The Blog

Egypt's Chaotic Politics: What Lessons for Others?

Failure of politics in a country can happen due to autocracy, oligarchy, a weak central government or fragile democracy. Whatever the reasons, the result is seriously damaging, leading to probable political, social and economic meltdown.

Egypt, the historic leader of the Arab World, has been locked in post-revolutionary turmoil for over a month following President Morsi's decree seizing a great deal of executive power on 22 November 2012. His decree included stripping the judiciary of the power to challenge his decisions. Although he revoked much of this later (after an outcry from the secular opposition) he went ahead with drafting the constitution and put it to a referendum in two stages, on 15 and 22 December. Nearly two-thirds of voters (63.8%) of those who voted - in a record low turnout of 32.9% - have supported the proposed new constitution.

Egypt's case is unique to Egypt, but there is a lesson that can be learned by others. According to many observers President Morsi's hands were tied by the forces which have a vested interest in making the revolution fail. He decided to exert his Presidential authority by pushing aside the gatekeepers of the old regime in a spectacular way. This further polarised the political division. The newly formed opposition National Salvation Front (NSF), a coalition of the country's fractious secular groups and Mubarak supporters, have fiercely opposed the President. They have been holding street demonstrations in major cities, which have often descended into violence. In response, Morsi's supporters have organised counter-demonstrations. The political crisis has deepened further whilst Egypt is being watched by the Arab and Muslim world, and many others in the international community.

Yet the two political forces cannot even sit at the same table, despite Egypt being in desperate need for political stability and an economic plan. Many Egyptians, particularly the youth who initiated the revolution, have felt betrayed by their politicians. Some see the current deadlock as another battle between the old guards: the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamic groups on one side and the NSF on the other. The intransigence expressed by the Nobel Laureate physicist-turned-politician, Mohamed ElBaradei, who has described Morsi as a "new pharaoh", tells how divided Egypt has become. At least the Egyptian Armed Forces have so far proved sensible and have restrained from taking any advantage of the chaos.

Now that he seems to have the political upper hand, can President Morsi behave like a wise statesman and stretch out his hands to all sections of the Egyptian society, as he declared after his election? "This national unity is the only way to get Egypt out of this difficult crisis" he said. Can there be some Archbishop Tutu-type personality in Egypt to help bring political reconciliation among the people? Can Egyptian politicians and civil society leaders see the big picture and, like in Turkey and Tunisia, behave more pragmatically than ideologically?


Situations in some developing countries are not too dissimilar from Egypt. Some of them are now paying the price of failed politics.

Failure of politics in a country can happen due to autocracy, oligarchy, a weak central government or fragile democracy. Whatever the reasons, the result is seriously damaging, leading to probable political, social and economic meltdown. In a country where politics is weak and politicians are bitterly divided intolerance flourishes; power stays in the hands of a few; society is polarised; opponents are kept divided or ruthlessly crushed; civil society stumbles and social stability and cohesion torn apart. Free speech is usually proscribed, too, and many ordinary citizens often struggle for daily survival. A country with failed politics can become a hotbed of religious, sectarian or ethnic violence; economic mismanagement, ineptitude and corruption. In addition, a slavish foreign policy weakens it from within; inequality cripples social cohesion; and external forces beyond its border take advantage of its internal division.

Even in a so-called developing but fragile democracy, majority rule can be riddled with crime and dominated by party gangsters, with political vengeance at the forefront. The hardware of democracy can falter without the software of an independent judiciary, a clean civil service, effective police force, vigorous legislature and proper regulatory bodies.

Sadly, this has become the hallmark of many developing countries across the world. The recent sectarian and political violence in some Muslim countries is a warning. The situation in some of these countries is so anachronistic, so bizarre that their rulers consider themselves beyond any rule of law; most probably they have a mindset that they 'own' the country.

Autocrats often get away with their thuggery due to the weakness of civil society and low social capital. Colonialists in the past preyed on this misfortune; regional and global hegemonic powers today use the same faultlines to use exploit such states as their satellites.

Fighting political intolerance and social division

Failed politics and corruption are intertwined; they may be pervasive in some parts of Africa and Asia, but are by no means the monopoly of developing countries. Over the last few years some European countries have seen the ugly side of wrong and selfish politics. However, as the civil society is generally stronger in these countries they are spared of the political and social meltdown as we often see in developing states. Transparency International (TI) is one international body that has been charting worldwide levels of corruptions. Its recent Corruptions perceptions index 2012 has shown, once again, a strong correlation between corruption and failed politics.

It cannot be true that leaders in developing countries, who indulge in playing intolerant politics, are ignorant of this correlation. However, they need to accept these stark realities or fraction and division will haunt them in the future. It is vital they rise above their short-term gains and work for the good of people and their nation. An extra ounce of honesty and tolerance as well as a little more wisdom and statesmanship can save their country and themselves from impending disaster.

It is also no less important that the powerful leaders in already-developed countries recognise that the world has become incredibly inter-dependent and the 'beggaring thy neighbour' policy of the past is untenable in our global village. Can they walk an extra mile to truly help those nations which are suffering from bad governance and offer some practical support, such as political capacity building and skills transfer?

As 2012 is over and we are now in the dawn of a new year, the world needs to be a better place for our collective existence. Ordinary people, be they in developing or developed countries, deserve better from political leaders.

Dr Muhammad Abdul Bari is an educationalist, community activist and freelance parenting consultant ( He is currently Chairman of the East London Mosque Trust. He is the former Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain (2006-10) and a founding member of The East London Communities Organisation (TELCO).

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own.