In Egypt, and especially in Cairo, the political narrative is currently framed as a polarised battle between two inherently opposed forces. This is completely understandable, given the fact that government—which as of now includes the presidency and the upper house of Parliament—is dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups.
The political dogma of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has secured the presidency in the person of Mohamed Morsi—not to mention the various Islamist parties that are represented in the Shura Council—does not tessellate with the ideals of the youth-led revolution of 2011. The Brotherhood has demonstrated no willingness to represent a society outside of its conservative purview. It is therefore quite right that the revolutionary movement that toppled former President Hosni Mubarak continues to express its demands through such actions as the continued occupation of Tahrir Square. It is a powerfully symbolic public space, the control of which demonstrates the extent of broad misgivings about Morsi. However, in the course of the seven months since Morsi came to power, an increasing frustration has developed at the short-circuiting of the political process due to the black and white nature of political debate: Islamists versus secularists.
Mohamed, an administrator in his twenties from a Cairo suburb, sums up his growing disenchantment: “I feel confused, and not represented.” Mohamed voted against the controversial constitution in the December referendum, but not out of any avowedly anti-Morsi sentiment. Indeed, he is keen that the president, often seen as a Brotherhood stooge, sees out his term for the benefit of the political process.
At the violent clashes that took place outside the presidential palace in the run-up to the referendum, Mohamed came to a sudden revelation. Encouraged to collect rocks and stones for designated protesters to hurl at pro-Morsi demonstrators, Mohamed felt profound discomfort. “I did not want to be part of someone getting injured, or worse, no matter what is at stake,” he said. Of course, there is a powerful argument that what is at stake in Egypt is so enormous that the stakes have been raised far above Mohamed’s choice to pick up a rock already. But for Mohamed to continue to exercise his right to make that choice, he must have a voice.
The Islamist government has not helped him find a voice, with a rushed constitution and litany of half-hearted policies followed by U-turns, the government has incompetently attempted to govern while simultaneously making clumsy power-grabs. Nor has the opposition, broadly represented by the National Salvation Front—a bloc of non-Islamist parties peppered with a few figures tainted by association with the old regime—prevented the Brotherhood from making huge strides despite limited public approval.
Mohamed is extremely pessimistic about the anticipated elections for the lower house of Parliament, which could be a real opportunity to demonstrate the nuanced multiplicity of political positions in Egypt. He views them as another opportunity to choose between a poke in the eye and a kick in the teeth. As such, an apathy has been nurtured in Mohamed that could, quite shamefully, infect large swathes of the Egyptian population, whom are reluctant to engage in a political process marked by conflict over public engagement. Apathy is exactly what the country does not need right now.