I failed to detect any political gain out of the 24 August protests. On the scale of numbers it was no ‘million-person’ demonstration, a wildly exaggerated term that has gained sweeping popularity ever since the January 2011 Revolution.
On the scale of opinion, it added nothing new to that declared by the secular movements which reject the Ikhwanisation or Islamisation of the country. And on the scale of the ability to gather together all the civil movements into one strong non-discountable coalition, the gathering was frustratingly feeble and fragmented. If anything, it proved that the secular movements have a long way to go if they hope ever to be effective on the political scene in Egypt.
To be sure, I have nothing against peaceful protest or demonstration at any time or in any place. The success of any protest, however, lies in whether or not it is able to change what it is protesting against. If the only outcome is that the rejection of a specific cause or situation is made public, the rejected reality will remain as is. Real change can only be attained through hard, dedicated, urgent work via channels which are not in any way secret or unknown to protestors.
The political game involves both nominal and practical aspects. Whoever possesses the cards of the on-the-ground game may afford to play the nominal card. Whoever has no foothold on the ground should never venture or be dragged into the nominal aspects of the game, lest it leads to a hemorrhaging of efforts and resources that leads in turn to inability to effect any change. Anyone who doubts this need only look at the way the Ikhwan Muslimoun (the Muslim Brotherhood MB) and its Freedom and Justice Party or the Salafi Nur Party and all the streams that endorse the Islamist agenda mobilised their ranks to the ballot boxes in all the elections held in Egypt so far. The result is that they can afford to hold demonstrations and protests without risking any political gain they already earned. But this is not the case with the seculars and the liberals who need to stand up to the challenge of consolidating their ranks, which are currently fragmented, into a single powerful coalition. In this context, they can ill afford to dissipate their energy in nominal moves that achieve no on-the-ground benefits while leaving the real work undone.
Many frustrated Egyptians might retort that, as proved by the post-revolution election results which brought in a sweeping Islamist majority in Parliament and which in turn led to Islamist hegemony over legislation, the Ikhwanisation of the country is not likely to be halted through the ballot box. To this I say: True, the ballot box brought in Islamist hegemony, but it also allowed the scandalous disclosure of the real outlooks and intentions of the Islamists, which directly led to a marked decline in popular support for them. It became all too obvious that the Islamist-led legislation was taking Egypt away from its legendary age-old moderation; mainstream Egyptians were horrified at the prospect of a hardline Egypt they could not fathom.
The result of the March 2011 referendum was 77 per cent Islamist; Parliament—the elections of which were held last November—was 67 per cent Islamist, while the Islamist vote for the presidential elections last May was 51 per cent. The facts speak for themselves.
There is in Egypt a considerable reserve of proponents for a civic, secular State. But this reserve is severely fragmented. The major challenge that ought to be tackled by the secular forces at this point in time, therefore, is not to dissipate their energy in fruitless efforts, but to consolidate their ranks into a single powerful political force to be reckoned with. Once the Islamist win of the presidency was announced last June, a group of secular political activists declared the foundation of what they termed the Third Stream, meaning a stream that endorses neither the Islamists nor the military. Watani fully endorsed this thoroughly civic stream, to the point of creating a new page on the paper to report on it. It is this stream that has to be shouldered with the responsibility of conglomerating all the various civic movements into one, and mobilising the electorate throughout Egypt to vote for them when the time comes. This is a momentous effort that needs meticulous planning, especially given that the Egyptian electorate in rural Egypt is dominated by family, clan, and tribal loyalties. A single candidate should represent the Third Way in every constituency, and should be supported by all the partner movements in order to avoid fragmentation of the vote and ensure every possible chance of success.
Granted, the task is no easy one and demands sacrifices by one and all in the Third Stream. Yet it is the only hope the seculars have to achieve any real gain towards changing what they protest so hard against.