After thinking on the matter, I want to share some further thoughts regarding the Egyptian elections, specifically those who voted in it as well as my concerns about achieving sustained positive change in Egypt.  As I am sure you have gathered from my previous argument, I am very skeptical about these elections and whether or not they will truly yield fruit for Egypt.  However, I do not in any way mean to disparage the voters of Egypt: I am critical of the system not the people.

Especially as a young person who also voted for the first time in a landmark election, I know the sense of excitement that comes with voting.  My experience was with the 2008 presidential elections in America where I voted for the first time for President Obama.  Like many people at the time, I was quite enamored with him and when it was announced that he had won it was one of the happiest moments of my life; it was the first time I had ever heard the national anthem sung on Beloit’s campus.  Especially knowing the role young people played in getting Obama elected (we were his most supportive demographic) it felt like something was really changing; that finally youth had the ability to influence a political landscape dominated by baby boomers and those who did not (and still don’t) have our interests in mind.  I remember that feeling vividly and, regardless of my disappointment at President Obama’s performance, I will never forget how much my ability to participate meant and still means to me.

I have spoken to a number of Egyptians, young and old, who have expressed the same excitement at being able to participate that I felt roughly four years ago.  For the first time in their lives, they feel like they are actually able to meaningfully participate and make their voice heard by their government.  This resonates with me particularly when I talk to Egyptians who are my age.  This is not only their first opportunity to vote in an election where the outcome isn’t decided before the first ballot is filled out, it is their first chance to vote period.  To any of you reading: you have every reason to be proud.  The fact that evil men are trying to undermine democracy in Egypt should not detract from how much pride you take in your legitimate interest in making your voice heard through the electoral process.

A wise man, Dr. Saad Eddin Ibrahim, recently made the argument that youth, like those in Tahrir, expect rapid and monumental change whereas older people are happy to see incremental change.  He argues that change is never a rapid progress and if the expectations are set too high they will be impossible to achieve.  This, in turn, will discourage young people from continuing to fight for change in the long-run because they will know only failure, not success.  This rings true to me in a number of ways.

First, I see this at play in the Occupy Wall Street movement.  They seem to think that they can change everything at once.  However, by doing so, they are actually failing to really change anything: you cant take on the entire system at once and expect to meet with any success.  During the civil rights movement they took on the issue of segregation one manifestation at a time: buses, schools, government, restaurants and the workplace were all addressed separately so that all of the movement’s efforts could be focused on achieving sustained, incremental change.  My generation seems to have lost sight of that: if we continue to aim at taking down the entire system at once with no clear direction or leadership, the Occupy Movement’s numbers will remain in the thousands.  If we can show a clear plan which actually starts to achieve something, we will be joined by the millions who agree in principle but who remain silent because of a lack of faith in the movement itself.  That might even convince me to willingly return the the United States!  Maybe.

In Egypt I see the same thing.  When the goal was focused on removing a figurehead of all that was wrong with Egypt, the movement had millions who stood up with one voice.  They succeeded in achieving an incredible, but incremental change.  However, now many have begun pursuing incremental change through elections, while many more see the removal of SCAF from its complete control over the country as the next necessary step.  The splintering of the revolution’s goals killed its ability to meaningfully change the system.  The people in Tahrir do not have the numbers, even on their largest days, to topple the military’s stranglehold on Egypt: it is a system which dates back to Egypt’s independence and one which the army, as well as some among the Egyptian population, support.  Tahrir is currently unable to demonstrate that they have the support of Egypt’s silent majority, the people who were willing to fight Mubarak but unwilling to pursue a goal which many see as currently un-achievable.  However, as indicated by participation in the elections, this majority is willing to participate in elections, which many (myself included) still recognize as an incremental step in the right direction.  I still believe elections are too incremental for anyone to claim democracy yet, but elections are a goal that was achieved and one that has the support of a majority of Egyptians.

I am by no means saying that Tahrir does not still have power.  Through their bravery and heroism in the last two weeks, the people of Tahrir (and its various manifestations throughout the country) have shown that they still have considerable power and that they are able to defend their beliefs from the brutality of SCAF and the Central Security Forces.  They are a third point of the power triangle that exists in Egypt: SCAF/former regime elements (yes, I believe wholeheartedly that they are in league with one-another), the people of Tahrir, and the voters/political parties (undeniably some parties are also complacent with former NDP elements but informed voters reject them outright).  While the battle (literal and figurative) between Tahrir and SCAF is at a stalemate right now, it is by no means over.  However, the voters/political parties have made incremental gains against SCAF.  The true extent of these gains remains to be seen, but they did achieve something.  But, these gains are overshadowed by the growing divide between Egypt’s voters/political parties and the people of Tahrir.

This has gotten very long and I sincerely hope you have made your way through it.  I will conclude by calling for unity between the base corners of the triangle: Tahrir and the voters.  Both of these groups still have substantial power, if not politically, together they have numbers.  Even if their goals remain separate, they must both realize that neither will achieve their aims unless they continue to get concessions from SCAF.  I do not mean elections, I see them as too incremental (perhaps a product of my youth).  I mean concessions such as stopping SCAF’s collaboration with former NDP members (for example, SCAF’s decision to appoint of a former NDP Prime Minister as the new interim Prime Minister).  I am talking about concessions such as ending military trials and detention for civilians as well as an end to the continuing crackdown on journalists, bloggers and freedom of expression in general.  Certainly, many of these are rather large concessions, but when they were unified the people of Egypt overthrew a heavily entrenched dictator in only 18 days.  Rally behind meaningful, yet incremental change, or this revolution is going to stagnate and SCAF is going to win.

Thanks for reading!

-Mike

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