One thing that has been bothering me lately about the coverage of the protests in Egypt is the constant harping on the fact that the protestors are not speaking with a unified voice. This seems to me to be an odd comment on the movement. At the very least, they are all agreed upon the fact that they would like to get rid of Mubarak. Granted, this is not an acceptable political platform, and certainly more is needed in order to form an effective government following Mubarak’s exit.
It seems to me that the most important thing is to organize free and fair elections. At this point, it is not clear that those will take place, and so political organizations have yet to emerge. However, at this point it is early to be forming new political parties and coming up with platforms in a public setting, as so much in Egypt is still up in the air. Frankly, it may well be that in the first round of elections the Muslim Brotherhood will take all, due to a lack of viable challengers. As long as they are committed to democracy, and allowing other political parties to form and contest elections, this need not necessarily be a problem.
I do not mean to suggest that the Brotherhood is the natural choice as successor to Mubarak. Though they have some moderate elements, and have publicly declared that they will not rescind the ‘cold peace’ with Israel, I think a far more interesting question is whether they can gain enough support to lead. They have been criticized for not taking advantage of these protests to take a leading position. In addition to this, much of the leadership is older, and the protestors in the streets have been overwhelmingly young and tech-savvy Egyptians. The Brotherhood has also been criticized in the past for not having specific policy proposals, which was problematic long before the current situation materialized. Finally, many experts think that there will have to be some sort of interim arrangement between the exit of Mubarak and the holding of free and fair elections, if that is the way events in Egypt are headed. If this is the case, there will be time for parties to develop and form, increasing the chance that a viable alternative will emerge.
To expect the protestors to be putting forth a coherent and clear mission statement at this point seems to me a ludicrous expectation. They are dealing with an insecure and unsure environment, simply trying to keep the momentum of the protests going in order to avoid a backslide which could potentially result in mass scale arrests and harassment of those who participated. The media would do well to remember that the fact that the protestors have not spoken with a unified voice does not mean that there are no intelligent and capable people thinking about what they would like Egypt to look like in the future. After all, if one gathered together a large group of Canadians and asked them to articulate a vision for Canada’s future, would the group speak with a unified voice? I somehow doubt it.
Colleen McGrann holds a Masters in International Relations from the University of Chicago
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