x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 19 January 2018

Election boycott would be poor judgement

Egypt's opposition should reconsider calls to boycott parliamentary elections, an Arabic-language columnist says. Other topics: the Muslim Brotherhood threat and the power of dialogue.

The Egyptian opposition's decision to boycott the forthcoming parliamentary elections would be a "big mistake", not just because it would hurt the opposition's best interests, but also because it runs counter to proper democratic process, according to Ahmed Sayyed Ahmed, a columnist with the Cairo-based newspaper Al Ahram.

The parties that make up the Salvation Front, the main opposition block that is highly sceptical of the politics and agenda of the ruling Muslim Brothers, have "real and legitimate concerns", the columnist wrote yesterday.

The opposition is worried about the integrity and transparency of the elections, particularly after its demand to form a neutral "national salvation cabinet" to oversee the elections was rejected.

Still, boycotting the elections is not the best option at this stage, the author said.

"Firstly, the involvement of the opposition in the elections - especially the Salvation Front parties - does not mean giving up demands, bowing to those in power or accepting the status quo," he observed. "It would rather be a positive act of amending the disfigured and dysfunctional political process in Egypt."

In fact, the opposition has a fair shot at winning a parliamentary majority at these elections, which would allow it to form a new government and amend divisive constitutional provisions.

"Secondly, the opposition's participation will be enough to refute the Islamist parties' argument that the opposition does not have the courage to engage the ballot box due to its supposed low street credibility.

"The opposition is accused of placing its bets on a dragging revolutionary process, complete with demonstrations and acts of public disobedience, because it has nothing else to bet on."

By entering the parliamentary race, the opposition will not only dig holes into that rhetoric, it will also be able to demonstrate its appeal and power to mobilise the population, the columnist argued.

Of course, this is all easier said than done. To be able to make the most out of its run for office, the opposition has to "intelligently capitalise on the confusion and nervousness that have characterised the way the Islamists in power have run the economic and political affairs of the country" in recent times.

The opposition also has to remember that no true democracy can exist if a certain balance between a powerful ruling party (or coalition) and a solid opposition is not there, the writer noted.

"The core of the Egyptian predicament today is that neither one of these two is practicing democracy - or just politics, for that matter - in a proper manner," the writer went on.

"What is happening now is that the ruling party is acting like the only player in the field … while the opposition's only goal is to make that player falter."

GCC states work to contain Brotherhood

In Egypt, as in Tunisia, the situation is spiralling downwards as the ruling Muslim Brotherhood parties in both countries are evoking serious fears with their tendencies to monopolise power, said Dr Ali Al Tarrah in a column for the Abu Dhabi daily Al Ittihad.

Islamist movements in Tunisia and Egypt are still struggling with their new-found power. Meanwhile, the secular opposition movements are failing to produce a unified front and a clear vision for a solution to the unnatural challenges facing the Arab region.

"The Brotherhood's big mistake was that they let themselves be entranced by victory, which led them to ignore other political powers that were instrumental in bringing down previous regimes," said the writer.

The Brotherhood would be ill-advised to hold on to their traditional rhetoric claiming they are the sole legitimate deliverers of society. More importantly, their religious speech and their vision for the Islamic state must be revised.

Apprehension about the Brotherhood's rise has never been more acute than it is in the Gulf Cooperation Council states at present, especially with the noticeable transformation in the relationship of respective states with religious institutions.

Political leaderships in the Gulf are working towards downsizing the influence of clerics with the aim of bringing about internal balance. It is a message to the Brotherhood, which is attempting to present itself as the new ally.

Arab world plagued by a lack of dialogue

Democracy involves dialogue between people with contrasting views. Some Arabs, however - even after the Arab Spring - are still resorting to silencing people they disagree with using the methods of arrest, repression and liquidation, noted Jamal Boudouma, a columnist with the Moroccan paper Al Massae.

Successful revolutions in history have been preceded by intellectual movements - reference points that inspire players and illuminate their ways to a better future, he remarked.

Yet the uprisings that the Arab world has seen are beset with a lack of intellectual references, apart from a loose aspiration for freedom and democracy.

This is why it was the Islamists, having a clear reference point, who have reaped its fruits, and hence the fear among many that liberal and socialist dictatorships have been replaced by fundamentalist ones.

Dialogue entails efforts to know "the other" and understand their points and convictions.

Persecution seems to be the only answer possible to deal with people with different opinions in the Arab world; the powerful annihilate the weak.

This is probably why Syria has had to pay with more than 70,000 lives so that the warring parties finally understand that there is something called "dialogue".

* Digest compiled by the Translation Desk