The agreement concluded between the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and 13 political parties on Saturday has been met with heavy criticism from Egyptian activists and youth coalitions. After the meeting, convened by the generals to discuss the parties’ growing frustration with the new electoral law and the transition period, participants came under intense fire on social media and independent news outlets. Some critics even went so far as to accuse the participants of treason.
Revolutionary activists responded as though they were surprised by the meeting. But really, what were we to expect? Over the past few months, Egypt’s political forces have failed to reach any consensus on how to move forward in the interim period. They’ve failed to agree on a political project that represents the demands of the revolution and that would give them some leverage in guiding the transitional period alongside the SCAF.
Instead, conservative political forces – Islamists, social conservatives, remnants of the former ruling National Democratic Party, and some traditional parties from the Mubarak era – drummed up support for the March referendum on constitutional amendments and since then have pushed for adopting the SCAF's vague road map for a transfer of power. The outcome of the referendum has provoked intense conflict between political parties and groups, undermining any chance for a revolutionary consensus on a plan for the interim period. Moreover, the referendum has created a space for political battles that are isolated from the demands of the revolution.
The Egyptian revolution's chief goals were to dismantle the oppressive security apparatus, restructure corrupt state institutions and remake the social system to serve millions of poor Egyptians. Instead of continuing the fight for these basic demands, conservative political forces have devoted most of their energy to debating how the constitution will be drafted and the arrangements for the elections. And yet, they still haven’t been able to reach an agreement on either of these issues, giving the SCAF an opportunity to impose its views.
On the streets, the revolution is intensifying, with strikes and sit-ins spreading to factories and schools. Egypt’s social contradictions are boiling over, and institutional corruption, poor living standards and the collapse of social services are all being exposed and challenged. Meanwhile, conservative political powers remain myopically focused on the constitution and elections in what seems to be a battle to inherit Mubarak's regime.
Before blaming the parties that signed the agreement with SCAF, perhaps we should consider how they’ve contributed to narrowing the political discussion to issues of process – for example, who is eligible to run in which electoral districts, who will choose the constituent assembly that drafts the new constitution – while abandoning the general demands of the revolution. As these forces begin to jostle over the shape of the new regime, one worries that the parliamentary elections will give them an opportunity to launch a full assault on the revolution.
Now, the critical question is whether or not the parliamentary elections will bring together a constellation of political forces capable of addressing the demands of tens of thousands of protesters and strikers who continue to fight for a decent living and a better future. No matter it’s composition, Egypt’s new regime will only establish its legitimacy through a bold and democratic social and political accord that takes into account the demands of all segments of Egyptian society.
Failing that, Egyptians may find themselves facing one of two scenarios: a restoration of the police state or a revolutionary escalation. Will the Emergency Law and attempts to restore Mubarak’s authoritarian state put a stop to the ongoing upheavals and finally halt the spread of the revolution? Or will protests reach a tipping point in the coming phase causing our political leaders, especially conservatives, to realize that this is a genuine revolution from below that requires novel changes to the way Egypt is run?
Akram Ismail is an independent writer and activist with the Association of Progressive Youth. He is a member of the editorial board of el-Bosla magazine.