28 June 2013


Egypt: Revolution On the Rocks


Esam Al-Amin outlines three possible scenarios that could unfold on 30 June, a day on which both pro- and anti-Morsi forces have vowed to make their voices heard.

Egypt is imploding. The old revolutionary groups are at each other's throats. And the unity of purpose displayed during the incredible 18 revolutionary days in early 2011 is not only long gone, but has been replaced with mistrust, acrimony, and hostility.

Almost immediately after their success in ousting the despised dictator Hosni Mubarak, the groups that carried the revolution on their shoulders parted ways on ideological grounds. At one end of the political spectrum are the numerous Islamist groups led by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its political affiliate, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). At the other end are the secular and liberal parties which include the traditional Al-Wafd Party, as well as dozens of others such as Al-Dustoor (Constitution) led by Muhammad El-Baradei, the Congress Party led by former Secretary-General of the Arab League, Amr Mousa, and the Popular Current party led by former presidential candidate Hamdein Sabbahi.

Ever since the ouster of Mubarak, the Egyptian political scene has been messy and confusing. The youth groups that led the initial uprising in late January 2011 have since felt frustrated and marginalised. Meanwhile, the MB and their Islamist allies have been able to dominate Egyptian politics, not just by winning the parliamentary and presidential elections in 2012 but also by controlling the Constitutional Constituent Assembly that oversaw the writing of the new constitution.

The unflappable fulool

When the MB candidate Mohammad Morsi won the presidency a year ago, there was hope among the revolutionary partners that a new era based on partnership and cooperation would ensue. Yet, by the end of the year, many opposition and youth groups, which have been wary or resentful of MB rule, became even more open in their antagonism and hostility.

The opposition accuse Morsi of inexperience, if not outright incompetence in both domestic and international affairs. On the other hand, Morsi and the MB point to their repeated attempts to engage the political opposition only to be rebuffed time and again. Morsi has , for example, invited several opposition leaders - especially those within the National Salvation Front (NSF), a group which includes most of the secular opposition - to many separate meetings with minimal success.

At the start of this tumultuous post-Mubarak era, the fulool (remnants of the Mubarak regime) laid low. But by mid-2012 they had regrouped as they coalesced around presidential candidate Ahmad Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, who only narrowly lost the second round with 48% of the vote. By year's end, fulool groups had become part and parcel of the secular opposition groups and a major factor in the country's instability. Perhaps the most serious mistake committed by the revolutionary groups was to underestimate the dangers of the fulool lurking behind the scenes. Many of these groups are still largely in control of the security apparatus, most of the private media, the judiciary, as well as major industries and influential economic institutions. They still have substantial power that could undermine genuine efforts to carry out the objectives of the revolution. The judiciary, for example, has persistently reversed most attempts to build to country's democratic institutions.

In the ideological battle that ensued between the former revolutionary partners, the fulool were able to reinvent themselves and become major players on the side of the secular groups. Recently, El-Baradei welcomed all elements of Mubarak's banned National Democratic Party to join his party and the opposition, while Sabbahi declared that the battle with the fulool is now secondary to the primary conflict with the MB and its Islamist allies.

By this April, the country was at an impasse. The ruling party's political plan seemed to be centred on winning the next parliamentary elections. Its central economic program seemed to be to finalise the IMF loan in order to secure more loans and capital from wealthy countries. It did not take seriously the opposition groups arguing that they were elitist and lacked popular depth and support.

On the other hand, the fractious opposition seemed not only divided but also devoid of real alternatives. What united them was their hatred and enmity towards the Islamists. Some called on foreign powers, including the US, to take sides in the internal struggle and condemn the Morsi government. Others openly called on the military to overthrow the elected president and take over.

Tamarod vs Tajarrud

Meanwhile, a new group called Tamarod (or 'Rebellion') led by several revolutionary youth groups gained momentum when they declared at the end of April a new movement to challenge Morsi. On 28 April, Tamarod announced that they would collect 15 million signatures from registered voters demanding early presidential elections on 30 June, the first anniversary of Morsi's inauguration. Within weeks, most secular and youth groups as well as the fulool embraced this central message. At least 14 private satellite channels started a vast propaganda campaign promoting the day as a second revolution to cleanse the country from the MB rule. By mid-June Tamarod's co-founder and spokesman Mahmoud Badr announced that the movement has collected more than 15 million signatures, a million more people than voted for Morsi in the presidential elections.

Not to be outmanoeuvred, the Islamist groups decried the unconstitutional calls to remove Morsi before the end of his term in 2016, and Asem Abdel-Magid initiated his own movement called Tajarrud (or 'Impartiality') to counter Tamarod. He announced that he would have collected over 20 million signatures in support of Morsi by the end of June, though critics dismissed the numbers of signatures claimed by both groups as unrealistic, observing that no-one could actually verify their figures.

Between Tamarod and Tajarrud, Egyptian society has never been more polarised. On one side, most of the secular forces, youth groups, Christians, and the fulool are mobilising for a second revolution. On the other side, most Islamist groups are vowing to defend Morsi's legitimacy and rule by all means. On 21 June, in an impressive show of force, the Islamists groups mobilised tens of thousands of supporters in a Cairo suburb. This massive demonstration was dubbed "No to violence, Yes to legitimacy". Although their rhetoric called for peaceful demonstrations and endorsed freedom of expression, their leaders tacitly threatened to declare a wave of Islamic revolution if the 30 June demonstration were successful in deposing Morsi.

Meanwhile, Tamarod's leaders announced that their plan on that day included protests by millions of people in the streets occupying major intersections, and surrounding the presidential palace. Should Morsi refuse to resign, the group announced that it would escalate its confrontation by possibly storming the presidential palace and installing the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court as an interim president, annulling the new constitution, and forming a new government led by an independent politician or technocrat.

Three possible scenarios

There are thus three possible scenarios that could take place on this fateful day.

  • First, the scenario envisioned by the MB, where the calls for mass mobilisation results only in a modest turnout and fails to sustain itself for days or weeks. Such an outcome, they hope, would vindicate their view and considerably weaken the opposition.
  • A second scenario - advocated by the youth groups and non-violent opposition - is that millions of Egyptians take to the streets and that the demonstrations are not only huge and sustained but are concurrently joined by labour strikes and civil disobedience until Morsi gives in.
  • A third scenario is the one tacitly promoted by the fulool groups. In this scenario, former regime loyalists as well as corrupt businessmen, who readily financed thousands of baltagies (or 'thugs'), will join the demonstrations in order to spread chaos and anarchy. According to this frightful scenario, the baltagies will kill hundreds if not thousands of demonstrators, torch MB and FJP buildings, and assassinate their leaders in order to force the military to take over the country and launch a new transitional period without the domination of the Islamist groups. Should such a scenario materialise, the Islamist groups have vowed to send millions of their supporters to defend Morsi and the legitimacy of his presidency.

Furthermore, the role of the foreign powers should not be minimised, as there are several regional states, especially the United Arab Emirates, Saudi Arabia and Israel, which are disturbed by the Arab Spring phenomenon and would like to curtail its influence if not totally defeat it. There are many credible reports that some of the Gulf countries have been very active in financing many of the anti-MB media outlets and the fulool groups. The US, on the other hand, has been working both sides of the equation in order to maintain influence and relevance. While US Secretary of State John Kerry promised the military its $1.3 billion aid package, the administration has been slow in pushing the IMF loan which would be critical to Morsi's government. Meanwhile, American Ambassador Anne Patterson has been actively engaging government officials and opposition leaders alike. Ironically, each side accuses the other of serving the US's interest at the expense of the national interest.

Regardless of which scenario unfolds, Egypt will be facing difficult times. But for wisdom and rationality to carry the day, Egyptians of all stripes must come to their senses and realise that no one group can ignore or marginalise the others. The MB-dominated government must recognise that it must be inclusive and transparent, while the opposition must respect the democratic rules of the political game.

If the opposition succeeds in dislodging Morsi, no future president would be able to finish his term in office because the other side would use the same disrupting tactics. If the opposition groups have millions behind them as they claim, they should head for parliamentary elections as soon as possible. If they win a majority of the seats, they could not only form the next government, but could change the constitution, and act as a check to the powers of the president in a democratic and civilised fashion that would earn the world's respect. But if they opt for the use of violence or undemocratic tactics in order to have their way, then this remarkable revolution would have been in vain - a feat that would delight Mubarak loyalists and Egypt's enemies.

Esam Al-Amin is an expert on the Middle East and Egypt and has written for a variety of publications. He can be contacted at alamin1919@gmail.com.


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