Decolonial Translation Group


To negociate or not to negociate: the debate inside the Egyptian revolution


This is the transcript of a show featuring Azmi Bishara on the TV Channel Al-Jazeera on February 5, 2011. He discusses the political situation of the Egyptian revolution and the strategies that are at stake.

Jazeera Anchorman: and with us in the studio is the Arab intellectual Dr. Azmi Bichara, we welcome you.

Bichara: Greetings to you too.

Q: how do you evaluate this phase, the phase of entering into negotiations with the regime which is viewed in controversial terms in Egypt.

Bichara: Primarily, good that we have moved to the use of the term “negotiations” rather than “non-obligatory dialogue”. That in itself is a good thing, that I hear now the terms “negotiations” rather than “dialogue,”  we have previously protested the use of the term “dialogue” because it is non-obligatory, as if it is a dialogue between two brothers and parties. That’s the first thing, because here there is a real political struggle between the government and there is a revolution against this regime; so it is not a misunderstanding. The second matter is what do you negotiate with a regime on; do you negotiate a regime on his downfall; meaning do you go to a regime with the demand for its downfall? You go if the regime is convinced that it has fallen, then you go to negotiate with it about how to orchestrate that process. As for going to convince a regime to fall, there is no regime in the world that would be convinced with talk about its downfall. If the regime, through words and action, is unconvinced of its downfall, on the contrary, it is attempting to strengthen itself, its institutions, arrests the demonstrators, besieges them, arrests journalists, carried out a wide campaign of lies, and also offers some victims from the National Party to gain some credibility, because the security wing is beginning to sacrifice the political wing, including the Mubarak family in my opinion. In this case, the regime is not convinced of its downfall and negotiating with it grants it legitimacy.

Q: Perhaps the regime is not convinced of its downfall, but it may be convinced of the necessity of its head stepping down.

Bishara: That is not sufficient. Here, brother Mohammed, you are from that region and you know there are two models of the revolutions that have happened recently in the Arab world. Tunisia is not the first, there was also Algeria. And in Algeria there was a wide popular revolution followed by elections and a process of democratization. So what did that lead to? The victory of the military wing of the rulineg {inaudible}. And then it took a long time for the opening up to return. And an Islamic faction remained to practice within the law and all else was sacrificed and the country was plunged into a spiral of violence for quite a while. And thank God it has come out of that. Then there is the Tunisian model; a popular revolution that carried on until it reaped and there is even the opinion that it stopped short of what was necessary, it should have accomplished more before it ended, and without bloodshed. Or at least with sacrifices that do not at all compare to the number of victims that fell in Algeria when the military wing took over rule. Now, in few words, do we want the Tunisian or the Algerian model? Because in the Algerian model, the president of the republic resigned, and elections took place and the military took over, and bloody struggles began that saw no end. The question that needs to be asked, is these multitudes that have come out in such magnitude and enthusiasm, you have massive power that seeks to change the regime. The regime should concede to its downfall. Now, does it want an honourable exit or not; that should be the topic of negotiations. If it wants an honourable exit, there must be agreement reached on a transitional phase so that things do not escalate and it moves towards resolution [by force]. Now, that cannot be achieved, if the revolution becomes transformed into demands and there is competition between various political sections on representation. This, brother Mohammad, we know in the Palestinian arena the game of representation. The opponent plays with the game of representation and infiltrates you through this game. Who does the representing: those or the others; thereby creating completion within the other party about who was invited to the meeting and who wasn’t, who represented and who didn’t. This process, shortly transforms into a competition to the appeasement of the regime so the latter will take you as a partner. The process will transform into this within weeks; into a contest of compromises. So this game of representation must come to an end and enter into negotiations with the regime regarding how it leaves. And the departure of the regime does not mean how the president leaves. Of course that is part of it, it is a symbolic issue which is why everyone holds on to this demand. But when the demonstrations began on the 25th, the people want to bring an end to the regime.  The regime, its main symbols are Mubarak and his entourage, the party, and the intelligence apparatuses.

Q: some consider that the regime has already fallen, for instance Haykal sees that the regime has practically fallen, in the symbolic sense.

Bichara: In the symbolic sense, I agree. And perhaps the revolution has went halfway or even further, but now the danger arises that the downfall be just at level of appearances and that instead it is displaced by the military wing. Now there is massive manipulation of the demonstrators underway; questioning, introduction of actors who present different perspectives, talk of fatigue; while in truth, the subject needs to be approached differently: who made the revolution confronts and states that it is your staying in power that costs the country {hundred?} billion daily. It is your remaining in power that leads to the deficit in necessary supplies to ordinary citizens. The revolution moves towards stating that each day you remain in power is causing more and more suffering to the people. Secondly, the revolution is not a sit-in. the revolution means that the syndicate of journalists meets and elects a new leadership because the previous one has been imposed; it means that the independent newspapers and media actors such as yourselves meet and state that we want to state out own opinion and we refuse to be dictated by those assigned by the previous administrations assigned by the security apparatuses, by the apparatuses of Omar Suleiman who they are now negotiating with; that factories are self-run; the number of university students who are subjected to security supervision, there is a legal order that prevents this supervision, so let them carry out this legitimate order. So popular legitimacy must take place not just in the Tahrir square, but rather in all aspects of life. That would make the regime feel that this is not just a sit-in followed by a number of demands put forward to the regime through which the regime only gains legitimacy. For instance, they want the regime, even in the statement of the Muslim Brotherhood, they want the regime to acknowledge the honour and patriotism of the demonstrators. This is being requested from the regime! Which is to say that you need the regime’s testimony that these are not foreign collaborators; so you are taking this accusation of being a foreign collaborator seriously which the regime throws at all its opponents. To the contrary, it is you who should accuse this regime of having been commanded by external interests and that it did not represent the country’s national sovereignty and brought in the US and lost sovereignty in the Sinai and sold gas by third of its international price to Israel. What happened is that there is a major unexpected change that has taken place. The youth of the country and its whole population have moved into a revolutionary stage, while the political parties are still speaking in the old language through which they have been dealing with the regimes. Namely, that they want to sit to discuss certain demands with so and so, maybe some, and certainly not the Muslim Brotherhood, but some still feel great honour to sit with representatives of the regime. This needs to change. This regime is on its way out, and it is the one that should be seeking legitimacy from the masses rather than the other way around, and terms should be forced on it rather than requesting it certain demands. Meaning, terms should be imposed on the regime for it to leave, the mechanism..

Q: But has Omar Suleiman succeeded in entering those parties in the quagmire of details, because if he has managed to drag them to negotiations and the dilemmas of who came and who didn’t and what are the demands, in the end it is he who, until now, is winning.

Bishara: This is the case, People go to Tahrir square and discuss who represents the youth and who went and didn’t, in the end it is a game we know where it leads to and it has been played by many. First, in order to go to negotiate, there are a number of issues that can be addressed without any constitutional and intellectual debate, for instance, how do you negotiate before the prisoners are released. This is something I can’t truly understand. Your colleagues are in prison! Is this possible?! This regime right now has prisoners in jail, and you go and ask it to [inaudible]. That is truly incredible. Whereas if you put as a condition that prior to any negotiations it releases all political prisoners especially those of the recent events who include youth leaders and youth of the 6 April movement. So how do you accept.. there is constitutional debate on how to end the emergency status, and even that emergency status in itself is unconstitutional. So there are a number of issues that it puts forward to appear serious so you come to negotiate with it. The approach taken by the regime that: we negotiate on the manner through which the president can leave, or to include people, all constitutional experts, into the debate on which constitutional articles are acceptable… this is not a revolution, this is a discussion, constitutional intellectual that takes place in the People’s Council. Revolutions change the regime and the regime changes the constitution. There is no regime that changes its own constitution while a revolution is taking place against it. You talk is impossible. It is like saying: Please allow us, we have some constitutional obstacles, so we can’t now change the president because we need him. Because even an unelected president can’t change the constitution.” Could such talk be accepted by politically experienced people including intellectuals? Is this talk conceivable? To this you can say that all this regime and all its doctrinal discussions and its constitution are part of the past. We want a new regime that creates a new constitution, or a new People’s council that changes the new constitution. For this, we need a new phase headed by a neutral party, the head of the constitutional court, or someone else who heads this transition period of how to shift and then elections will take place and a people’s council can be elected which either changes the constitution or creates a new one. As for doctrinal debates, with whom? With those who use to change the constitution overnight when they wanted, and create new articles overnight, and summon the people’s council whenever they pleased and dictate it to make the changes. So do you hold constitutional doctrinal discussions with those. This whole phase needs to go. So I am surprised to hear such talk, and some of those {who are engaging in such debate} are sincere and mindful and strugglers. I fear and don’t even want to think that such sacrifices can be deceived. To the contrary, now is the time to transition, you are in mid-say, you have made a revolution. This is not a protest movement. You can’t, you have responsibility, you have to carry on. I realize that is painful and difficult and so on, but you took upon yourself the responsibility, so complete the path.

Q: {inaudible} so what we heard from the person we spoke to from Tahrir Square saying, “we don’t want to form a leadership for those youth, or elect them so that they do not enter into the quagmire of details, we will not talk except after our demands have been met”.

Bishara: I do not doubt that through the struggle, leaders will be formed and certain individuals will emerge. You, for instance, how many people whose name we previously didn’t know, have emerged and spoke up from among those youth, and among the leaders of the Brotherhood, and those of the Karamah(dignity)  party, and the Kifayah movement. Leaders emerge and these are certainly loyal and they emerge through the struggle. I will not mention the movement of {inaudible}. We are here for providing an analysis from the perspective of nationalistic and patriotic interest. But there are revolutions where in one demonstration thousands were killed till the army was compelled to take sides, and I don’t want to mention examples. The Iranian revolution how many months, the French revolution, how did that end. And throughout, these were cases where there were less casualties than when {reddah } took place. In the case of the latter, like the example of Algeria, it ended much more costly than if it the situation was settled, because once an army wing took over and consolidated itself, and began manipulations, then assassinations will begin, and prison camps and else. All these doctrinal debates, are denigrated by those. They play this game for their own sake. So let us put the doctrinal discussion around constitutional change aside. The regime must be changed for the constitution to be changed not the other way around.

Q: but is there perhaps some non-appreciation. Maybe the eruption of the Egyptian revolution after the Tunisian one led some to imagine that the fall of the head of the regime might happen as quickly as in the case of Bin Ali? So is there today some misperception or disappointment that the guy has not left taking into account that the Egyptian regime is not a weak or unsophisticated one?

Bishara: Exactly, I share fully your characterization, there were raminifations; intellectual and affectual due to the close timing with the Tunisian case. Some of it is positive in that it mobilized people, yet other aspects were negative. Yet even in Tunis, it took over a month. It wasn’t a rapid thing. For you, in the case or live coverage, it came to people’s attention rather late. Sidi BouZeid had been demonstrating for weeks till it was joined by other cities and till it reached Bou Rgebah street, but once we were there, the countdown for the regime began. Here, we have entered Bou Rgebah street from day one. So they want to hurry, they entered Tahrir Square from the first day, it was not possible to conceive of entering  Bou Rgebah street. Here they entered Tahrir Square right from the start and the countdown began; 6 days, 9 days, that is a lot. Let them have some patience. This issue needs time, and time not while waiting, time while escalating in actions not expected by the regime; such as revolutionizing here and revolutionizing there, and putting forward a cause here and another there and in all aspects..t unil the regime realizes that it will either have to leave by force or to negotiate with people in some arrangement that can save the country and save him, because in the end, you establish justice and fairness commissions and reach agreements with people. You do not want to get revenge from someone personally or to punish someone; you want a peaceful transition of power. He sits and negotiates, not on the demands of the people but on the mechanisms for the transition of power because he understands that he is finished and power must be turned over. Here, this is currently not taking place yet, so all this talk of dialogue and so on [is useless].

Q: Thanks to the Arab intellectual Azmi Bishara and thanks for your coming to the studio.