decades of concealment, torture and imprisonment. If Mursi had the courage to take the high road despite being out of sync with MB ambitions, he would gain everyone's respect except that of his old buddies; in their eyes he might be seen as a betrayer.

President Mursi is cornered in an unenviable position. Should he sacrifice the approval of his co-ideologues for the sake of the nation or continue down the same path, destination chaos and hunger, which will ultimately lead to an anti-MB public backlash? For a true statesman and patriot with his people's well being at heart that choice would be no choice at all.