Egypt’s Fratricidal Revolution
By Marwan Asmar
28 August, 2013
Egypt, the harbinger of the so-called Arab Spring in January 2011, today lies in tatters and recrimination. A once-solid populace standing for the removal of long-time president Husni Mubarak, Egypt is now beset by a series of fratricidal leanings from the state and its apparatuses, government, military, political parties and to the different sections of society.
Violence has beset the Egyptian street following what is essentially seen as a military coup d’etat on 3 July, 2012 that resulted in the removal of democratically-elected president Mohammad Morsi from power and the arrest of many of the Muslim Brotherhood. Many deaths and injured, in the hundreds and even some say thousands, as Morsi supporters entrenched in the Rabaa al-Adawiya square, and as the police and security forces tried to disperse them through the barrel of the gun.
But the background to the new relationship between the state and politics in Egypt is complex, becoming a struggle between ideologies, political trends, military power, and democratization. After nearly three-decades of living under the Mubarak dictatorship, it had become trying to live in a world that demanded political pluralism and the acceptance of the other. This resulted in the paralysis of the country since the Egyptian revolution with groups, factions, political parties each vying for a slice of the political cake.
Back in 25 January 2011, up till 18 days later in 11 February, society was mobilized against Mubarak. Liberals, Islamists, leftists, Nasserists, and above all the youths and younger members of society, were vehemently against the 30-year-old continuous rule. They were united in wanting and clenched the political change.
On the face of it, the 1.5 million-strong Egyptian army, that long-popular and national institution that was part-and-parcel of the structure of society, and heralded the 1952 coup which brought Egypt from a backward monarchical order into a republic, appeared to be with the people. Their Majors, Generals and rank-and-file had unexpectedly turned their swords into ploughshares as soldiers stood still by watching the masses of demonstrators in Cairo’s Tahrir Square. It was a celebration remembered despite the odd skirmishes and the police brutality here and there.
For the most part the army, which had taken part in four-wars against Israel, and regarded as one of the most professional armies in the Arab world, took a back seat, posing itself as the guardian of the revolution, and later taking part in the transition to political change and allowing for the formation of a political system based on democratic grounds.
On 18 June, 2012, national elections took place in the country, bringing an Islamist president to power for the first time. It was widely regarded as a complete transformation with the country moving from dictatorship to democracy in one full-swing.
The Islamists had already been gaining parliamentary seats in drawn out free elections that started to bear fruit in early 2012. The crescendo to that was the election of Mohammad Morsi as president, a position he took up in 30 June 2012.
It was a great victory, the Islamists were sweeping to power, just as it was the case across the region. Morsi, very quickly started to feel confident of his success. This was seen as the first free elections which he had won fair and square, unlike the elections that were held during the Mubarak era were polling was fixed and manipulated in favor of the ruler.
Morsi, running on a Muslim Brotherhood ticket, the movement which had swept to the Lower House, started to consolidate power and transferring the legislative power into his own hands. Up till that time it was the army who had been ruling, following the revolution. They were acting as the protector of the revolution till a new parliament and a president can be voted into power, and thus all laws, decrees and legislation were controlled by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).
Morsi as well begun making changes in the military brass. He removed top men like Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi who was forced into retirement on 12 August, 2012 after he headed Egypt following its February 2011 revolution. In his place was appointed Gen Abdul Fattah Al Sisi as Defense Minister, who had already served as member of the SCAF and then regarded as a Morsi ally because of his Islamic leanings.
However, through this move, alienation begun to seethe. The military as a whole began to feel more and more bitter as the flexing of muscles begun to be exercised by the Muslim Brotherhood. Was it a recurring scenario of things past when the late president Jamal Abdel Nasser sought to crack down on the Islamists in the 1950s. The boot was clearly now on the other foot.
But reigning on the military was only one part. The other was, the opposition, the motley group of Nasserists, leftists, socialists, and liberals who felt they had a strong hand in getting rid of Mubarak. They were now in a somber mood, frustrated that the revolution was slowly being hijacked by Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood who initially shied away from the nation-wide protests.
But regardless, Morsi went on to strengthen his hold on power. He begun by slowly changing the political fabric. Many saw that he was seeking to ‘brotherize” the structure of the state apparatus and by instigating constitutional amendments. The outcome of this was the largesse of meddling with the judicial authority by making the appointments of judges directly related to him, and the upshot of appointing 17 regional governors just before mass opposition to his rule was reaching its climax.
However, it was his move for constitutional powers that sustained the opposition against him and the Islamists. In November 2012 for instance, he introduced further amendments to the interim constitution, with its Article 2 stating that laws and decrees issued by the new president are final and unchallengeable, and with Article 6 granting him the power to make all the necessary measures and procedure on major national issues as safeguarding the revolution, national unity and national security.
This may have been the straw that broke the camel’s back. The Egyptian street had already been in a state of heightened tension since it clamored for the fall of Mubarak in January-February 2011. After his removal from power tensions continued to be high with much anticipation of a new more prosperous era for everyone would begin. But this clearly was not felt with the doors of political power closing.
Morsi was criticized for consolidating his power-base and Islamist credentials whilst foot-stalling on the deteriorating economy which was seen as the prime force that started the Arab Spring in Tunisia that late 17th December day in 2010. In Tunisia the Jasmine revolution was not only about ending the dictatorial rule of Zain al-Abidine Ben Ali but it was high unemployment, on the need to find jobs, boosting the economy and ending corruption.
Similarly, in Egypt, the revolution was partly for the same reasons of depressed wages and poverty and depressed economy. It had for instance registered a mere 2.2 percent growth rate in the first quarter of 2013 from annual 7 percent between 2005 and 2011. Unemployment was registering at more than 13 percent, that’s 3.6 million jobless out of a labor force of 23.6 million.
With less and less visitors coming to Egypt, the high peak being 2010 of tourists at 14.5 million bringing almost 10 billion euros and around 51 percent of its labor force in the service sector, low tourism receipts are now continually registered and high budget deficits standing at $3.2 billion per month, which is roughly half of state spending.
All these factors, the political consolidation of Morsi, his constitutional reforms, and his immediate failure to do something about the economy, exacerbated the situation.
Although Morsi has been criticized for his lack of inexperience in dealing with the opposition and his failure to rule on basis of consensus politics, he was in fact a member of parliament and in the People’s Assembly from 2000-2005 and thus had the sufficient experience in the wheeling and dealing of Egyptian internal politics.
He may have been swayed by the nature of democratic politics, the elections to the People’s Assembly in the first half of 2012 and then his own presidential election that reigned supreme in his mind when he sought to curtail the power of the military and of the other opposition forces in society.
Many people, to put it mildly, felt unhappy about his constitutional amendments of 22 November 2012. Seven members of his 17-member Advisory Panel resigned in protest, the director of the Egyptian State Broadcasting, Rafiq Habeeb, a Christian, resigned and many judges spoke out against the changes.
In addition to that, thousands protested outside the presidential palace and around 200,000 took to the streets of Cairo which included members from the Constitution Party, the 35-party alliance of the National Salvation Front which included former UN Atomic Energy Chief Dr Mohammad Al Baradei, respected politician Amr Moussa of the now Conference Party and the April 6 Movement which is composed young educated people demanding social justice. They are part of the Facebook/social media generation which has been accredited for mobilizing young people to take to the street in the Arab Spring protests.
This was the beginning of the confrontation but Morsi didn’t back down on the constitutional changes. He failed to see the mood of the street, instead he held a national referendum on 15 December that gave him 64 percent vote in favor, moving to consolidate his position and power. He had a solid backing of supporters of around 14 million supporters, the number of those who voted for him during his candidacy.
He failed to read the barometer of protests that were crippling the country from Cairo, to Alexandria and many other cities across Egypt. Indeed, this may have been the slippery-slope to the end of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood six months later at the end of June 2013.
With totally alienated parties, groups, individuals, the Coptic Church and certain Islamic groups, the Egyptians continued to take to the streets taking the Tahrir Square as the hot-bed of protests and spreading to the rest of the country. It was a daily situation from 22 November, 2012 throughout January 2013, February, March, April, May, till the end of June.
Protestors were chanting once again for regime change, a memory of the first Egyptian revolution of January-February 2011. Protests outside the presidential palace, in Tahrir Square and across 18 locations in Cairo and across the country forced took place on 30 June. It was claimed 14 million protestors took to the streets demanding that Morsi, like Mubarak, step down from power.
Watching this from afar, the military acting under General Sisi decided to act quickly and take the initiative. The lions had roared. Sisi moved to arrest Morsi and immediately install a new provisional government. It was a quick and clinical affair, a reminder that the military had always been behind the political game, whether it was during the time of Mubarak and now under Morsi.
Sisi said this was Egypt’s second revolution because of the support he got from the opposition but many saw it as an effective coup d’etat. However, this was a government in civilian clothing but 3 July, 2013 will always be remembered as the day when the military coup took place.
Dr. Marwan Asmar is an Amman-based journalist specializing in Middle Eastern affairs.
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