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Egypt and a history of missed opportunities

In the coming weeks, Egypt will conduct an unexpected electoral experiment: With no real competition for Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the presidential election will turn into a semi-referendum. In this context, it is appropriate to recall the experiences of the recent past to understand and sometimes overcome reality. Without reading history, it is difficult to read the present, and the chances of a clear image of the future diminish. This is the first, and probably most important, lesson of modern history.
Reality requires everyone to look back a bit, to missed opportunities left behind without learning from them, or even studying them to avoid making the same mistakes again.
President Hosni Mubarak’s era was characterized as the era of missed opportunities. Many opportunities, which could have been a real start to move forward to restore the renaissance of the Egyptian state, were lost one by one. 
The first such opportunity was in 1982 when Mubarak released all political opponents who had been arrested by the former president, Anwar Sadat, during the so-called “events of September,” which were one of the main reasons for his assassination on October 6, 1981. It was a golden opportunity to have all political currents rally round him in that period, and create a platform for cooperation, but it was not exploited.
The second important opportunity was when Mubarak survived an assassination attempt in Addis Ababa on July 26, 1995. He was able to return to his country, where the people rallied around him and he gained popularity as a result of the great sympathy of the Egyptians, but his aides in the presidential court turned it into a form of primitive comedy. They brought crowds of people from cities and towns and pushed them into organized demonstrations to greet the president and congratulate him on his escape. And instead of building upon the occasion, it was turned into a farce that was ridiculed even by its own participants.

The lesson of history is that a strong and effective political opposition can lead to better government, and prevent the rise of extremism. 

Abdellatif El-Menawy

Egypt’s battle against terrorism throughout the 1990s, in which all or most Egyptians stood by their government, unified them against the common danger. But instead of using these circumstances to unify the ranks of the state and the government with the citizens, the internal security authorities used the dangers to justify the continuation of exceptional measures and the extension of emergency law, without looking for other ways to maintain the country’s security. The Ministry of the Interior also used the threat of terrorism as a scarecrow for the regime, to remind it that its safety and survival were controlled by the indispensable security authorities, whose powers needed to be expanded.
The series of missed opportunities continued when the 2005 Egyptian parliamentary elections were undermined by the organizers. When the leadership of the Egyptian National Democratic Party (NDP) and the Interior Ministry felt that the NDP was losing, they intervened in the second and third rounds, manipulating the results of the remaining constituencies to secure the overwhelming majority in parliament, despite judicial supervision, although those elections were a test of the wave of political reform, and they came only two months after the first presidential elections with multiple candidates.
This was one of the missed important opportunities in a series of one wasted opportunity after another. The elections were an opportunity to be built upon in order to develop the future of Egypt, yet it was lost as usual, and the parliament was dealt with as an auxiliary tool to run the state in a way that conformed to the concepts of political reform.
Dealing with the 2005 parliament may bring us back to the history of dealing with party life in Egypt, which began in November 1976, when Sadat decided to establish three platforms — right, left and center — that turned months later into political parties. During that period, the ruling party, the Egyptian Arab Socialist Party, was the only strong one. However, Sadat also established the NDP in 1978. Most of the members of Egypt’s political elite ran to the new party headed by the president. And despite the weakness of the other opposition parties in that period, they were relatively noticeable. Unfortunately, state leadership and influential decision-makers in the NDP at the time, in their struggle against the opposition parties, resorted to economic siege and restrictive procedures that ended in perpetuating a chronic weakness in all these parties. They did not realize that, by weakening the secular opposition parties, they were leaving the road wide open to the rise of the religious opposition movement, which was represented mainly in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Abdellatif El-Menawy is a critically acclaimed multimedia journalist, writer and columnist who has covered war zones and conflicts worldwide.
Twitter: @ALMenawy