The mood in Cairo is bleak, however, I don’t believe that the many sad events of the past two weeks are enough to justify this mood. It is the lack of leadership; the uncertainty on where we are heading; the contradictory signals from the army; and the numerous “test balloons”. If we are to move beyond this disorientation, we need leadership, a vision on where we are heading, a road map, and good communication. Otherwise, this disorientation will grow, and the consequences will be nasty.
A Leaderless Revolution
The revolution was leaderless, despite the presence of influential individuals who had a strong impact on the streets. Now with the army in charge, how is Egypt led?
The army is keeping a low profile. Field Marshal Tantawi rarely appears in public. Few military leaders speak in public, and the army is consistently affirming that they plan to hand in power before the end of the year to an elected civilian government. They define their role as a caretaker of the country’s affairs, rather than a governing body. They are not providing any leadership in the interim, possibly intentionally? Their communications are unclear, and sometimes contradictory.
Sharaf’s government is supposed to fill in part of this gap, however, they are not. Their mandate as a caretaker government, along with the lack of coherence or clear coordinated policies, contribute to their weakness. Dr. Sharaf, who is highly respected by most, is perceived as a weak prime minister. His soft demeanor and communication style contribute to this perception.
Beyond that, Egypt’s political landscape is fragmented and still in the infancy stage. It will be several years until it matures and consolidates. Some individuals are emerging as leaders, but none has a dominant national influence.
What does this mean?
First, a leaderless revolution doesn’t mean that the country is not “managed”. The interim government, along with the army are managing the basic functions of the state. The most obvious gap is in providing police and security – which is a direct result of the defeat of the police force during the revolution. This is not the fault of the current government, although they have to deal with it. Beyond that, the basic functions of the state are operational – Egypt may even have a 1% growth rate in the first quarter of 2010 – not bad for a country in the middle of a revolution.
Second, we are likely to continue in this leadership vacuum until the country elects a president and transitions to a civilian order. The military refused the idea of a presidential council. If they don’t change their mind, they need to do the presidential elections as soon as possible, even before or right after the parliamentary elections. The more they wait, the more the uncertainty and frustration.
Third, anyone who can offer and communicate a clear and simple vision and roadmap for change will gain a lot of credit in people’s minds. Some of the presidential candidates are trying to do so, but none has been able to put forward the level of clarity and ease of communication that reaches the masses.
Amin Elmasry. 25 May 2011.