Egypt and Risk of Street Politics in Middle East

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Mohammad Khajouei
Master’s Degree in Middle East Studies

From the moment that the opponents of the overthrown Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi started to gather on the streets and insist on his ouster up to the positive answer that the Egyptian military gave to the opposition’s demand by staging a coup against Morsi's government, the recent political developments in Egypt can be considered a major turning point in the North African country’s political life since its original revolution triumphed on January 25, 2011. This turning point, however, more than being encouraging has been actually a cause for concern.

Apart from Mohamed Morsi's performance in office, which has been characterized by various degrees of approval and opposition, the reality which cannot be ignored is that he was the legal president of Egypt who had come to office about a year ago and following the country’s popular revolution through a free election whose healthiness had been confirmed by all parties. Therefore, it was not befitting to the Egyptian revolution to have its new government, which had emerged out of people’s votes, overthrown only a short time after the revolution which ended three decades of the military and authoritarian rule of the country’s former dictator, Hosni Mubarak. However, it seems that the main development which paved the way for the Egyptian army to stage the coup was a phenomenon that has more or less turned into an epidemic in the political atmosphere of Egypt following the rule of Mubarak. This phenomenon, which is rapidly spreading not only in Egypt, but also through other countries in the Middle East and North Africa, is nothing but what the analysts call the “street politics.”

From about two and a half years ago, the streets in many Middle Eastern countries, which were once only a passing route for various vehicles and pedestrian traffic, have turned into an effective element that has influenced large-scale political equations in many countries of the Middle East, including Egypt. In fact, the widespread and colorful presence of people from various theoretical and political schools on the streets and in the squares of important Middle Eastern cities was the main factor which made such dictatorial rulers as those of Egypt (Hosni Mubarak) and Tunisia (Zine El Abidine Ben Ali) to step down after having been in power for many long years.

Although streets have played a positive role in the overthrow of dictatorial regimes, they have gradually turned into an obstacle on the way of later developments in revolutionary countries following the victory of the popular uprisings. It seems that the persistent presence of people on the streets for a diversity of reasons is turning into a routine development as everybody is reaching the conclusion that the street is the sole means which can be used effectively to achieve their political goals.

Although streets are one of the most important of public places which can be used to bring up people’s political and social demands, they can only play a positive role in the political process as long as they are not used for the purpose of taking the political process out of its main logical path, which is rivalry over power through legal and lawful means.

During recent days, however, a group of the Egyptian people sought to overthrow the country’s legal president by gathering on the streets and they finally achieved their goal. This development can be considered the climax of the phenomenon which is known as the street politics. To make a long story short, bringing the politics onto the streets will amount to total standstill of legal and institutional procedures that are related to such political developments as establishing and changing the government. In this state, people prefer to bring about the aforesaid changes by gathering on the streets, where emotions usually take precedence over rationality.

All revolutions and democratic movements can only bear fruit under conditions when all the necessary institutions which give strength to and protect democracy have been established. One of the most important pillars of democracy is the central role played by the ballot boxes and elections in determining or changing people who should run the power institutions. Therefore, the overthrow of an elected government, regardless of the motives and goals behind it, will be a clear ignorance of legal and lawful processes which should guide the normal transfer of power. Bringing politics onto the streets will act like a two-edged sword. If today, the opponents of Morsi succeeded to achieve their goal through this means, there may be a tomorrow when they would be also deposed of power through the same means.

Perhaps, one may accept the allegations by the opponents of Morsi that he and the Muslim Brotherhood aimed to monopolize the political power and phase out all other political currents. However, even in that case, it does not seem that the path chosen by his opponents to achieve their goal – that is, to overthrow the elected government by, in fact, ignoring the importance of election as an institution – would be less harmful than the performance of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. In other words, damages resulting from staging a coup against an elected government and turning it into a routine procedure will be much more destructive than the performance of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood during the whole period that they swayed the political power.

One cannot claim to be promoting democracy merely on the ground that they are pursuing democratic motives and goals. Although the goal is the most important issue, the way one chooses to achieve their goals is also very important from a logical viewpoint. The main damage during the latest political developments in Egypt has been done to the election as an institution and to the central role of the ballot boxes. As a result, it would be very difficult to restore that institution to its original state, forge national consensus over it, and guarantee everybody’s compliance with democratic mechanisms.

Bringing the politics onto the streets, like what we have been witnessing in Egypt during past days, will present various political players with a new model: that having enough force in the faceoff on the streets is the most important factor that influences a country’s political processes. It goes without saying that there will be no end to this process as all political players will keep inviting their supporters to carry out street protests. In fact, the most important outcome of this model will be nothing but an epidemic of anarchy and instability.

It seems that settling political scores on the streets has not remained limited to Egypt. Just a while ago, protesters in Turkey took to the streets calling on the government [of the Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan] to step down. Even now, a similar Tamarod movement (meaning “disobedience” in Arabic) has been already launched in Tunisia, which pursues the declared goal of overthrowing the Tunisian government and the Constituent Assembly [aka. National Constituent Assembly (NCA)] both of which are the results of free elections in the North African country.

This article is by no means trying to defend the performance of such Middle Eastern governments as that of Morsi. However, it aims to provide a clear image of the new and great problem and challenge which is currently facing the entire Middle East region. If an urgent solution is not found for this problem, it will soon face the regional movements, which seek change in their respective countries and aim to build law-abiding and democratic societies, with unimaginable challenges and risks, and will bar them from achieving their real goals.

Key Words: Egypt, Street Politics, Middle East, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, Democratic Mechanisms, Khajouei

More By Mohammad Khajouei:

*What Is Required for Success of Geneva 2 Conference?:

*New Egypt’s Foreign Policy: Change or Continuity?:

*The Perils and Prospects of Hamas-Fatah Reconciliation:

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