Dr. Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan: We need a crash course in politics!

Dr. Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan: We need a crash course in politics!

Egypt needs a crash course in how to do politics, Says Gamal Soltan. He encourages Danish parties to provide support, but this has to be done in subtle ways during the very difficult time of transition in Egypt.

The Director of Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies in Cairo, Dr. Gamal Abdel Gawad Soltan has close ties with Denmark. A member of the board of the Danish-Egyptian Dialogue Institute in Cairo, Dr. Soltan has followed the developments in the Danish-Egyptian relations for years.

Perhaps for this reason, he spoke quite bluntly when interviewed ahead of DIPD’s opening conference held on the 26 May 2011 at Christiansborg.

Don’t forget religion

“Keep the dialogue open with politicians and activists. Find many different ways to provide support – not just a single route, but keep it subtle! Dr. Soltan said and went on to explain:

“The coming months will be absolutely crucial. Egypt has been denied a healthy political life for decades. We have seen a lot of trial and errors and high demands on political parties with limited experience. In order for the Egyptian parties to make sense of it all and translate new ways into an Egyptian way of doing politics, they need lots of advice. As a consequence, support and sharing of experiences will be absolutely key.

He also stressed the importance of learning from experiences of similar transitions – especially in Muslim countries:

“An important difference between Egypt and Europe is that religion is and will continue to play an important role in Egyptian politics.”

Dr. Soltan mentioned Indonesia as probably the best example.

“But also countries that have failed in the transition – like Azerbaijan – would be important to learn from. The country has oil and a promising economy, but the country has been run by an authoritarian regime for years. We should learn from successes as well as failures.”

A fragmented political scene

In an attempt to trying to describe the current situation in Egypt, Dr. Soltan said that one of the characteristics of the Egyptian revolution was that there was no clear leader:

“People of all walks of life and who did not belong to any groupings took part in the toppling of President Mubarak. Some groups facilitated but no one claimed leadership. This continues to be the case and this allows for diverse groups to act freely in this new political scene, which is no longer controlled by the government.”

During the conference, the issue was raised, whether old parties should be held responsible for past errors – and as a consequence left out of the partner circle.

Dr. Soltan responded by pointing to the actual function of parties in the past:

“Historically in Egypt, parties did not have history or ideology, they mainly served as a mechanism whereby one could get access to government resources especially at local village level. Politics as such really played a minor role but was more a broad social network.”

“I believe it was right to dissolve the NDI (former government party). But I also think that many former NDI members and politicians will continue in politics. But in the future they will have to do so following the new guidelines,” said Dr. Soltan.

We have no Mandela

Touching on the volatility of the current situation in Egypt, Dr. Soltan pointed to the complexity of the situation and listed the current balance of forces: The military is still trusted but ruling without having the proper legitimacy as it was not elected by people.

The police force has collapsed, resulting in a deficit of power that has made the streets more insecure and left the police without any instructions on how to operate in the new Egypt.

And there is a lack of legitimacy overall as old laws have become outdated while new ones still need to see the light of day.

“Add to this the high expectations that rights, which were denied the Egyptian people for years should be addressed now, and you have a situation where it is badly needed to make hard decisions to move on. But to do so, we need leadership and we don’t have that”, said Dr. Soltan and added quietly: “We have no Mandela.”

According to Dr. Soltan this allows for friction, agony and anger, which may lead to a power vacuum.

“Strangely, this is why there is currently consensus to maintain old laws – nobody wants to rock the boat any further, so to speak. And this is why many actors right now work hard to create consensus among parties to compensate the lack of a strong leadership by cooperating.”

So, despite all the challenges, Dr. Gamal Soltan concluded he was not pessimistic:

“I see a lot of efforts in a positive direction. Parties try to work out joint plans and platforms. So hopefully, in a few weeks, we may see some sort of consensus and joint understanding of how this transition can be overcome without leading to polarization.”