Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Is there hope for the liberal opposition?

The always valuable newsletter of Saad Ibrahim's Ibn Khaldun Center for Development Studies has a report from Tim Eaton this month discussing the fights within political opposition parties. It's a sad but not uncommon story.

The general outline of the story is an autocratic government's strategy of divide and conquer.
Permanent oppression at first can create a sense of unity in opposition groups, but after decades of this, the fault lines start showing both between opposition groups and within them. New generation of leaders arrive challenging old leaders' ways. (Incidentially, if anyone is interested in a fascinating look at how the Civil Rights movement started fragmenting after the success of the Voting Rights Act in 65, check out Taylor Branch's latest book on America in the King Years.)

The same thing has happened in Egypt. Eaton's reports of the violent effort by Noman Gomaa to retake power of the Wafd party. For more click here. At the same time, the once promising al-Ghad party is breaking up into impotence with intraparty disputes and with Ayman Nour in jail.

Of course the beneficiary is not just the NDP, but the Muslim Brotherhood, the one opposition group who has been able to maintain its cohesion despite years of oppression. Eaton dispares that there is no "third way" option between the NDP and the MB in the foreseeable future.

Eaton's comments are realistic, and it's been truly sad to see so often the Egyptian opposition turn its anomosity upon itself. Saad Ibrahim himself faced severe criticism even as he was languishing in jail.

There are times in which I am optimistic; when I think of the other oppositions in Chile, South Africa, Eastern Europe, which also faced division, but with patience waited for their moment and acted in a miraclous unity. The unity shown in the judges protest offers one glimpse that there might be another way. As those moments fade away into another temporary calm, we can still hope that those were the building blocks for something stronger, something later.

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