Getting cold feet?

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

Philip Whitfield

December 23 2011

CAIRO: The deed was done. At his best, man is the noblest of all animals; separated from law and justice he is the worst, Aristotle counseled.  Justice in Egypt demands its day in court. The law is tricky.

How best to banish evil is the bugbear. Egypt relies on poetic justice, applying a punishment to fit the crime — retribution, much advocated in the 19th century by philosophers such as Cant.

We’re witnessing the demise of talion, the English word that describes punishment meted out to match the offense. Gandhi said an eye for an eye eventually makes the whole world blind.

These days more influential is Dr. Michael Davis, the eminent American professor of law, ethics and political philosophy. In his view punishment should match the wrongdoer’s gain.

The military is accused of serious crimes against the people. YouTube and the testimony of countless describe the murder and inhuman beating of hundreds of innocents. It can’t be swept under the rug.

The military tried bombast to get them out of a tight corner. As King Charles I said: Never make a defense or apology before you are accused.

Secretary of State Clinton’s used the words systematic degradation to condemn them. In the same breath she chose criminal to describe the Egyptian junta.

Mrs. Clinton is a well-qualified lawyer. She graduated Yale Law School in 1973; was twice recognized as one of the 100 most influential lawyers in America. She understands the legal nuances of public accusation.

Her specificity stirred the military council to apologize. But you can’t get off a murder charge telling the cops you’re sorry. Justice cannot be for one side alone, but must be for both, Clinton’s erstwhile mentor Eleanor Roosevelt said.

The perpetrators can be held to account in Egypt and face retributive justice. Faith in that is flimsy. Tyrants such as the Serbs have to defend themselves in courts established for the purpose: the United Nations’ World Court and the European Court of Human Rights.

The International Court of Justice in The Hague has considered genocide, the systematic destruction of a people. See how Mrs. Clinton mirrored that word systematic.

The ruling generals risk future prosecution for complicity in serious crimes unless they put an end to violence now and bring the perpetrators to justice, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said, describing the crackdown as vicious.

If Egypt’s leaders bury their heads in the sand, the malcontents – the families of those killed by snipers and bullies – will drag them out for public airing.

The drumbeat to change US policy towards Egypt echoes through newspapers across America. The syndicated Miami Herald columnist Frida Ghitis writes that President Obama missed an opportunity to put the squeeze on Mubarak in February 2010 – alerted by Middle East experts who identified a turning point.

Let’s hope Washington uses its influence wisely this time, Ghitis says, linking foreign policy to the fortune she notes America spends in Egypt every day  – words read by hundreds of candidates prepping up for re-election, including Obama.

Americans need to embrace the courage we see in those who are fed up but don’t resort to violence, who protest with soul force, writes Ron McDonald in Memphis. If there is ever a time for military action, it is not while courage stands so tall, for military action against bullies gives in to the rage that feeds cowardly behavior.

If the international community fails to follow up, they are partners to the crime. Argentina avoided uncomfortable truths for 40 years. Last year 82-yer-old General Reynaldo Bignone, a puppet president in 1982 was found guilty of torture, murder and kidnapping during the wilderness years between 1976 and 1978. Hundreds of victims’ relatives testified at the trial.

Recognizing the past was more difficult for Cambodia. The Khmer Rouge’s chief torturer Kang Kew lew was captured and tried for crimes against humanity in 2009, almost 40 years after the regime killed 2 million Cambodians.

If, as Egypt’s militia says, nothing is wrong, they have nothing to fear. If they can’t or won’t face the allegations they are convicted, in absentia.

There’s another consideration. The Brotherhood blinked. Their Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) rejected calls for the military council to bring forward presidential elections to January. Absent explanation, we can surmise.

The FJP is in a much tougher fight with the Salafis than they’d anticipated. If they acquiesce with popular demands to join the government soon, the barrenness of their economic policies will be laid bare. Their liberal partners in the election list will want to water down the FJP’s pro-Islam social agenda. That’s what happened in Turkey.

Second the Muslim Brothers probably want to be seen as squeaky clean, not making an end run to win office. More likely they want the military junta to stew in its own juice. Moody’s downgraded Egypt’s credit rating and warned it could cut the rating further, citing the unsettled political situation undermining investor confidence.

A consortium of oil companies, including BP handed back to the government it option to exploit the South East July Concession in Egypt, in itself not a big deal and part of a larger withdrawal as world demand for energy slumps. But it portends the difficulties ahead.

The falling-out with America is more likely influencing the Brothers’ tactics. After blaring down her foghorn in Washington, Mrs. Clinton picked up the phone and called the Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzouri direct to register deep US unease about the situation, particularly the attacks on women.

That indicates regular diplomacy between the American Embassy and the Foreign Ministry is tottery. America is enraged. The White House weighed in with tough talk as well. Those responsible for the violence, including security personnel should be brought to account, the spokesman said.

Egypt’s reaction? Foreign Minister Mohamed Kamel Amr rejected US interference in Egypt’s internal affairs.

Who was the last person Washington sent to press the flesh in Egypt? Senator John Kerry, the chairman of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, here less than a fortnight ago. With whom? The Muslim Brotherhood. What did he say?  I’m not surprised at your election success.

Meaning?

Keep your hands off the treaty with Israel, which is another reason for the Brotherhood’s coyness.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Naked truth

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

Philip Whitfield

December 21 2011

CAIRO: Hell hath no fury like a woman scorned. Though Shakespeare gets praise for it William Congreve wrote it in The Mourning Bride.

There are moments when a shutterbug turns the world on its head in a nanosecond. One such: AP’s Eddie Adams’ shot of Saigon’s police chief Nguyễn Ngọc Loan executing a handcuffed Viet Cong officer on February 1 1968 during the Tet offensive. American support evaporated.

In a crafted statement Secretary of State Hillary Clinton expressed angst after violence broke out in Tahrir Square: I am deeply concerned about the continuing reports of violence.

Then she witnessed the naked truth on YouTube: A young woman hacked to the ground, stripped and beaten, dragged by her hijab across Tahrir, her womanhood exposed; one of many women humiliated.

Mrs. Clinton kept cool. The military had their chance to repent at their press conference. No apology came. The army does not have, it isn’t in our training, a curriculum of using violence. We protect the state and exercise self-restraint, General Adel Emara told a gobsmacked press conference.

The cables went back and forth. Mrs. Clinton drove across town to Georgetown University. This systematic degradation of Egyptian women dishonors the revolution, disgraces the state and its uniform and is not worthy of a great people, Clinton told an academic audience.

Women are being beaten and humiliated in the same streets where they risked their lives for the revolution only a few short months ago, Clinton said. Then the judgment: She denounced the generals’ deeply troubling patter.

It’s a clever choice of word. Patter means glib, the rapid repetition of meaningless phrases, commonly used to describe fairground barkers encouraging punters into a tent to mock a freak.

Just in case her outrage was not taken seriously she spelled it out. Beating women on the street ‘is not cultural, it’s criminal and it needs to be addressed and treated as such,’ she said to applause.

So there you have it. The most powerful woman on earth branded Egypt’s military criminal. Dip-speak has its precepts. On a scale of 1-10, Mrs. Clinton’s rebuke was an 8.

Cathy Ashton, the EU’s foreign policy maven predictably scored 2 — strongly condemning violence against peaceful demonstrators. Why so timid? Europe can’t afford to upset its oil and gas applecart.

The secretary general of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon earned a 1, being highly alarmed by excessive force by the security forces against protesters. Alarmed? Substitute impotent.

The Arab League’s secretary general Nabil Al-Arabi earned a zero. Violence would push Egypt toward chaos, he said, stating the obvious. Would push? Make that: Is pushing.

Mrs. Clinton’s words are worth one-and-a-half billion dollars – the amount Egypt could have received in military and economic aid if Mrs. Clinton had remained silent. Congress requested an opinion before authorizing more military and economic aid. She answered them loud and clear.

Concerned investors are putting their money where their mouth is. The American Israel Corporation (Ampal) that holds 12.5 percent of Egypt’s East Mediterranean Gas Company (EMG) to import gas from Egypt has called a special meeting of debenture holders for January 1. Ampal’s paying 110 percent to borrow money; can’t repay capital; their bonds are triple junk.

The military’s tin ear lost that which they covet most: respect and money. Their grip on power is in question. Though I disagree with it, violent street politics are shaping the revolution.

Why be upset? Violence has failed in more than half the democratic revolutions attempted in the last 20 years, whereas non-violent revolution normally succeeds.

It’s Bashar Al-Assad’s calculation in Syria. It was the Soviet Union’s game plan when Czechoslovakia, Hungary and Poland rose up against tyrannical rule by Moscow.

It was Mubarak’s miscalculation. His supporters rained Molotov cocktails down on peaceful protesters back in January and February; organized a lamentable camel charge; turned a blind eye (if you believe his lawyers) to uniformed snipers.

He lost when millions of unarmed Egyptians, children in hand, marched peacefully to Tahrir and squares around the country to chorus: Go.

What to do now? The military should accept the will of the people. It’s not going to change in Round 3. Islamists have about three quarters of the votes. Denying their influence is delinquent.

Representatives of the parties leading in the election should be invited to replace the interim government of headless chickens. That gives the Islamists the opportunity they crave to demonstrate their responsibility.

It gives the people an opportunity to see if they’re true to their word. They can order the military off the streets; ask the people to go back to work; seek foreign loans and investment. They can rescind the Emergency Law. They can reassure secular voters they’ve nothing to fear.

Isn’t that what they’ll be doing next year? Why not start now? The Islamists ascendency is inevitable. So why not call their bluff. If it works, skeptics will be vanquished. If it doesn’t, what will be lost? It can’t get any worse.

Egypt’s youth can be given a role as well. Many are more qualified to use their technical expertise in government than political favorites. Whom do you think ministers rely upon to do the legwork? Young, well-educated Egyptians often hired in from global organizations such as the International Monetary Fund.

The UN and the EU have paid their salaries in the past. There’s no reason to think Egypt wouldn’t be flooded with A+ résumés if the word went out.

Imagine the crisis confronting Samuel Rosenman, as he pondered writing a speech for Franklin Delanor Roosevelt seeking the presidency in 1932. The New Republic lay on his desk. The cover attracted his eye: A New Deal for America.

The country needs and demands bold, persistent experimentation… we need the courage of the young, FDR was to say. Roosevelt’s New Deal realigned American politics behind a revolutionary program of relief, recovery, and reform.

The New Deal established Democrats in the White House for seven out of the following nine presidential terms — 36 years of power and progress, begun by America’s youngest president aged 42.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Busted flush

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

Philip Whitfield

December 19 2011

CAIRO: Was it wanton, inept, vindictive or malice aforethought? The Parliament Street Massacre was inane.  A picture’s worth a thousand words — ad-man Fred Barnard’s phrase culled from Bonaparte adventuring in Egypt.

Contemptible was the follow up: Troops charging into Tahrir Square preventing protesters who’d been pulped mercilessly from being treated by doctors. Medicines ignited sacrilegiously; bandages burned; martyrs’ funerals invaded.

Soldiers running amuck pillaging tents — TV images beamed around the world. Uniformed baton-wielders laying into prostrate protesters with zeal flabbergasted even those immunized to bloodshed. Mothers’ sons shellacking a grandmother.

The cameras didn’t lie. One seemed to. Prime Minister Kamal El-Ganzoury said the militia exercised self-control. He accused foreigners of stirring it up. Xenophobia. Absurd, absent absolute attestation.

Others see it differently. The US Congress authorization of $1.3 Egyptian military aid and $250 million economic assistance was put on hold. Congress requires assurance from Secretary of State Clinton the transition to democracy is on track. Surely she can’t succumb in the face of such blatant brutality?

The pips are squeaking. So strapped for cash is the government, they dispatch the electricity meter readers every few days now to pick up a bob or two.

In a week, Egypt descended into the void of 20 years of Argentinian dictatorship; the morass of Algeria that lasted 30 years when the people’s will was ignored; the junta-land of Burma; the murderous mayhem of Northern Ireland where fear still stalks 50 years after the British army went to Belfast to build a Berlin wall.

Let’s be clear. The remnants of Tahrir Square have the right to protest. It’s their tactics exercising that right as Egypt expresses its will through the ballot box that are muddleheaded

The sit-in on the cabinet’s doorstep addles understanding. It absorbed the energy of those whose naïvety presented the generals with a non-violent backdoor. They declined. Until now, compared to protests from Russia across Africa and Asia, Egypt’s dignity surpassed most. Not any more. Bullying betrays enfeebled frailty.

Mystery surrounds the military’s motives. They seized on a commonplace experience in a crowded city — a man bantering with a traffic cop. — to launch their attack. The troops’ tirade began as the polls closed. It escalated, cloaked in darkness. Nothing was heard about ballot counting. Did it stop?

Between now and the next round, expect calls for the elections to be adjourned until ‘order’ is restored.

Results that eked out on Thursday reveal the poker player’s nightmare: a busted flush. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) hold the best hand. But to win power they gambled on help from a few moderate, vaguely liberal parties.

Initially they believed their own propaganda: the Salafis’ Al-Nour party would get about 10 percent. Whether by mass management or guile the Salafis are nipping at the FJP’s ankles. The Brothers face a quandary. Remaining in coalition, they’ll look like ninnies. The Selafis will eviscerate them in debate.

Come June a Salafi could be emboldened to take on all-comers in the Presidential election. Splitting the Islamists in a first-past-the post election is uncertain territory.

SCAF crunch the numbers better than most. Worst case the Salafis and the Brothers run against each other in the presidential poll. That would be ugly.

Worse still the Salafis and the Brothers gang up behind an agreed candidate, their stalking horse, and set off an exodus out of Egypt. SCAF will do its damnedest to interfere with either scenario.

Mission Improbable? Mission Impossible?  Or Mission Imperative?

Let’s review. The revolution erupted when young people, devoid of hope mobilized. Nobody expresses the rage better than 24-year-old Mayy el-Sheikh who recently joined The New York Times’ Cairo Bureau.

Over the weekend Mayy wrote: I wear a veil and jeans. I have a fiancé and a job… I pursue whatever dreams I have without worrying about traditions or social restrictions.

I’m concerned with what would happen if, as in Saudi Arabia, a law were passed to ban women from traveling without a male guardian…

I’m concerned with what would happen if an Islamic ascendance were to stir an ideological shift that led ordinary people in the street to believe that my jeans were impious…

I’m concerned about living in a society ruled by a government that gives itself the right to restrict my freedom in the name of my own religion.

Note no intolerance. Missing is the invective, the obloquy that characterizes the bigotry of the internecine conflict running roughshod over centuries of comity.

Anyone with their head screwed on, knows the protagonists’ words are mumbo-jumbo and the cards are being dealt off the bottom of the deck.

An army of Mayys needs to regain the streets. The teenage lad who absorbed Aristotle’s wisdom, Alexander the Great said: There’s nothing impossible to him who will try. Nearer our times, Nelson Mandela said: It always seems impossible until it’s done.

Egypt is in danger of lackadaisical lassitude. This is educated youth’s time to blossom. They are admired for their courageous stand against dictatorship, corruption and evil inflicted on thousands who dare to defy decrepitude.

The lessons learned so far are invaluable so long as youth has the fortitude to follow Mandela’s example and stick to the high ground. They’ve won the admiration of the world by holding fast. Popular protests have swept the Arab world, Europe and North America and more recently in Russia.

The hopes and dreams of these people rest on the ultimate success of the pro-democracy non-violent movement in Egypt. Can it end in disbelief, skepticism, or worse, unbelief and rejection? Yes, if youth slumps into non-belief.

Gandhi counseled not to lose faith in humanity. Humanity is an ocean; if a few drops of the ocean are dirty, the ocean does not become dirty, he said.

Another great pacifier, Benjamin Franklin, pen in hand approached the signing of America’s Declaration of Independence in 1776.

We must, indeed, all hang together, or most assuredly we shall all hang separately, he counseled wisely.

All tyranny needs to gain a foothold is for people of good conscience to remain silent — Thomas Jefferson, the founding father of democracy.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

Shaken not stirred

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

December 15 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: In a few syllables Egypt’s election spiraled into a quagmire. Imagine the Orlando Sentinel editor’s face when the latest copy dropped from Cairo. Maggie Michael’s comprehensive, accurate AP report only needed trimming to fit the page and a headline: Egypt’s rising Islamists present vision for sin-free tourism: no booze, bikinis.

Editors all over the world followed suit. New era Egypt is indelibly engraved on the globe. The copy has flowed: Tourists don’t need to drink alcohol when they come to Egypt; they have plenty at home, a veiled Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Azza al-Jarf, told a cheering crowd of supporters across the street from the Pyramids.

The crowd chanted: Tourism will be at its best under Freedom and Justice.

A leader in the tourism industry told me Egypt’s tourism is being marketed round the world on the 6 o’clock news.

Momentous events are defined in snappy sound bites. In John F. Kennedy’s day the average news clip lasted 2 minutes. Most recently leaders emerging from earth-shattering summits can expect 8 seconds to sum up mountains of debate.

Those who write clearly have readers; those who write obscurely have commentators Abraham Lincoln said.

The man whose Gettysburg address was delivered in two minutes — 10 sentences, 272 words — defined the then-raging American civil war in two phrases: All men are created equal … a new birth of freedom: government of the people, by the people, for the people.

Now the Islamists are tripped up in their own obfuscation. In the first round Islam Is The Solution did the trick, a terse, to the point slogan meaning whatever you want it to.

They should have left it at that. Opening their mouths in front of crowds and correspondents has exposed rifts and ambiguity.

Speaking to a conference of tourism workers in Aswan on Monday, the Salafist Nour Party party’s spokesman Nader Bakar said they would ban serving alcohol ‎to foreigners and Egyptian citizens alike if they came to ‎power.

The Salafis would allow tourists to ‎drink liquor they brought with them from abroad and only in their ‎hotel rooms.‎ Bakar went on to say that the Nour Party would establish a chain ‎of hotels that would function in compliance with Islamic Law, ‎while banning beach tourism, which, he said, induces vice.

At his Maadi headquarters the chairman of Nour, Emad El-Din Abdel Ghafour trots out trope, embellishing liturgy. Separating religion and state is not acceptable, he says. Civic does not mean secular.

How would the Salafis get the economy moving? Thoughtful planning, he replies.

Pressed about life under the Salafis, he says: We cannot oblige anyone to do or ‎not to do anything.

That’s undeniable. What people fear is giving them the opportunity to implement punishments meted out where Salifis exert influence: Saudi Arabia and under the Taliban.

Mohamed Morsi, president of the Muslim ‎Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), told Al Ahram on Saturday that ‎his party didn’t plan on banning alcohol in hotels ‎and at tourist resorts or, for that matter, prevent Egyptians from ‎drinking liquor in their homes.‎

Make of it what you will. During elections candidates spray balm on the crowd they’re facing. Consistency is a virtue rarely found on the hustings.

And in government nowadays. Britain’s governing coalition of conservatives and liberal democrats frequently speaks with a forked tongue — this week over Europe.

Probably the most divisive issue in the British parliament is whether or not foxes should be hunted. Imagine that. The unspeakable chasing the inedible, according to Oscar Wilde, could split Cameron’s coalition asunder.

The point is politicians go into politics to press their agendas. Cameron knew when he went to Brussels to oppose the EU’s bailout he’d no wiggle room. His backbench is loaded with Shire Tories – he’s one himself.

They’d rather tallyho, drink a stirrup cup and break every bone in their body falling off horses than give the French the time of day.

Seymour Lipset, who died five years ago, was one of the leading political scientists studying social stratification, left right and center. Much feted by American academia, his Conditions of the Democratic Order came up with a significant conclusion that’s apposite in Egypt today.

Lipset pointed out that while the lack of a rich, complex frame of reference connects low status with a predisposition toward extremism it doesn’t necessarily suggest that the lower strata will be authoritarian.

It implies they will choose the least complex alternative.

During a lifetime’s research around the world, Lipset catalogued extremists proposing simple solutions for complex problems. Lipset was one of the first proponents of the Theory of Modernization, which holds that democracy is the direct result of economic growth.

The more well-to-do a nation, the greater the chances that it will sustain democracy, he said.

It’s both reassuring and worrying that political scientists have a grip on the cause and effect of social evolution on political power.

It’s reassuring that Egypt is not entering totally unknown territory. It’s worrying to think that democracy has little chance of taking root unless the economy thrives.

More likely it succumbs to dictators.

The interim government clearly hasn’t a clue what to do. On Sunday the prime minister said the economy was worse than anyone imagined.

On Monday the cabinet came up with a plan: cut red tape, build new satellite cities and help Iran to build car factories in Upper Egypt. All three ideas deserve a dissertation.

Students of logic can analyze the cabinet’s statement: GAFI will pursue its efforts to catalyze economic growth through full coordination between investors and the various state departments.

Better go to the DVD store and rent a James Bond movie to brighten the mood.

You’ll recall in Casino Royale, OO7, so concerned to ensure his martinis were just so, being asked after he’d lost millions playing poker: Shaken or stirred?

Now penniless and less persnickety the once highfalutin, urbane swaggerer looked up and replied winsomely: Do I look like I give a damn?

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.

 

 

Revolution’s rocks and ripples

International Herald Tribune Daily News Egypt

December 12 2011

Philip Whitfield

CAIRO: The only certainty is change — the tenet of the Greek philosopher Heraclitus resonates through Egypt’s transformation. The next phalanx of voters might consider Heraclitus’ concept: You can’t step into the same river twice because the river is different water and your perception has changed.

Egypt’s state of flux pits ideas against reason, the tension in Heraclitus’ time when part of what’s now Turkey rebelled against Persian military rule in the 5th Century BC.

As in Egypt today, the populous divided between those who considered the military one element of a raging, babbling river. The philosophers dwelt on the cosmos, the greater whole. The rationalists debated ways to achieve their freedom.

Last week we saw a classic pragmatic military response to defeat. Having lost the battle for the hearts and minds of the people, who voted overwhelmingly for civilian rule, the military council responded with their version of reason: the election wasn’t a true reflection of the people’s will.

What’s more, they’d ignore the result and insert a lapdog advisory council along with a government of Yes Men. Controlling both they guide the rewriting of a few bits of the constitution. Most of the old constitution will remain intact, SCAF said.

SCAF is trying to stop the raging torrent of dissent by channeling discussion into a languid lagoon inhabited by minnows.

This trait of dictators to condescendingly claim more wisdom than the populous prefaces their fall. The idealistic Youth Movement says they’ll have nothing to do with SCAF’s advisory council.

Islamists are caught between a rock and a hard place. Joining the advisory council makes them quislings, betraying the revolution’s aims. Abstaining labels them naïve ninnyhammers, copouts avoiding political compromise.

The advisory council comprises groups that lost the election and some odd-bods who didn’t put up. The so-called advisors should be ashamed of themselves for being exploited. When has the military listened to the people?

Becoming part of a mealy-mouthed regime, unwilling to give the nation straight talk, debunks the advisors’ credibility and exposes their intent to seek a sliver of power.

The next election round has more information than the first. SCAF is changing the election’s environment. The parliament being assembled is nothing more than a talking shop. The military council says they’ll make all the big decisions, including how the constitution will be written. They’re retaining Emergency powers, which give them carte blanche to lock up dissenters.

So much for freedom and democracy. Justice hasn’t even made the agenda.

Let’s consider how business resolves conflict. Relationships work when trust, respect and reliability are in equal tension. Stakeholders are quiescent when they trust each other, respect each other’s wishes and deliver reliably.

In Egypt trust and respect are not flowing between the governors and the governed. Oil and gas companies are tearing their hair out because invoices they rely on amounting to $5 billion, a quarter of the country’s foreign reserves, are not being satisfied on agreed schedules.

Tourists are queasy. They’re concerned about reliable security.

A second business model defines how to achieve a new goal. Enlightened managers gather their teams together to consider three steps. Do we have the means to achieve our goals? That includes expertise and mechanics. Do we have enough information? That’s often a stumbling block. When they benchmark themselves against competitive systems, they often realize their modi operandi are out of date.

Then something that Egyptians will recognize. What’s in it for me, the WIFM? If the goal doesn’t lead to more money, more prestige and more freedom, it’s doomed.

Going into the polling booths, the next wave of voters has a better idea of SCAF’s goals. They have more information than before and they know SCAF is offering neither freedom, democracy nor justice. There’s no WIFM.

On the other hand, they have better knowledge than before as to the intents of the parliamentary contenders. They can make a more enlightened judgment.

The Islamists are prepared to stand up to SCAF if non-elected institutions circumvent their ideas. Some of the losing parties are prepared to sidestep democracy in favor of a cabal ruling the country.

In the meantime, there’s one idea that’s worth considering. When business teams become dysfunctional, or for that matter when families fracture, counselors do this. They ask three questions: What do you think should stop, what should start and what should continue?

The answers, usually submitted anonymously, are often devastating – revealing the deep-seated discontent of people forced to work or live together.

Egyptian society and its economy are not functioning properly. Intolerance has exposed rifts. It’s time to decide what to stop, start and continue.

The worst scenario is an imposition of will by SCAF or any monolithic institution. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party demands the right of parliament to elect the 100-person panel that will draw up the constitution. Analysts say they want to fortify Islamic Law’s place.

Also the FJP want parliament to choose members of the government.

The irony of the voting pattern so far is that SCAF’s willingness to open up the process to Islamists long banned from openly campaigning has exposed the flawed assumptions made by SCAF.

What’s even more alarming in the immediate future is SCAF’s cack-handed approach to the economy. They can hardly demand all power and ignore its responsibilities.

What has SCAF in mind to bolster foreign reserves, which have fallen by 40 percent this year? The annual inflation rate is rising – 9 per cent overall, nearly 12 percent for food. Bank deposit rates have risen to 9.2 percent to stem the flight from the Egyptian pound.

Worrisome is the meltdown in Europe. Can Egypt expect cash from the cash-strapped? Will the International Monetary Fund be prepared to top up Egypt’s loans when the effective government has shunned democracy?

What can we glean from Heraclitus pithy wisdom? He liked to point out that all things are relative. Donkeys don’t value gold, he said. They value garbage. Seawater is poisonous to humans, yet life-giving to fish.

We could say that freedom, democracy and justice are the lifeblood of the revolution and the death knell of authoritarianism.

Heraclitus’ belief that everything is in a state flux was balanced with the view that at some point flux goes beyond creating identity and destroys identity. One of his followers suggested you don’t just destroy identities in a state of flux; you create a situation where even flux can’t be created.

The opportunity for a peaceful transition to democracy remains. It’s up to SCAF to dip its toe in the water.

Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.