Talking Tactics : What’s in a vision?

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Vision
What does that word mean to you? My instinct these days would be to think of the supernatural.
But no, it is not to the supernatural that I refer; it is to the blue-sky thinking, soul-driving, passion-making, enthralling third space of visioning your ideas, ethics, projects and desires intertwining in one heady projection. It is the (sometimes) dangerously infectious picture of what it is you want to achieve.

The dictionary I use terms ‘vision’ (in the sense I refer to) as:
“the ability to think about or plan the future with imagination or wisdom”
and
“a mental image of what the future will or could be like”

Both definitions are essential to understanding the importance of vision.

Now I am a big picture girl. That is, until I know the whole picture and everything inside it, I cannot begin to turn my attention to a single thing. How can I when I don’t know where that piece that I am interested in fits in? How it functions in wider society? How it operates day to day in relation to the other sectors/businesses/people/challenges it faces? How can I know how effective I am being in trying to create change within my single jigsaw puzzle piece if I can’t see the rest of the jigsaw puzzle pieces which affect its efficacy? Without this mental image of the whole jigsaw puzzle I am ignorant of what other pieces it will fit with and those which it won’t, which makes me ignorant of potential opportunities and possibly obstinate to the point of self destruction by being unable to see deadends or insurmountable walls which require redirecting.
Vision therefore offers me the light to really see my surroundings that I operate in in the present, preventing the short term thinking of just ‘being’ in a certain space and time. This clarity then allows me to envisage and plan for where I am naturally heading for, or more proactively, how I could attain my aspirations according to the vision laid out in the bigger jigsaw puzzle picture, or even more proactively, affords me the clarity of working out how to change the jisaw puzzle itself – which can be generally called ‘system change’.

Margerat Thatcher once said:
“One of the great problems of our age is that we are governed by people who care more about feelings than they do about thoughts and ideas.”

Now I am not an ardent supporter of Thatcher, but I think that she makes an important point.  I can feel people screaming at me as they read this, but strip away your formulated opinions on Thatcher and the effect of her policies; look at her approach to all the controversial decisions she made and it is clear this is a woman driven by a vision of how she wanted to rule the country, and it was the clarity of this vision which made her pursue her (questionable) policies to the bitter end – through thick and thin. At a basic level she had tenacity of thought because it was rooted in a vision, lending her a very secure sense of what she believed was right and wrong, and what her political ideology was. That is the key point – the strength of conviction and sense of purpose that having a vision encourages in us.

Many would question the importance of ideas and visions, branding them as a luxury of those elites who have the time, the energy, or the money to be able to really think through an idea. I don’t agree.
Now I think that humans are wired to be curious. We would not have ‘conquered’ the planet and peoples over the centuries if we had not been driven by different forces within us which allow us to justify killing living species (ourselves or otherwise), pillaging resources, exploring the galaxy outside our planet, developing thousands of different means of communication, or mining every particle that offers opportunity for greed to feed. Thus our curiosity has led us to allow these natural states of ours to reign at different times with different results; and so I think ideas, which are explorations of our imaginations applied to our context or those totally unreal, are manifestations of the urges I describe above. Therefore, visions, made up of ideas, can be inherently powerful as an amalgamation of inspiration thrown up by various urges of the human phsyche – the most powerful and convincing being those visions whose ‘time has come’ because they capitalise on a context that is hungry for ideas, or in need of advancement or the solutions offered by the vision.

In campaign planning and the field of democratic politics, visioning is an essential part of transferring your ‘feel’ for the cause, or the future – or whatever subject your vision sustains – to an unbriefed person, or a person who is totally ignorant of your area of knowledge. Moreover, because a vision has a visual element to it, laying it out for public consumption means you can paint the picture with the person or people you are talking to, inside the vision. Thus the beauty and power of a vision is that it can transport your audience, moving them as it moved the visionary, and imparting a sense of ownership and participation in the overall aims you are envisioning. This can have great long term utility  because your audience can feel an emotional connection and sense of purpose.

Again, I can hear some screaming that not all visions are forces for good, nor need they be inclusive. All you need to do is look at Hitlers vision for a ‘better Germany’. It certainly did not include Jews, and where it did, it was not for positive ends. BUT once again, strip away what you know about Hitler and the outcomes of his implementing his vision. Think strictly about what he achieved in terms of his election manifesto: despite his facist and bloody intentions, he persuaded the populous of Germany to democratically elect him partly because of the attractiveness of his vision and the policies that came within it: there is the essence of the power of a vision: it can inspire and successfully advocate without reason and logic being wholly present.

So, applying these rather lofty visions of a vision, what does this mean today?
Take a look at what is going on in Egyptian politics right now.
The power of the uprisings that ridded the country of Mubarak came in one fell swoop. It was the combined force of all the different parts of Egyptian society settling on one common vision (not necessarily actively, but by happenstance) with a clear objective – to bring Mubarak down. The purity and clarity of the vision which was manifested in one symbol (the clenched fist) and the unification of messaging, concentrated efforts and minds on the task in hand by defining every actors objective within their space and presence in time. It is this clarity of purpose that created this transformation so quickly – unparallelled and unexpected within Egypt at the time.

The aftermath however, has been far removed from this unique and inspiring moment of collective strength and unity.

The proceeding political landscape mushroomed tens of different political parties and factions, with small differences in politics creating separate parties, not just different branches of the same party, but without much difference in political vision it could be seen as an example of self divide, and now, rule by Islamist forces who had a very organised and entrenched structure and set of supporters, with the ready made ‘vision’ made up of their Islamic beliefs and traditions.
Assessing the Egyptian Presidential Election illustrates my point exactly. The numbers of Egyptians who voted for the 3 main revolutionary candidates was higher than any other single candidate; which begs the conclusion that Egyptians overwhelmingly supported candidates whose politics represented those of the uprisings. However, because they were separate candidates, none of them individually recieved more votes than Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood candidate and now, President) or Shafiq (Old-Guard, Mubarak Candidate) leaving them with a choice between the Islamists or a remnant of the regime in the second round of voting, neither of whom could claim to represent the interests of the uprisings fully. What if the 3 candidates representing the uprisings, who have the significant common interest of secularist politics, had chosen only one amongst them? Therefore putting all their eggs in one basket, but making success at winning the Presidency 3 times more likely.
At that point in time however, the secularist Parties did not have sufficient foresight and vision to see this. Painfully, since the President was chosen and the Muslim Brotherhood began ruling the country, the arguments against choosing 1 candidate have been made redundant by the Secularists forming the National Salvation Front : a unified secularist opposition to the Islamist forces, because they started to feel that they are stronger under one united umbrella (for the time being anyway).

Overall it seems there is no vision that the average Egyptian feels involved in anymore. As a result, the anger is double-fold because the beginning of the uprisings gave them a vision which they felt a part of and significantly raised hopes because of the success of its goals: to bring down Mubarak. As Mubarak fell, so did the unified vision; therefore, there is a need for something to fill the dark hole every Egyptian is currently standing on the edge of. So, 9 months after the elections, where are the politics at?

Without descending into the details, a brief overview identifies that the Muslim Brotherhood have primarily been frantically trying to stick plasters over crisis after crisis: whether it be an IMF loan that barely touches the true cost of Egypts deficit and will hit the poorest the hardest, imposing curfews on legitimate protests in the port cities along the coast, or the attempted clearing of the sit in in Tahrir and the building of more walls to block the roads leading to it. Puny decisions on banning alcohol and whether to allow bearded policemen are the only decisions that have been publicly labelled ‘policies’ of the MB.
Egyptians are reassured that the IMF loan will be a good thing, without the MB releasing a substantive plan of action (as required by the IMF anyway) to its own public; they are also told there is enough bread and diesel (solar) to go round for the next few months, so don’t worry your heads about that – without defining how the long term issue that these shortages present will be dealt with; and with no roadmap for the elections presented as soon as the questionable decision to dissolve Parliament was made, the MB are making large decisions without publicly justifying themselves or demonstrating to their voters that these are decisions that relate to their policy plan, or a vision that Egyptians are part of – if they have one.

And that is the key question. Does the Government have a plan?

If you assess what is publicly available through the internet and the media, the conclusion is a resounding no. Assess Morsi’s speeches and public statements and you also come to a resounding no answer. So lets take stock:
Morsi was elected on promises of restoring security to the streets and stabilising the economy. There were no further state-building or inspiring ideas mooted during his candidacy – that was it.
He was elected.
He and his Government have not released any set vision of how to restore security to the streets, he has merely reacted to each set of clashes or potential clashes as they have arisen.
He and his Government have not released any set vision or set of policies on how to stabilise the economy beyond court the IMF for a loan and attempt to woo ex-Mubarak investors. There is no published cohesive plan to tackle the elephant in the room: subsidies.
And still, no further vision on how he intends to lead this Government and the country over the next few years has been presented.
The point is not really whether there are policies and decisions being made, because undoubtedly they are being made somewhere, it is whether the populous know about them. Why would the average Egyptian protestor stop protesting against Morsi if all he can see is a leader mishandling crisis after crisis with no promise of long term changes to combat the systemic faults leading to these crises?

The opposition are not doing any better either.
So far their public politics consists of denouncing decisions on legal technicalities and moral stands, and taking every opportunity to characture and ridicule Morsi, but at no point saying “we would do it this (better) way instead”.
The Government is heamarroging opportunities for the opposition to take the public stage and make themselves heard at how they would be better in power because they would do A, or adopt policy B, or belive in applying C.
They also have failed to publicly produce some kind of coalesced plan of action for what they want to do in Egypt over the months and years to come, so there is nothing to inspire Egyptians beyond vehemently defending (in words mainly) their ideology of a secularist democracy for Egypt. That is not enough. Their structural vision was apt at the beginning of Egypts transition, when the Constitution needed to be written and ammended and when elections were on the horizon, but now the work has begun, and there is no detail anywhere.

In the UK, before an election there are a frantic few months of ‘electioneering’. That is the business of shouting your ideals and policies down every megaphone you can find; touring the villages and towns in a pick up truck wearing a fixed grin and liberally dishing out technicolour flyers which are supposed to give an idea of what you represent.
Where is this sense of responsibility to their citizens from Egyptian politicians? Politicians need to justify why people have voted for them, and give them a sense of the future under their rule. No one who is trying to hold down a job, bring up a family and have a good standard of living can plan towards that if they don’t know whether the Government will be able to stand on its own two feet a day later.

Given this policy and visionary vacuum i’ve been identifying, there is a huge opportunity to be seized to fill it; the prize being to win the hearts and minds of Egyptians who seek something substantive from their politics. So far, the first and only plan of action, or vision, which I’ve seen has come from Al-Watan, a Salafist party. They have put together a 13 point plan for how to move Egypt forward constructively, covering youth employment, political unity, economic development and educational reform. Without supporting any political party, I can say: that’s more like it.

And a new multi-disciplinary project is being started to try and contribute to the debate about a vision for Egypt; it will bring together Egyptian academics, young researchers, institutions and civil society to produce a piece set of recommendations which will form a holistic vision for how Egypt could develop into a society which is socially just, food secure, energy secure, with higher rates of employment and built in resilience against price volatility in the fossil fuel markets. These are all major issues daily present in peoples minds and in the media. [For project updates and to stay in contact see @IBottoms or http://www.izzykb.wordpress.com]

It is the time to build an inclusive vision for a strong and capable Egypt; it is NOT “A society of sheep” which “must in time beget a government of wolves” (Bertrand de Jouvenel) so respect them as such and build the vision around them and with them and make it known: this is the basis of a democracy.

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