The leading candidates in Wednesday’s presidential election in Egypt represent the competing illiberal forces of political Islam and re-heated Mubarakism.
“What is missing from this lineup of potentially electable candidates is a genuine liberal,” writes Francis Fukuyama, “that is, a candidate with no taint from the authoritarian past, and who does not advocate an Islamist agenda in some form.”
Egypt’s liberals must bear part of the blame lies with Egypt’s liberals for failing to convert the mobilizing capacity to organize protests and demonstrations into “the slow, dull, grinding work of organizing a political party that could contest an election, district by district,” says Fukuyama, a board member of the National Endowment for Democracy:
Political parties exist in order to institutionalize political participation; those who were best at organizing, like the Muslim Brotherhood, have walked off with most of the marbles. Facebook, it seems, produces a sharp, blinding flash in the pan, but it does not generate enough heat over an extended period to warm the house.
“The failure to organize a coherent political party has been the failing of liberal groups in many of the would-be democratic transitions of the last two decades,” notably in Russia and Ukraine, where liberals failed to organize grass-roots organizations and to develop coherent programs with mass appeal:
By contrast, Islamist parties throughout the Middle East have survived over the years despite severe repression because they understand how to organize. This was not just a matter of selecting cadres and promoting an ideology; they also lived among the poor and would often provide social services directly to constituents. Political parties prosper because they stand for something: not just opposition to dictatorship, but a positive program for economic growth, social assistance, or help for farmers. If you were to ask a typical liberal Egyptian activist what their plan for economic development was, I’m not sure you’d get a coherent answer.
Like much of the Western media and commentariat, Egypt’s liberals fell victim to the Facebook fallacy, says Fukuyama.
“It is true that it and other social media have democratized access to information, and have made collaboration easier,” Fukuyama writes on The Daily Beast. “These media have also helped promote short-term mobilization of crowds and demonstrators. But networking is not organization-building. For that, we need a different and more durable platform.