Why Egyptian voters voted the way they did
by Abdallah Schleifer
All of the Egyptians I know from working class to upper middle class - save for a few Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers or liberal-left intellectuals sufficiently alienated from Egyptian society not to recognize simple truths - went to vote with quiet determination in favor of the new constitution.
The source of that determination, however is not at all any particular enthusiasm or even curiosity about the new constitution -which is basically a modest amendment to the 2012 Muslim Brotherhood version - as it is an opportunity to pave the way for a presidential election that will bring Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi to full, formal power.
For most Egyptians, “Sisi” is another way of spelling “stability.” And given the mediocre performance of the various players - both the sincere and the opportune - associated with the Jan. 25, 2011 “revolution” there is a great yearning for strong, effective and energetic leadership that will restore stability and with it, significant investment (both private as well as public) in the economy that will translate into jobs for the many unemployed and the normal pursuit of life and happiness, if not necessarily, liberty, for all.
‘Return of military rule’
Critics - and the more distant from Egypt, the more critical - may bemoan “ the return to military rule” but that is to ignore that the last decade and in particular, the last five years of former President Mubarak’s rule were driven by the de-facto civilian leadership of his wife, his sons, the favored circle of crony capitalists and the civilian party bureaucrats who revolved around that leadership.
Indeed, there is no reason for the working classes to assume that the head of the armed forces will be anywhere as indifferent to social justice as was Mubarak Inc., or for that matter Egypt’s liberal institutions. On the contrary there is now a wide-spread romantic recollection of Gamal Abdul Nasser and the welfare state he created, however flawed, and this recollection lends further appeal to the possibility of an Sisi presidency.
I have a very well informed friend who argues that the very structure of Egyptian society is corrupted - that the only concern of nearly everyone is pure self-interest. But it is also conceivable that strong leadership committed to the idea that there is such a thing as a public interest can shake the complacently corrupt, reduce its scope, and actually get both state and private sectors to perform –at least part of the time - in the public interest. Just that in itself would improve the possibilities of a decent society.
A professional soldier has chosen a career that is conditioned by one’s readiness, at least in principle, to sacrifice one’s life for the sake of the nation. In face of a prevailing global political economy based on the principle that greed is good, that lends virtue to a uniform.
Hopefully, not only endemic corruption but also the transitional government’s present tendency to over-the-top rhetoric and excessive measures will be reined in once there is a strong President in place, since the transitional and contested nature of the present government – has contributed to nervous over-reaction.
That defensiveness would significantly diminish if President Obama reverses his own bizarre hostile policy towards Egypt, a policy which certainly did not originate in the U.S. State Department. Rarely noted, the most significant sign of President Obama’s displeasure in fact has been the absence an American ambassador in Cairo for many months. Yet President Obama has received the Iraqi Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki at the White House, which tolerated first Maliki’s own parliamentary coup d’etat.
In the last election in Iraq with American forces still maintaining an authoritative presence in the country, Maliki’s parliamentary maneuver - that gave him office of prime minister even though the leading opposition alliance had won more seats than Maliki’s party - was tolerated if not abetted by the White House. Since then Maliki has aligned Iraq with Iran and Assad’s regime in Syria, and played the major role in the sectarian destabilization of the regime, resulting in the revival of al-Qaeda’s fortunes in Iraq which in turn has contaminated the rebel cause in Syria.
One sign that change is in the air, is the full restoration of the more than $ 1.5 billion in military and economic aid to Egypt in the U.S. Congress’ new spending bill. And there are indeed unofficial but informed reports circulating in Washington that Obama is about to put forward the name of a new ambassador .To justify that step the administration has had to allude to this referendum as a significant step on the “road-map to democracy” - when that really is not what this referendum is at all about - but that will at least justify the U.S. doing only now what it should have done many months ago.
Cross published on Al Arabiya and TAM with permission of the author. Prof. Schleifer’s Alarabiya column will now be posted regularly on The American Muslim (TAM), and on Arab Media and Society, an electronic journal as well as the links twitted on a weekly basis to Arab Media and Society subscribers.
Abdallah Schleifer is Professor Emeritus of Journalism at the American University in Cairo, where he founded and served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for Television Journalism. He also founded and served as Senior Editor of the journal Transnational Broadcasting Studies, now known as Arab Media & Society. Before joining the AUC faculty Schleifer served for nine years as NBC News Cairo bureau chief and Middle East producer- reporter; as Middle East corrrespondent for Jeune Afrique based in Beirut and as a special correspndent for the New York Times based in Amman. After retiring from teaching at AUC Schleifer served for little more than a year as Al Arabiya’s Washington D.C. bureau chief. He is associated with the Middle East Institute in Washington D.C. as an Adjunct Scholar. He was executive producer of the award winning documentary “Control Room” and the 100 episode Reality- TV documentary “Sleepless in Gaza…and Jerusalem.”