By Tarek Heggy
I have no doubt that the shape, nature, essence and direction of Egypt’s political future will be determined by the silent majority. That is, of course, only if they adopt an active role and participate in all the forthcoming elections [starting with the People’s Assembly, followed by the Shura Council, then the referendum on the new Constitution and, finally, the presidential elections]. This scenario will place Egypt on the road to progress, stability and prosperity. If, on the other hand, the silent majority stay away from the polls, Egypt will find itself slipping back into Middle Ages mode, all hope of progress and prosperity destroyed by apathy. What I call the silent majority is made up of most moderates [those who do not mix politics with religion], leftist groups, Nasserites and non-Muslims. I believe that most of those who belong to the silent majority did not vote in the referendum held on March 19, 2011, leaving the way clear for the “yes” voters. And, as we have seen in the period following the fall of Hosni Mubarak [who caused more harm to Egypt and its people than any other ruler in the country’s history] the Islamists – who voted yes in the March 19 referendum – never shy away from going to the polls. Discipline, dedication and obedience are qualities they possess in abundance so that when their leaders direct them to take part in any election or referendum they comply without hesitation. The point I am trying to make here is that most of those who abstained from voting on March 19, 2011 [26 million Egyptians] would have said no if they had bothered to go to the polls. Most are proponents of a civil state which observes a clear separation between politics and religion and in which the relationship between the state and the people is based on citizenship regardless of any other consideration, religious or otherwise.
Among the most important components of the silent majority are the women who insist on their status as citizens enjoying full equality with men in all constitutional and legal rights and duties. These women believe they are entitled to occupy any post, including that of president of the republic, prime minister, or the highest judicial positions. Also among the most important components of the silent majority are the members of the Sufi orders, who see Islam as a religion, a spiritual not a temporal system, and who would have no objection to living in a state run on the basis of constitutional and legal principles. Another equally important component are the Egyptian Christians, who would be the first to suffer from a merger between the religion of the majority and the state. Until recently, they were among the most passive members of society, depending on the Church for everything. The time has come for every Egyptian Christian to know that his or her vote is extremely important and that passivism will lead to a general cultural climate inimical to their best interests. Yet another important component are the leftists, a group that includes the Marxists, socialists and Nasserites. These are by definition in favour of science and progress and would certainly not be happy to see the merger of religion and state.
Finally, the silent majority includes huge numbers of ordinary Egyptians who are quite simply not interested in elections or aware that the outcome will affect them directly. If they had bothered to go to the polls on March 19, 2011, they would probably have voted yes. Unfortunately, there is no way of assessing what proportion of society they represent but I am inclined to guess it would not be less than one third of the silent majority.
It is important here to mention that the factionalism besetting the proponents of a civil state, those who call for a clear reparation between religion and the state, is extremely dangerous. The only way to resolve the issue is to devise a plan of action based on the formation of coalitions between these like-minded groups before the parliamentary elections so that the votes of the electorate are not dispersed as those of the non-Islamist parties were in the last referendum.
The extremely confused situation in which we find ourselves today is the natural result of Egypt’s recent history. Over a period spanning close to a third of a century, society lived in a state of stagnation and quiescence, without any political or, for that matter, social, mobility [outside of the unholy alliance of money and power that ruled – and robbed – Egypt for thirty long years]. Given this state of affairs, the post-revolution political map was bound to be as confused – and confusing – as it has turned out to be, without any clear indication of what the future will bring.
However, I believe one can make an educated guess as to how the elections will play out. Here I would like to share my personal expectations with the reader. I do not expect any group, including the Islamist parties, to obtain more than 20% of the seats in parliament. The determining factor here will be the shape of the coalitions formed. Having said that, however, I believe that the forces calling for a civil society – one that is based on the separation of religion and the state – can, if they manage to come together in blocs or coalitions before, during or after the parliamentary elections, become the leading force in the People’s Assembly for the next four years.