Friday 25 May 2012

The Myth of "The Revolutionary Candidate"

Many revolutionaries blamed Hamdeen Sabbahi for taking his chances and nominating himself for the presidency and thus supposedly stealing away AbulFotouh's votes. These people saw that all revolutionaries had to unite behind one 'revolutionary candidate' to face the 'felool'. A similar fate awaited Khaled Ali, although in light of the small amount of votes he got, his running for office didn't affect the final results much as opposed to Hamdeen Sabbahi.

In any case, this post is not written to argue about who is more worthy for the title of "the revolutionary candidate", but rather to argue against the concept itself. Yes, the people stood together and screamed "the people want the downfall of the regime" and "bread, freedom, social justice". Yes, right after the fall of  Mubarak, many decried the terrible polarization that occurred between people who formerly stood hand in hand to revolt against a dictator even unto death. The truth, however - and this shouldn't be considered as  something negative per se - is that the revolutionaries are different individuals with different ideologies.

While dreaming of a better tomorrow for the country, some imagined a liberal democracy, a secular state where they could co-exist with their neighbors, others envisioned islamist rule as the way to achieve more prosperity and dignity for the country. Some had a socialist state in mind where redistribution of wealth and big government programs are key, others wished for more economic liberalization, this time void of corruption.

They all called for bread, freedom and social justice/human dignity but had different interpretations of the concepts and envisioned different ways to achieve them. The Egyptian revolution became a model for the concept of 'unity in diversity': for a common goal, diverse groups managed to work together and put aside their differences. Once the common enemy had fallen (or so it appeared), the differences took over and the diversity tramped the unity, this could be viewed as the natural course of events. Uniting against the past may have been possible, but uniting for the future proved difficult simply because not all of us WANT the same future.

In light of the above, the idea of one single revolutionary candidate to unite all the different segments of society under his wing - as lovely as it may sound in theory - stands no chance. That is not to say alliances for specific purposes and for a limited time aren't possible (esp. in the parliamentary context). However, when it comes to choosing a president who'll most probably be more than a ceremonial figure and who'll thus have real powers and ways to shape policy, there is no 'one size fits all' formula. Choices will have to be made by the president and it's obvious now, as I've argued here, that the candidates who've clearly told the public what choices they're planning to make, are the ones who've scored better.

The same thing goes for the concept of "THE revolutionary party", an idea that has been brought forward by Mohamed El Baradei and now also after the first round of presidential elections by followers of Hamdeen Sabbahi and AbdelMoneim AbulFotouh.

I'm not denying that the revolution didn't have goals common to all factions who joined in, like fighting corruption, nepotism and restoring rule of law. These goals would be shared by all revolutionary parties and/or candidates whatever their political affiliation. These are basic, necessary concepts for Egypt, but they don't suffice in uniting people from completely different backgrounds.

We mustn't forget that attempts to try to unify people who have very little in common have taken up a lot of energy and time that could have been spent building strong separate political entities able to unite temporarily for specific shared goals. Instead, we are left with fights over who is THE revolutionary candidate or party, disagreements that weaken the revolution's image as it appears unable to translate itself into strong, functioning political groups.

In the end, we shouldn't deny the reality of our differences or treat them as if they were something bad and to be avoided or disregarded. Our problem is that we've turned political disagreements into a troubling kind of animosity. We started losing focus of the fact that most Egyptians simply choose based on what they think is most beneficial/least harmful for the country with the best of intentions and while taking many factors into consideration (and NOT only the binary revolutionary - non-revolutionary factor). The differences are not what make us weak, but rather our failure to acknowledge them and deal with them accordingly.


  1. True and intelligent insight. The ideas of the revolutionary candidate and party are not the same. The "candidate" could have been viable if all it meant was someone to ensure we remove the old regime from power and then negotiate with each other on specifics (within parliament for example). The "party" is a bit different, it must have more of a platform than simply "pro-revolution".

  2. Like I said in my Tweet, we have little respect for differences in ideologies. But having said that, I also think that in any democratic country there are not 100 parties to reflect the minor differences between one ideology and the next. There are usually 3-4 parties and within them are fractions from the different variations of those ideologies. You'd typically find a right leaning party, a left leaning party and two extreme parties. The fragmentation not only leads to a loss of voters but it also helps in deepening the segmentation in the society. I feel that between Hamdeen and Abou El Fottouh, there were - of course - some fundamental differences but still they both agreed on 70%-80% of the issues which should be more or less enough to join forces, at least in this phase of building a new Egyptian Republic. Solutions to key challenges such as Education, Health, Police, Economy, Corruption and even - to a large extent - liberties were points that both agreed to. I'm sure the conflicts they had could've been resolved had they decided to sit together and work those differences out. In the coming years, political forces that represent the revolution with all its various ideologies should work together to achieve a democratic and civil country that will afterwards allow for the transfer of power between the various ideologies. But there is an infrastructure that we all agree should be put in place and that we are sure that neither Shafik nor Morsi will want to install.

    The cooperation is a matter of life and death in this case

  3. Thank you both for your comments. I agree cooperation is necessary and this is why I mentioned that possibility explicitly in the piece. However, what moved me to write this is the way some people think that because we're pro-revolution, that we think the same way & can all, despite our differences, be represented FULLY by an all-encompassing candidate. Coordination between followers of two different candidates, who, well aware of their differences, choose to compromise and work together is something else, of course.

  4. Very intelligently put, and it nicely highlight that the revolution was not about the promulgation of a particular ideology. However, as you mentioned, a big part of the motive force behind the revolution was to achieve certain goals. Those who somewhat convincingly claimed that they were working to realize those goals might deserve the moniker "revolutionary candidates". None of those guys made it to the final round unfortunately. It was my hope that the elections would present us with various visions for realizing those goals and we would be choosing amongst them, instead the two finalists can not even feign there commitments to those goals.
    It was my hope that a truly liberal candidate to step up to the challenge, instead we found ourselves having to choose between a reformed Nasserist or a slightly liberalized Islamist.

  5. Thank you perfectionatic, indeed, I too have hoped that a liberal-minded candidate would be able to convince a large segment of society to support his program, but unfortunately we'll have to wait for that. Please do note though, I spoke only against the notion of "the" (not "a") revolutionary candidate. It's only natural for there to be different candidates who are pro-revolution but each represent a different vision for the new regime.