From Tahrir to Freedom

Alexander (Kaha) Lomaia

Georgia’s Egyptian Lessons

It is far from Cairo's Tahrir Square to Tbilisi's Freedom Square, about 2,000 kilometers. The distance between the existing political realities in Egypt and Georgia, however, may be shorter than the Georgian government thinks. Analyzing the Egyptian crisis and drawing conclusions from it may prove beneficial for both the Georgian government and the opposition, as well as for anyone interested in keeping up the democratic political process in Georgia.

What has led to the ousting of the democratically elected President Morsi and with him, the government of the Muslim Brotherhood, after exactly one year in power? Most commonly, five main reasons are named.

Undelivered Promises

Mohamed Morsi and the Freedom and Justice Party (a political wing of the Muslim Brotherhood) were profuse in their pre-election promises – ranging from the improvement of the economic and social conditions of Egyptians to tackling the problem of traffic jams in Cairo. Rapid economic growth, an increase in employment, attraction of foreign investments and tourists (foreign tourism comprised 10% of country's GDP), an increase in revenues and the implementation of social assistance measures are just a few of those promises. One year later, the Egyptian economy is in a deep crisis; the country's monetary reserves have reduced to a third of what they have been; foreign investments have plummeted, as have the number of foreign tourists; the private sector is laying off employees; crime, mostly murders, robberies, and thefts, is on the rise; power outages became commonplace; and a shortage of fuel and food products is observed. The tactic of "circuses instead of bread" did not work and the attempts to politically destroy former President Hosni Mubarak's National Democratic Party proved insufficient to outweigh the economic and social disappointment.

Grip on Power: Everything All At Once

Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood launched an instant and comprehensive attack on state and social institutions to establish political control over them. The attack targeted the constitution; the courts, which Morsi deprived of the right to review his decisions; local self-government bodies, in which the Brotherhood promoted its supporters on a massive scale; non-governmental organizations and the media, which came under pressure because of their criticism of Morsi; so on and so forth.

A Lack of Vision

Over the course of its year in office, the Muslim Brotherhood failed to present a coherent vision for the development of Egypt. That vision should have ensured possibilities of self-realization to Egypt's diverse 85-million population, which includes the Sunni majority, the Shia minority, an eight-million-strong Christian community, secularists, liberals, the military, businessmen, cultural minorities, students, the relatively educated and affluent urban population and the rural religious poor. Instead of laying out this vision, the Brotherhood spent its 12 months in power criticizing former President Mubarak and politically annihilating his political team; bragging about the "seven-thousand-year-old Egyptian statehood;" engaging in anti-Western rhetoric ("where were America and Europe when we were building the pyramids 4,700 years ago?"); and driving Western democratic programs (the US National Democratic Institute and the International Republican Institute) out of the country.

Increasing Intolerance

During the presidency of Mohamed Morsi, religion openly came to the fore of the political arena and this was soon followed by a sharp increase in intolerance, the restriction of minority rights, and sectarian violence. Hostility and conflict arose between Muslim and Christian believers, on the one hand, and between the Sunni and Shia Muslims, on the other. Several clashes ended in casualties and the burning of churches. In a number of high-profile cases, fundamentalist supporters of the Brotherhood demanded corporal punishment for their critics.

Marginalization of the Opposition

The Muslim Brotherhood gradually sidelined the entire political spectrum. Representatives of political parties, civil society and academia were squeezed off the constitutional process on various premises. Upon the order of President Morsi, members of the National Democratic Party were banned from running in elections or taking up official positions for a period of 10 years.
These main reasons, as listed above, were compounded by other factors, for example, the deterioration of Egypt's relations with its neighbors – Morsi's government reacted to an Ethiopian plan to build a gigantic hydro power plant on the Nile with the threat of war.

Now let's examine the Georgian government's achievements in those areas that conditioned the failure of Mohamed Morsi's government.

Pre-election promises: In some areas these have not been fulfilled at all (the recovery of lost bank deposits, the paying off of bank loans), whilst in others (doubling pensions, halving the costs of utility services and petrol prices) the changes are merely symbolic. A widely publicized agricultural program, as the government itself was forced to admit, fell through. The country's economy has actually come to a standstill. As a result, according to the most recent NDI survey, conducted this June, 88% (!) of the country's population think that since the parliamentary elections of October 2012, their social and economic conditions have either remained the same (72%) or deteriorated (16%). The reserves of people's trust have rapidly been depleting. That the Georgian Dream can tackle the population's most important problems was believed by fewer people in June than in March: employment (62% in March versus 52% in June), health care (66% and 55%, respectively), poverty (62% and 52%, respectively), pensions (65% and 56%, respectively), relations with Russia (68% and 56%, respectively), and the crime situation (58% and 49%, respectively). Voters did not elect the Georgian Dream for their ability to keep conditions unchanged or, even more, to cause them to deteriorate. Such unanimity from the population must be alarming for a political force that came to power upon the promise of enacting all-encompassing and quick changes.

Consolidation of power: The Georgian Dream's all-out assault on those state institutions that did not fall under its political control became a subject of both national and international condemnation. The most recent criticism came from the Council of Europe's Congress of Local and Regional Authorities. The targets of this assault were local self-government and administrative bodies (in the majority of Georgian districts and municipalities, through arm twisting and threats, the elected majority of the United National Movement (UNM) was replaced by that of the Georgian Dream); the courts (the pressure from the prosecutor's office on judges and from the Ministry of Justice on the Conference of Judges); state-owned higher educational institutions (the legislative initiative envisaging the appointment of acting rectors by the prime minister and the threat of "surgical interference" in universities); the Public Broadcaster (surprise financial inspections and the call-off of members of the Supervisory Board); regulatory commissions (which became subordinated to the prime minister), and many others. As a result, only 45% of voters think that the country is moving in the right direction while in November 2012, soon after the parliamentary elections, 58% thought that way.

Vision: Instead of developing a coherent vision for the development of the state, the Georgian Dream revived a Shevardnadze-era delusionary formula: "Georgia must be not an arena of confrontation but of cooperation between the US and Russia." The citizens of Georgia have no idea about what kind of state the Georgian Dream wants to build. All we have heard so far is more ban, restrictions and regulations. This refers to both serious issues – introducing a visa regime for citizens of many countries, restricting employers' motivation by making amendments to the Labor Code, banning the sale of land plots to foreign citizens – as well as comically absurd ones – the prohibition of dotted condoms, restrictions on loud music in restaurants after 10 p.m., the prohibition of kissing in parks and squares, so on and so forth. The absence of vision is compensated for by an increasing xenophobia and anti-Western sentiments by representatives of the Georgian Dream and their supporters: "Do not let the Europeans lecture us"; "Western newspapers are bribed by the UNM and their lobbyists"; "Where were they when we created The Knight in the Panther's Skin?"; "The US Congress, the Council of Europe, the OSCE criticize us because they are being influenced by the UNM"; "Let them mind their own business"; "Public opinion polls conducted by Americans are rigged"; "Europeans are themselves becoming detached from European values," and the like have all been heard. This general picture must explain a 12% drop in popular trust towards the Georgian Dream: while 57% of the population positively viewed the performance of the Georgian Dream in March, this indicator fell to 45% in June.

Intolerance: In various regions of the country, a fundamental right of Muslim believers, the right to pray, was restricted. In one of those cases, in the village of Samtatskaro in the Tetritskaro district, a Muslim cleric had no other choice but to flee the village. Furthermore, on 17 May, in the center of Tbilisi thousands of religious fanatics, including religious servants, violently attacked a small group defending LGBT rights. We avoided tragedy only by chance. By various assessments, the degree of intolerance towards different opinions, religious denominations and sexual orientations has notably increased in the country.

The attitude towards the political opposition: This is marked by two trends: the Georgian government openly tries to politically annihilate the leading opposition force, the UNM, and, at the same time, encourages – including financially – the emergence of an artificial, manageable opposition. Selective justice, blackmail and threats, put into action against opposition leaders and activists, was followed by scathing criticism from official political circles of the US and Europe, which, in turn, significantly worsened Georgia's international standing. The extent to which such policies comply with our citizens' perception of democracy is revealed by the results of the recent NDI survey. This June saw one of the most alarming results in the history of conducting such polls in Georgia: only 38% of Georgian citizens think that there is democracy in the country now, whereas 46 % think the opposite!

I think that when comparing the Egyptian and Georgian realities, an observant person will be able to spot numerous similarities. Although there are many differences existing between the two countries, it is obvious that we are not dealing with mere coincidences, but with a political dynamic of the Egyptian type. The neglect of the political dynamic ended in fiasco for the democratically elected government of President Morsi and brought Egypt to the verge of civil war. Having entered the election phase, the government of Georgia, and the political opposition too, must do everything possible to run the political process in a non-confrontational, peaceful way and must avoid a repetition of the events in Cairo's Tahrir Square in Tbilisi's Freedom Square.

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