The scientific definition of insanity is making the same mistakes and expecting different results. I remembered this as I was reading about and observing the new political coalitions being built in Egypt this past week. Although there are some coalitions and alliances that were needed within the Egyptian political scene, it is the interaction between these different coalitions that worries me. The political context in which we live at the moment cannot tolerate repeating the same mistakes of the past 18 months. Before announcing the formation of new political coalitions, politicians need to ask themselves what goals they are after and what are the mechanisms of achieving them.
In the few months that followed the ousting of Mubarak, hearing about new political parties was as common as hearing about people having the flu. In a time period that did not exceed three or four months, 65 political parties (give or take a few) were formed in Egypt. The first mistake that these parties made was misunderstanding the significance of political parties. Forming a party was seen as the first step necessary to access the scene of politics, but without having any vision for what the party will do as soon as it is in. The idea that prevailed at that time was that all you needed was an organisation, and that democracy was simply about the right to form parties, and as soon as the party is formed, people will sign up for its membership and vote for it in an election.
The idea of the party’s presence on the ground was not very common. Most new parties saw an opportunity to organise and simply took it, without asking themselves what it means to compete in an election or to try and establish roots and support blocks within society; forming the party was simply an end in itself. The result of such immature attempts to form political organisations was outright dominance of Islamic parties who did not only manage to make the link between politics and society, but also realised that the trick is not the party structure or its discourse, but the way in which it manages its coalition and its competition.
Three important lessons must be learned from the experience of the first post-revolutionary parliamentary election, first, that parties should not be built on written down principles without any ground action to support them, second, that parties should not be dependent on individuals, but on a matrix of conditions in which leadership is a mere element and third, that political coalitions must be aware of the competition they are facing and not just be consumed with who should be with us, they must answer the more important question, who is against us?
These three lessons are pivotal to the new coalitions being built now in Egypt. If coalitions spend time and resources on writing down party statements and explaining discourse, they will not be able eventually to strike a chord with a mass of supporters. The more important step is launching initiatives to materialise the written principles into groundwork actions.
The relationship between founding members, key figures in the party, and the organisation itself is also very important. With all due respect to esteemed figures like ElBaradei and Sabbahi, interpreting the significance of their organisations on a platform based on their personalities is a mistake. Parties that depend on individuals are short-lived and will remain subordinate to the personalities with whom they are related. The experiences of the past months demonstrate that charisma is no longer influential within the political scene in Egypt.
Most importantly, I fear that these new coalitions might be consumed with a political fight amongst each other while neglecting the main threat, the Islamists. I am not saying that new coalitions should all be united under one banner against the growing influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, for that would be a naïve and unrealistic idea. I am simply arguing that while forming these coalitions, more room for tolerance should exist between organisations within the same camp while acknowledging the presence of differences.
Political coalitions must learn from past mistakes, otherwise, we will be stuck in the same in place four years trying to form new political organisations.