CAIRO — It may be a stretch, but after the removal of President Mohammed Morsi by a popularly instigated coup, there was a small window of time where the army and the opposition could have adopted a genuinely reconciliatory tone, since they had the upper hand in how events were going to play out. While the nature, history and general interests of the army can be blamed for preventing the army from doing so, the opposition — or at the least the “revolutionary core” of pro-democracy youth activists — could have struggled harder to push the new military and civilian leadership to begin shaping the new order on democratic values.
This is not to say that anything can appease the Muslim Brotherhood at this point and push it to reintegrate into the political system, nor to ignore the fractures in the loosely strung-together opposition.
If this is truthfully a continuation of the revolution, and not just an attack on the vilified Brotherhood, where are the continued cries demanding protection of human rights, rule of law, political freedom and political pluralism?
The military is arresting Muslim Brotherhood figures, the army is firing on Brotherhood protesters, Islamist media is prevented from airing and the Constitution remains suspended. The spokesman for the June 30 front, Mohamed ElBaradei, who is expected to take a key role in the interim government, justified these actions in a July 4 New York Times interview indicative of the exclusionary, hypocritical and complacent attitude that is so far defining this transition.
ElBaradei defended the widespread arrests of Brotherhood members as precautionary measures to ensure the security situation. They were ordered by Prosecutor General Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, a remnant of deposed President Hosni Mubarak’s regime notorious for arresting Brotherhood members reinstated this week; Mahmoud then submitted his resignation on July 5.
ElBaradei boasted of his efforts to convince Western powers of the need to forcibly remove Morsi on the grounds that the former president did not work to make an inclusive democratic transition. While he justified the military’s moves against the Islamists, citing the security situation and clinging to guarantees of due process for them, it looks as though many of the Brotherhood’s key leaders will inevitably be excluded from the future political scene because they face arrest or detention, again perpetuating the cycle of an exclusionary political environment. There is no sign from the army that those arrested will be released any time soon, and there is concern that some of the charges against the Brotherhood leadership will date back as far as the early 2000s, when some were still in jail.
Senior Brotherhood leaders have all been rounded up on charges of incitement to kill, including the order to defend the group’s headquarters on June 30 with lethal force. While not absolving the Muslim Brotherhood of its incendiary rhetoric of the past days — repeatedly invoking martyrdom or provoking violence by marching to Tahrir Square yesterday, where opposition supporters have been camped out — it is worth noting that the army and police did not protect the Brotherhood’s supporters or offices, and police were accused of participating in some of the attacks. Having taken control of the country and deposed Morsi, neither the army nor police have played an even somewhat neutral role of protecting the safety of all Egyptians, only validating the Brotherhood’s perception that it is under attack.
As Rachel Shabi wrote in the Guardian, after vehemently condemning the Morsi government’s arrest of opposition members on trumped-up charges, it seems that the opposition’s senior members are giving the military a free pass to do the same with Brotherhood members. Morsi is charged with “insulting the judiciary,” with whom he repeatedly clashed during his presidency.
Although ElBaradei insists that the opposition is sending a message of reconciliation and inclusion to the pro-Morsi camp, few actions back up the claim. ElBaradei’s stance is unsurprising, as the National Salvation Front hinted for months that Morsi’s days were limited and that the military might have to step in. The military responded with subtly threatening statements that it would protect Egypt, but had no interest in politics. It was a savvy move cementing the popular perception that the military was the only neutral, nationalist broker left, but a wiser one that had learned from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces’ mistakes when it ruled from February-June 2011.
What is most surprising is how quickly Tamarod embraced the army as savior, and claimed allegiance to them with few caveats, preventing any anti-military criticism on June 30. Even now, as Tamarod supporters remain in Tahrir Square, they are there to defend the action of the army, not democratic rights, nor to condemn the attacks on the Brotherhood. Evident from July 5’s clashes leaving 30 dead and 1,138 injured, the Brotherhood members are not showing any restraint to ingratiate themselves or encourage reconciliation. At the same time, after being overthrown, the onus also does not fall on them.
Listening to Mohamed Salah, an activist with Tamarod, the prevailing perspective one gets is that the army is saving Egypt. He said Tamarod is “carefully monitoring the situation,” but “feels no exceptional action for the military is necessary because it is not participating directly in political life after passing control to the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court.”
What Tamarod is not out demonstrating for — nor has its leadership shown any inclination for, leaving it all in the hands of the political elite — is to start defining and defending a democratic vision for the transition. The military accepted the movement’s broad roadmap, but how the actual execution of it occurs is not of enough interest to June 30 participants to force civic engagement — a grave mistake.
The “coupvolution” that took place on July 3 should be treated as exactly what it was: a temporary marriage of convenience between two groups that both found it in their interest to bring down Morsi. The people and the army are not one hand. It is in the distinct nature of the army to repress the people, and it has repeatedly proven that it has no allegiance to anyone but itself.
Sara Salem, a Dutch-Egyptian doctoral student, laments the strong feeling of helplessness that follows the protests. “We go and protest, but to what extent is it meaningful? Won’t it always be co-opted by one elite or another, last time the Muslim Brotherhood, this time the military?” she wrote on July 5.
If democratic values come first, and there is truly concern, the opposition needs to take back to the streets, moving beyond statements condemning the army’s actions against the Brotherhood. The opposition, especially youth who make up the “revolutionary core,” know better than anyone else the power of the streets. They have used it to topple two regimes, but now they need to use it to shape a transition, to build a democratic state.
Undeniably much of the work that needs to be done is at the level of high politics with negotiations between elites. Also, undeniable, is that many Egyptians are quite happy with the military at the moment and feel it is handling the situation. While their numbers will be far fewer than June 30, the people are not beyond pressuring their elites, for elites only have legitimacy as long as they have followers.
In April interviews, co-founders of the April 6 movement spoke about their lack of desire to hold power, but instead of their desire for Egypt to be a civilian state with equality, social justice, freedom and tolerance. April 6, which played a crucial role in the 2011 revolution and participated in June 30, pushed for the downfall of Morsi’s regime for months before Tamarod’s campaign. Opting against forming its own political party, although supporting ElBaradei’s Dostour Party, the April 6 movement aspires to form a lobby group capable of working in the street and the government, giving it the freedom to be for or against the government, for or against the law.
Now is the time to begin carrying out this vision. But co-founder Mohamed Adel, speaking to Al-Monitor via phone July 5, instead just echoed Salah’s claims of “just monitoring the situation” while discouraging the use of violence against Brotherhood supporters.
Opposition leaders need to move beyond calling on its supporters to protect the revolution. They need to push their elite toward meaningful reconciliation and protecting democratic values in this transition, partially to protect their own integrity. By letting the military take the unchecked lead, or deferring to it and not engaging in civic action against all violence and human rights violations, they are sacrificing the possibility of creating a new political culture for political expedience and the military’s agenda.
While overthrowing Morsi was the first priority, it was a means to an end, to build an Egypt that fulfills the demands of the first revolution: bread, freedom and social justice. Thus far, any signs of building that Egypt seem to only be for the winners of June 30, not the losers. That said, to believe that Egypt will stay on a set trajectory, for better or worse, has been disproven too many times.
This article was originally published for Al-Monitor on July 6, 2013.