The Second Coming: Slouching Towards Qasr al-Qobba

TBE still carries a torch, however flickering, for Mohamed ElBaradei, but we feel the need to offer some advice on his* “campaign,” and where we see things moving from here. We originally intended to make this one long post, but decided that might be too boring for readers, so we’ve split it into two parts. Part 1 deals with the necessity of creating campaign infrastructure now, instead of waiting until the immediate pre-election period. Part 2 will deal with policy and messaging, and what we see as ElBaradei’s strengths and weaknesses in these areas, especially vis-a-vis Amr Moussa.

Part 1: The Short Game

First things first, we, like many other people, are overly focused on the presidential election. In our case, this is a response to Egypt’s long history of presidential power trumping all other political forces, the fact that the presidential candidates are more-or-less known quantities, and presidential elections being inherently sexier than parliamentary elections. That said, this parliament will have outsized importance, tasked with appointing those who will draft Egypt’s new constitution. In functioning democracies, branches of government jealously guard their prerogatives. Thus one can expect parliament to appoint a constitutional committee that will favor the interests of the legislative branch, not those of the executive. There is a danger in doing so, as the serial parliaments in the run-up to the 1952 coup demonstrate. But presidential power ain’t gonna be what it used to be. Which brings us to ElBaradei.

The good doctor’s legacy may not depend on his winning the presidency. Far more important, at this stage, is creating a party that will serve as a vehicle for his political program and, secondarily, his presidential ambitions. We may have missed it, but we haven’t heard anything about him or his crew collecting the requisite signatures from the requisite number of governorates or even thinking of a name for his party, at a time when all the good words for party names are already taken by existing parties, tainted by association with the old regime or being scooped up by new parties. Some amazing things have been done in Egypt despite all the good names being gone, but we wouldn’t risk it. We would also agitate against using “Change” in the party name, as it might be alienating to some.

By our lights, the biggest advantage ElBaradei currently has two organizational advantages over the candidate to beat, Amr Moussa. First, he has access to the existing grassroots network created by the National Association for Change. He should be using it to find candidates and credible spokespeople, particularly outside the major urban centers. This is doubly important for a potential candidate like ElBaradei, because the man is rather less than charismatic, an issue to which we’ll return in part 2.

Second, he has a major advantage in number of supporters on Facebook. As of this writing, the main Amr Moussa page has 176,691 followers. ElBaradei has 366,633. The trick here is to convert these passive fans into active supporters. We’re not sure exactly how this can be done, as group administrators on Facebook don’t have access to the full profiles of their fans, making it impossible to create what could be a formidable voter database. However imperfect a solution, the first step towards should be to announce meetings of ElBaradei supporters in different locations around Egypt, with the explicit intent of creating the infrastructure for a new party. Even if the party is not yet at the level of preparing for an election, there are reasons to gather supporters now. First, supporters can provide feedback to the home office in Doqqi (or wherever the campaign is based) on what issues are on the minds of supporters. Second, these supporters can create public events to build trust in the ElBaradei brand, by, for instance, organizing neighborhood clean-ups or beautification schemes, mobile clinics and other measures that garner positive publicity and do good. Finally, it’s an organic way to find supporters with leadership potential, either as parliamentary candidates or spokespeople.

The other obvious places ElBaradei should be organizing are at the universities and amongst those who voted “No.” Although every candidate will attempt to seize the mantle as the “change” candidate in an election pivoting away from dictatorship, ElBaradei has more credibility than, say, Amr Moussa in claiming to be the true seizer of said mantle. Change is a message that appeals more to young people than old people. As such, the universities should be ripe for the supporter picking. The only problem here is that school will be out sooner rather than later, and when they get back into session it will be too late to organize for the parliamentary elections, currently scheduled for September.

As for no voters, we know that different people supported “Yes” and “No” for different reasons, and you can’t automatically assume no means yes to ElBaradei or vice versa. Nonetheless, we’re still willing to bet that “No” voters on the whole are more politically savvy (not necessarily in the sense of making better political choices, but following politics more closely). We say this in part because the areas with higher percentages of no votes tend anecdotally to correlate with areas with higher media saturation, and, as the brilliant Moftasa pointed out, there appears to be a correlation between no votes and educational attainment in the governorates, the latter which, we suspect, also correlates to having the time and resources to access to media and, crucially, critical media. If that is the case, those districts with high levels of no votes should be considered priorities for organizing. (For those interested, governorate and district-by-district voting breakdowns are available here.)

What this all comes down to is that, in the parlance of US electoral politics, the next few months should be about shoring up the base, so that the period leading up to the parliamentary and presidential elections can be about reaching out to undecided voters or the majority who don’t care, either due to general lack of interest or lack of means to actively participate in politics. We get the sense, though, that ElBaradei has so far been content to issue the occasional gnomic statement on Facebook or Twitter, while other candidates are constantly making the scene. We still believe that ElBaradei will present the most formidable challenge to Amr Moussa if he is willing to commit the time and resources to create a credible campaign. If he’s not, then he should say so now.

Part 2 coming soon…

*Although much of this is ElBaradei-centric, it could also be adapted to other candidates, like Bastawisi, about whom we know little but who is considered a viable candidate by some people we trust. At the moment we’re trying to get over the fact that his name, roughly translated from Spanish, means “Enough Lil’ Wayne,” which is a platform we strongly oppose.

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4 Comments

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4 responses to “The Second Coming: Slouching Towards Qasr al-Qobba

  1. Insider

    all good advice. rest assured, all of the above is in progress and has been since his announcement. a little patience goes a long way. deliberation > reaction.

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  3. Not sure that shoring up the base will cut it.

    The way egyptian parliamentary elections are typically won (on family names outside of urban centers and occasionally on services within) along with the way districts are gerrymandered to seemingly give rural areas undue weight, he (or his fellow educated elite competitors) are likely to be truly competitive in only a couple dozen districts.

    While shoring up the base is critical, what I think will really matter is getting beyond the base. What the urban elite need to do is to reach out to the 77% majority of the population about whom they know absolutely nothing and who have no faith whatsoever in them (the elite). They must engage with them as EQUALS, not as bestowers of education and awareness. Basically, the urban middle and upper classes need to get over their superiority complex.

  4. Pingback: links for 2011-03-30 « Cairene's Nilometer

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