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Egypt: Back to square one

Egypt's President Muhammad Mursi’s decision to impose a state of emergency in the cities of Port Said, Suez and Ismailiya marks a turning point. It shows Mursi will simply resort to force in the absence of a national agreement. A broad consensus could bring about an institutional reform of the inherited political, economic and social system. This was a prerequisite to meet some of the aspirations of the popular revolution.
Mursi’s resort to the authoritarian measures of his predecessor — Hosni Mubarak — appeared to reflect the same old mentality, ironically enough on the second anniversary of the revolution.
The main problem seems to stem from the way the revolution took place. It lacked clear leadership and a concrete program. It was more of an outburst of grievances and complaints about the status quo than a movement toward the future.
Complicating things further was the national divide on which path the country would take. Rightly or wrongly, two opposing camps have emerged. One came under the umbrella of the Islamists and the other under a secular, liberal banner. In effect that division has to do more with personalities rather than actual programs.
The opposition camp under the umbrella of the National Salvation Front seems to be more united by its animosity toward the Muslim Brotherhood than by agreeing on an alternative to the current government.
The Muslim Brotherhood on the other hand seems more bent on ensuring its control on power than reaching out to other political forces. The constitutional declaration polarized an already divided political climate. This starting point led to the current violence that the declaration of the state of emergency hopes to address.
The central problem lies in the lack of democratic traditions. Each of the two camps has failed clearly to open up to the other party, respect its viewpoint and reach out to the people peacefully to win them to their side of the argument.
In such an environment people look for individuals and institutions that they can trust and which could help in bridging the gap. Interesting enough that is not a problem facing only Egypt or the Arab Spring countries. A recent study released by Adelman, a public relations firm, pointed out that people tend more to listen to and trust their peers than to believe in what think-tanks, political parties, bankers and other executives can propose.
Of course, measuring an elusive and abstract concept like trust or confidence is a difficult process in itself given its subjective dimension.
If that lack of trust is prevalent in some of the developed countries leading today’s world, more of that mistrust could be expected from developing countries. Things are even more compounded by the state of socioeconomic and political turmoil engulfing these countries following the Arab Spring revolutions.
However, this political instability is aggravating the already difficult economic conditions. Reforms in this area, by their very nature, are slow and the results take time to materialize, fueling political instability.
The combination of political instability and economic deterioration takes its toll on security as well as on society overall. And that is the environment that begot dictatorship. Providing security becomes the first goal. People align themselves to accept any system that ensures their safety and allows them to go lead their normal lives in a peaceful way.
That has been the lesson of revolutions generally. And still, a genuine national consensus could accommodate all forces and provide a national political system where competing programs and viewpoints could flourish peacefully.

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