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Coming of age.

Summary: Street politics seems to have metamorphosed the Egyptian opposition, long dismissed as a bunch of elitists stuck in a time warp.

A welcome signal of this U-turn came last week when the main opposition alliance, the National Salvation Front, urged a 'No' vote against the draft constitution, rather than boycotting the referendum on the contentious charter.

This marked a departure from the opposition's ineffective strategy before and even after the popular revolt that toppled Hosni Mubarak in February last year.

The decision of the Front, an umbrella grouping of opposition parties and groups, to vote in the two-stage referendum on the proposed constitution, is a step in the right direction not only for the nascent coalition, but for Egypt's troubled democratic transformation as well.

The alliance was set up last month in response to a highly controversial decree by President Mohammed Morsi granting himself sweeping, albeit temporary, powers.

Morsi's decision to go ahead with the referendum on the draft constitution has made the alliance more united and prompted it to reach out to street protesters.

Significantly, the coalition comprises the Nobel laureate Mohammed ElBaradei, credited with catalysing the revolt against Mubarak. Former presidential contenders Amr Moussa and Hamdeen Sabahi are leaders of the same bloc, a matter diversifying its public appeal.

Despite their vociferous criticism of the new constitution, the three leaders appear keen to abide by the rules of democracy and disown the undemocratic calls for the elected President to leave.

Ignoring calls for boycotting made by hardcore protesters, the opposition leaders urged their supporters to go to the polls and vote 'No' in the two-round referendum.

Implicitly recognising the broad grassroots base of the Islamist powers who favour approving the proposed constitution, Sabahi said in a press interview: "We will respect the majority's view if they vote 'Yes' for the constitution. We'll continue our peaceful struggle to get this constitution changed."

Sabahi, a veteran leftist dissident, explicitly stated that the opposition's "next battle" will be the parliamentary polls expected early next year, if the constitution is endorsed in the current vote.

In the not-too-distant past, the opposition's only claim to fame was a litany of toothless statements and gatherings inside air-conditioned offices.

The massive controversy triggered by Morsi's recent measures as well as the drafting of the constitution has helped the opposition gain credibility on the street. This is auspicious for Egypt's infant democracy.

The presence of a credible, influential opposition may well counterbalance the Islamists' clout. The road to a genuine democracy in Egypt is bumpy and even bloody, as events of recent weeks have grimly shown.

Still, the ballot box continues to be a key barometer of democratic practices, a fact that has obviously dawned on the opposition.

The referendum, the second round of which is due on Saturday, can help the new-found opposition to gauge its real clout on the street and build on it.

The opposition has to learn a lesson from the result, whatever it is, to work out a realistic plan for another democratic battle in the parliamentary elections.

The opposition, made up mainly of liberals and secularists, fared very badly in Egypt's first post-revolution parliamentary polls held last year. Divisions, egoism and a lack of a real-life vision were the main reasons for this debacle. This time, the opposition has to prove it has come of age and learnt from its mistakes.

Regardless of the result of the vote on the constitution, the painful experience of recent weeks has obviously given rise to a new generation of opponents with street credentials. This is good for the new Egypt.

Copyright Eltahir House 2012

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Publication:The Egyptian Gazette (Cairo, Egypt)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Dec 18, 2012
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