Tag Archives: June 30

The Need for a Plan

“[We] reject the lying SCAF / They speak nothing but lies / And our protest gets us killed or thrown in prison / Nothing has changed … Rise up, Egyptians!”

“[Oh SCAF], what can you to do to people who are used to suffering? / [You can] keep lying from now until tomorrow / Turn the revolution into a memory / Kill us one by one, but I dare you to kill the idea!”

After a tumultuous five months since the military coup in Egypt removed democratically elected President Mohammed Morsi from power, the revolutionaries are slowly returning to the streets. They are few in number. Under the guise of the April 6 Youth Movement, “The Way of the Revolution Front” and “No to Military Trials,” most are young activists who have protested against the oppression of every government that has graced the halls of power since 2011: President Hosni Mubarak in his last days; Gen. Mohamed Hussein Tantawi’s military government; Morsi’s Islamist government; and now, Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s appointed transitional government.

Most Egyptians view the activists with suspicion. With the country so vengefully polarized between the supporters of the military and the Islamists and with the onset of revolution fatigue, most just long for stability.

At the commemoration of the 2011 Mohamed Mahmoud clashes on Nov. 19, banners around Tahrir Square read, “The Brothers, the army and the old regime not wanted.” In its attempt to claim the symbolic space around the square, the government painted over the memorial of graffiti to the revolution’s martyrs on Mohamed Mahmoud Street in a grotesque pink and red military camouflage pattern and erected a monument to the martyrs in the middle of Tahrir Square. The monument was destroyed and covered in graffiti within hours. The wall running along Mohamed Mahmoud has been covered again with images depicting the military’s brutality — notably, a soldier in full gear with a bloodied mouth surrounded by skulls oozing blood. A sign lies at the base of the pile with the slogan of the revolution, “Bread, freedom and social justice.”

The song I have quoted, “Liars,” released at the end of 2011 during the rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) in 2011, could as easily have been released today. After the dethroning of Mubarak in 2011, Mubarak Minister of Defense Tantawi was calling the shots. Now, “First Deputy Prime Minister” and Minister of Defense Sisi, who ran military intelligence for Tantawi, is the kingmaker. Under him, the laws and ways of Mubarak are being resurrected.

For a country that has become infamous for its street politics, the new law on public assembly passed on Nov. 24 is the latest source of contention. Egyptian rights groups, Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon have all condemned the law. Under the new framework, organizers of public gatherers of more than 10 people must notify the Interior Ministry three days in advance of the event. The Ministry of Interior can ban protests or public meetings on the vague basis of “serious information or evidence that there will be a threat to peace and security.”

Of even more concern is the margin of violence with which security forces are allowed to respond: Water cannons, batons, tear gas, rubber bullets and metal pellets are all acceptable. As “Sisi fever” still runs high, the message to activists across the spectrum is clear: The government will not tolerate dissent against its rule.

Already in a frantic rush to close the political space, the government has started arresting prominent activists for violating the anti-protest law. Ahmed Maher, one of the co-founders of the April 6 Youth Movement which was pivotal in the January 25 Revolution, and prominent blogger and activist Alaa Abd El Fattah were arrested in the last week of November while demonstrating against the detention of 24 other activists. Maher and Fattah, along with Mohamed Adel — also a co-founder of the April 6 Youth Movement who has not yet been arrested but faces charges — are all expected to go on trial on Dec. 22, after the initial trial set for Dec. 7 was delayed.

Unpopular among the unchecked outpouring of support for the military since the July 3 coup, these activists have been a voice of conscience, crying out against the military’s massacre of pro-Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators at Rabia and Nahda squares in August. Even though the Brotherhood regime targeted the April 6 Youth Movement during its rule as well, these pro-democracy activists have pleaded with the country: Egyptian blood is Egyptian blood, Brotherhood or not.

Moreover, as one of the groups who organized discreetly under the last years of the Mubarak regime, these activists know the playbook of repression well: silence in the face of arrests of others is acquiescence to the inevitability of their own arrest.

In the April 6 Youth Movement’s latest statement on Nov. 30, they make a plea to those who still have a conscience to remember the struggle for a country based on democracy, civilian rule and equality. While much of Egypt may be willing to look the other way this time — exhausted from revolution and appeased by the thought, if not reality, of a military committed to Egypt — it has always been the young who have shed their blood for the rights of the silent majority and the antics of old men — military men, religious men and political men alike.

As they begin their gradual descent into the streets again and the hackles of the government are raised, the youth, the revolutionaries, need a strategy to organize for their vision of the future. Their battle will be difficult with the government co-opting the language of revolution and democracy and deepening the insidious stranglehold of the security state. This time, they need a plan, not the least of which convinces the public of this regime’s brutal nature. Their aspirations for a better future have been foiled too often, and yet, they may be the only voice with any integrity left in Egypt’s political landscape. While protest is absolutely necessary, especially as Egypt is back to the beginning in many ways, it is also not enough.

This article was originally written for and published by Al-Monitor on December 9, 2013. 

Muslim Brotherhood Missing From Egypt’s Road Map

CAIRO — Against a background of entrenched resistance from Muslim Brotherhood supporters and disagreement within the opposition, the military is implementing its “road map.” Meanwhile, pro and anti-“coupvolution” demonstrators are holding their ground. Crowds continue to flock to Rabaa El Adaweya mosque and Cairo University, where protesters call for the deposed President Mohammed Morsi’s reinstatement on the basis that he is the constitutionally legitimate president of Egypt. In the Brotherhood’s preferred framing of political fights, Morsi’s removal is being described as an attack on Islam.

There is anticipation that the beginning of Ramadan on July 10 will only embolden Brotherhood supporters. While the mood at the Brotherhood’s protests is one of preparedness for battle, Tahrir continues to celebrate with nightly displays of fireworks and military airplanes overhead.

Cairo’s streets in the past few days have vacillated between a return to normalcy and unusual quiet. While both sides still use the streets as a standoff to determine which side is louder and bigger, the military has appointed the prime minister and vice president, laid out a constitutional declaration and set a timetable for presidential and parliamentary elections.

After the Salafist Nour Party — which backed the downfall of Morsi — refused two earlier propositions for the prime minister, including Mohamed ElBaradei, the June 30 coalition spokesman and head of the Dostour Party, they finally agreed to former finance minister and liberal economist Hazem el-Biblawi as prime minister, who was appointed on July 9.

ElBaradei will now be the “vice-president of foreign affairs.” The current foreign minister, as well as the ministers of interior and defense, will all retain their positions. A divisive political figure, it is apparent that ElBaradei’s appointment is targeted at the West. His experience as director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as his established position as a secular liberal, will give the West — still edgy with Morsi’s removal — a familiar face and ideology to deal with in the interim government. Moreover, as US aid to Egypt remains uncertain in the face of whether or not the military’s intervention was a coup, ElBaradei as the icon of Egyptian liberalism and the declared election timetable may help convince the US government of Egypt’s commitment to liberal, democratic values moving forward.

In Egypt, while many liberal progressives are enthusiastic about ElBaradei’s appointment, many moderate Egyptians see him as a weak personality who showed up at the last minute to take power. Among the Islamists, he is detested for his secular stance on religion, and he has done little to convince the general public that secularism does not mean the removal of Islam from the Egyptian identity.

For Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, adjunct professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, who spoke on the phone to Al-Monitor on July 7, ElBaradei’s participation in the interim government is crucial in facilitating the division between religion and politics, a combination he views as dangerous.

Ironically, in appeasing the Salafists, the military’s constitutional declaration, issued around midnight on July 9, keeps the reference to the principles of Islamic Sharia as the basis of the state and main sources of legislation — one of the main articles the liberal opposition vehemently opposed during the 2012 drafting process. Furthermore, freedom of worship stays limited to the three monotheistic religions as in the 2012 constitution, whereas the 1971 constitution protected freedom of belief.

A once fickle ally of the Muslim Brotherhood in competition over a similar base, the Nour Party — which has been straddling the fence over Morsi’s removal — is now reaping its rewards. Acknowledging the popular, peaceful nature of the June 30 protests and critical of the Brotherhood’s political domination, it also expressed support for the constitution and legitimacy of Morsi’s presidency. However, it ensured the party’s role in the post-June 30 order by agreeing to participate in Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s meeting prior to the expiration of Morsi’s 48-hour ultimatum. Playing both sides, they also assured their Islamist constituency that they had nothing to do with Morsi’s overthrow.

As the now dominant Islamist group willing to engage in the political process, the Nour Party — whose beliefs are more hard-line than the Brotherhood — have played a prominent role in the shaping of the interim government and constitutional declaration. While their engagement is important to prevent the complete alienation of the country’s Islamists, they will prove an obstacle to the liberal vision for the new state.

However, navigating the transition and maintaining that they did not betray their brothers in Islam is proving increasingly difficult with their followers. After the July 8 clashes between the army and Brotherhood supporters, which left 51 dead and 400 injured, the Nour Party announced that it was suspending cooperation with the interim government. Worried about its members who were joining the Brotherhood’s protests, it also proposed an alternative road map on the grounds the military’s road map had increased violence and suppression.

Newly appointed Biblawi stated that he will include the Brotherhood and the Nour Party in the formation of a cabinet, but the Brotherhood unsurprisingly rejected the offer to join the “revolution cabinet.” For them, any solution begins with the reinstatement of Morsi, as they do not even acknowledge the legitimacy of the new interim government.

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center — speaking to Al-Monitor via Skype on July 6 — said, “The Brotherhood is not going to pre-emptively give up their legitimacy claim because in some ways that is the best bargaining chip they have with the new government.”

In the long run, Hamid believes that if the Muslim Brotherhood leadership decides to cut its losses in a couple of weeks and get back into the system, they will need clear guarantees about their participation, including whether they could appoint a prime minister should they win a plurality in the elections.

Sayyid, however, thinks that the interim government will need to deal with the all-encompassing nature of the Muslim Brotherhood organization before deciding on their return to politics. “The Brotherhood as an association should be subject to the rule of law as a nongovernmental organization, but Egyptian law forbids NGOs from being involved in politics.”

How the interim government will handle the Brotherhood’s reintegration into the political process is one of many questions that remains to be answered, but meanwhile, the military continues to plow ahead with its road map amid increasing political influence by the Salafists.

This piece was originally written for and published by Al-Monitor on July 10, 2013. 

Who Will Stand With Egyptian Democracy?

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.