Laura Dean's Cairo Diary

Cairo Diary, July 6: A New Prime Minister, Maybe

By Laura Dean
Saturday, July 6, 2013, 4:59 PM

Egypt has a new Prime Minister---or not.

State news media announced on Saturday that Mohamed ElBaradei, Nobel Prize winner and outspoken critic of the Brotherhood and the Mubarak regime, had been appointed to the position. Soon thereafter, however, close to midnight on Saturday, the interim president qualified the announcement, saying that the decision was not yet final. By Sunday morning, those reports are being denied entirely.

Final decision pending, it seems.

ElBaradei has been a contender for political power in Egypt for quite some time and was a leader during the 2011 uprisings. However, since then, he has receded from the main stage, aligning himself with a group of activists on the liberal end of the spectrum. He has also been constantly accused of being out of touch with the broader Egyptian population; ElBaradei having lived more than 30 years in Vienna, this charge has some legs. The Salafi Noor Party opposes his appointment (after supporting Morsi's ouster), as of course does the Muslim Brotherhood. Many in the West see ElBaradei as an encouraging choice and a defender of democratic principles. However, in an interview, he recently defended the widespread arrests of Brotherhood leadership and supporters and the shutting down of Islamist news networks, calling them, "precautionary measures to avoid violence." Everyone believes in democratic principles when applied to himself---less so, it seems, when it's the other guy.

In any event, these precautionary measures against violence seem to be having rather the opposite effect.

Funerals took place across town on Saturday as people buried their loved ones killed in clashes from the night before. The New York Times reported from a hospital downtown that doctors noted with alarm that protesters had been brought in with gunshot wounds, in addition to birdshot, indicating that live ammunition had been used.

I continue to wonder about the lack of intervention in the clashes by any security services.

Ungoverned Space Watch

Meanwhile, the news from Sinai is not good: a priest was shot dead in North Sinai on Saturday in what many have called the first sectarian attack since Morsi's ouster. Let us hope it is not a portent of things to come. This killing follows attacks in North Sinai in previous days that left five policemen and one solider dead. The latest is that militants have bombed a natural gas pipeline to Jordan in Sinai.

Sinai is the closest thing Egypt has to an ungoverned area. Keep an eye on it.

The Power of Community Organizing

Perhaps because I came of age in the Obama era, I believe  that momentous things are possible through dedicated, patient, often unglamorous, community organizing.

During the Parliamentary elections in 2011, I worked as an election observer in the Northern governorate of Beheira and Marsa Matrouh on the Libyan border. In both places, I visited many small towns and hamlets. The only political parties I saw with any consistency there were the Freedom and Justice Party (the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm) and the Salafi Noor Party. They had the numbers, they were on the streets. At the time, those who later came to become the opposition said the Islamists had an unfair advantage: they had been organized for years, these people said; they had existing charity networks; they had money that allowed them to set up cheap markets to sell meat and other staples at cut rates; they had a natural networks in their mosques, many of which encouraged their congregations to vote for Islamic parties.

The answer, then as now, is suck it up: if the opposition wants to get through to people in a meaningful way, they too must go to the villages and organize.

[caption id="attachment_21575" align="aligncenter" width="400"]IMG_2268 Tuktuk with Muslim Brotherhood and Freedom and Justice Party (MB's political arm) on the farming roads in rural Beheira in the Nile Delta.[/caption]

After coming to power in a less-than-democratic fashion---notwithstanding the large number of people in the streets, let's not kid ourselves, the power shift here owes everything to the military---the opposition must now work to gain democratic credibility. It would be a mistake to assume that the new bosses deserve to be in power simply because they believe in democratic principles, assuming that they really do. They must now seek democratic legitimacy through the ballot box. And it remains to be seen whether large numbers of Egyptians who support ousted president Morsi will boycott the next round of elections. But one thing is certain, if non-Islamic parties wish to gain legitimacy, they will need to mobilize people on a scale far larger than anything they have so far attempted, until Tamarod. Perhaps the Tamarod or "Rebel" movement can serve as a jumping off point for more sustained and widespread political mobilization.

Across Egypt there are close family, community and in some areas, tribal ties that organizers could draw upon, particularly as there is so much dissatisfaction with the state of economic and security affairs just waiting to be capitalized upon.

In going through images from the last parliamentary election, I came across this gem. This is the party list banner for the "Justice Party" hanging above a butcher's shop (not to be confused with the "Freedom and Justice party" which is the Muslim Brotherhood's political arm:


On Sunday marches will take places across the city, most of them ending up in Tahrir in the evening.

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