Following the formation of the current government headed by Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawi, hopes were high for a brief moment as many thought that revolutionary elements within the Cabinet might lead the path towards a democratic transition after a military takeover of power.
The central place that the military occupied in Egyptian politics after the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi raised concern about the prospects of democracy under the helm of the generals and their security apparatus. But some were betting on those few revolutionary figures in government to fill the political gap.
Headed by a prime minister hailing from the Social Democratic Party, the Cabinet also includes long-time dissident labor leader Kamal Abu Eita as minister of manpower, veteran advocate for the independence of university campuses Hossam Eissa as minister of higher education and economic reformist and social democrat Ziad Bahaa Eddin as vice president for economic affairs. And for a short while, Mohamed ElBaradei, an inspiration for a large opposition movement that contributed to the ouster of President Hosni Mubarak, was part of the Cabinet.
But as the standoff between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood from which Morsi hails deepened after the dispersal last month of the sit-ins calling for Morsi’s reinstatement, hopes are now dwindling. For one, ElBaradei resigned protesting the police’s excessive use of force.
The government is employing its consolidated security apparatus to handle the Muslim Brotherhood, leaving no space for political solutions, let alone talk about the Brotherhood’s inclusion in the new political process.
Meanwhile, Bahaa Eddin is behind an initiative that attempts to reach a political resolution that is more committed to democratic principles than exclusionary security solutions.
Besides declaring commitment to the military-designed roadmap, the initiative offers a solution that guarantees a fair and inclusive atmosphere for all political forces to operate freely as long as they are peaceful. The initiative also commits the government to forming a system of transitional justice that promotes accountability for crimes and violations committed against civilians. Finally, it guarantees a space for national reconciliation to restore social cohesion, hard hit in the ongoing violence between the two parties.
“Bahaa Eddin is a politician, and a politician’s job is to offer political solutions. He is not a general who is going to offer security solutions,” general coordinator of the Social Democratic Party Ahmed Fawzy, from which both Bahaa Eddin and Beblawi hail, tells Mada Masr. Fawzy believes that the initiative is the only remaining hope to end the political deadlock.
“We have to support this initiative because if it fails, politics will be dead for the time being,” he says.
But many critics are worried that with the escalating tension between the military and the Brotherhood, it will be difficult to implement such an initiative — not least because it will be presented by the government which is itself part of the problem given the way it was appointed on the heels of Morsi’s ouster by the military.
Harsher critics suggest that this initiative will serve to legitimize military rule, following the bloody clearing of the pro-Brotherhood sit-ins.
Professor of political science at the American University in Cairo (AUC) Rabab al-Mahdy, who was also a political adviser to Brotherhood defector Abdel Moneim Abul Fotouh during his presidential campaign in 2012, believes that Bahaa Eddin’s initiative will not put an end to the conflict between the military and the Brotherhood. In explaining what stands in the way of the initiative achieving real reconciliation, she points to a division within Beblawi’s government.
There are two conflicting wings inside the government, she says. The first represented by Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim and Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is pressing for harsher security measures. The second wing, whose figurehead was ElBaradei, is now represented by Bahaa Eddin’s initiative, Mahdy explains.
“But as violence intensifies, it seems that the first wing is getting stronger and will have the upper hand when it comes to deciding on the solution to the deadlock,” she speculates, adding that this is especially the case following the bombing that targeted Ibrahim’s convoy earlier this month.
Mahdy adds that the government’s performance shows that those ministers who were considered revolutionary are not all behaving in a revolutionary manner.
“We have seen the talk of Hossam Eissa and Kamal Abu Eita — their discourse is completely with the security solution,” she says.
Eissa, who was hailed by secular student leaders for responding to their demands to re-amend the student bylaws that were passed by Muslim Brotherhood students, has recently come under criticism for being unwilling to deal with emerging contentious issues. For example, the minister has taken no moves to resolve the dispute between the Nile University students and Ahmed Zewail over the ownership of Nile University’s lands and buildings. Nile University students have two court rulings proving their right to own the buildings but these were never executed. Eissa has been criticized for failing to move the implementation of the court ruling. More recently, Eissa has been charged with passivity in the face of a government order granting university administrators arrest powers.
As for Abu Eita, once the man behind independent workers unions, he released a statement in celebration of Morsi’s ouster with the help of the military, promising that workers will not stage any sit-ins so as not to harm the economy. But the workers did not comply with Abu Eita’s bright promises.
Labor lawyer and Revolutionary Socialist Haytham Mohamadeen tells Mada Masr that two major labor sit-ins following Morsi’s ouster were met with a staunch security response. In July, a group of workers protesting the sacking of five workers from the Suez Steel Company were harassed by security after a violent crackdown.
“The leaders of the strike were referred to prosecution. After they were released, National Security arbitrarily interrogated them and forced them to sign their resignations because they dared to protest. We saw no intervention from Abu Eita,” Mohamadeen says.
In August, another labor strike by the Mahalla Textile Factory workers was besieged by army tanks when the workers protested, calling for the sacking of the factory’s top executive who they accused him of corruption. “The army entered the factory with APCs, we have not seen this since the 1950s,” says Mohamadeen, who was himself later detained for two days accused of belonging to a secret group.
Abu Eita may be working hard, Mohamadeen says, on drafting a law for syndicate freedoms, hailed by many labor activists for granting the right to strike and freely form labor syndicates, but he believes this is not enough.
“Labor rights cannot be divided. It is worthless if the workers got the legal right to protest and organize, but are lacking the tools to achieve their demands,” he says. “The tools are dominated by the APCs.”