Egypt, Wake Up!
In recent weeks I have written a bit about how developments in Egypt are reminiscent of the 1950s. Over the last five weeks, the historical parallels have been, at times, uncanny to the Free Officers’ crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood beginning in October 1954. I stand by that work, but now I am beginning to believe that in at least one respect, the summer of 2013 is a lot like the summer of 2011. Those who have been following Egypt will remember two years ago when activists staged a the three week-long Tahrir sit-in and there were seemingly endless “Fridays of ….” including:
- Friday of Purging the Remnants of the Mubarak Regime from Egypt
- Friday of Renewing the Revolution and in Memory of the Martyrs
- Second Friday of Anger
- Friday of Retribution (aka "Ministry of Interior Purification Friday” or "Honoring the Martyrs’ Rights Friday")
- Friday of Determination
- Friday of Last Warning
- Friday of Decision
- Friday of Unity
- Friday for the Love of Egypt
- Friday of Correcting the Path
- Friday to Reclaim the Revolution
During that summer there were also the demands to bring Hosni Mubarak to trial and the attendant protests once he was in the dock as well as an ongoing sacralization of the uprising and its many different leaders, which made it beyond the pale to offer any kind of critical analysis of those eighteen days or its aftermath.
This was of course all revolutionary navel-gazing that distracted the civil/secular/alleged liberal groups from doing the kind of political organizing that was necessary when parliamentary elections rolled around in late November and early December of 2011. These same groups do not seem to have learned much from that moment, setting themselves up to underperform once again.
It’s been a busy summer in Egypt: military intervention, a Muslim Brotherhood sit-in (for five weeks and counting) at Rabaa al Adawiya Mosque that the government is vowing to break up, the July 26 March against violence and terrorism, actual violence and terrorism in the Sinai Peninsula, revisions to the disputed December 2012 constitution, and tumult within the Zamalek football (soccer) club along with a host of economic problems that have not gone away since the military pushed Mohammed Morsi from power. That’s enough for a few years, but it’s all happened—with the exception of the Sinai problem, which has been ongoing—since July 3. The Egyptians with whom I have spoken recently are tired. They have been riding the exhilarating peaks and depressing troughs of the uprising for thirty months. In the words of one friend, “We need a break. Just for one month.”
Put down the Twitter. Turn off the talk shows. Get back from the North Coast. Put a hold on blogging. Get to work organizing. In case anyone has not noticed, the clock is ticking. It’s mid-August. Before anyone blinks it will be Eid al Adha in mid-October and then the political season will begin. The military has begun a political process in which there will be elections sometime between January and April of next year
Defense Minister Abdelfattah al Sisi is not likely to accede to last minute appeals from civil/secular/alleged liberal groups for more time. Under his predecessor, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces delayed elections because the new political organizations—and the Obama administration—pleaded to give them more time to build, in the parlance that democracy promoters love, “capacity.” Virtually everyone feared that the Muslim Brotherhood and the defunct National Democratic Party, apparently rising from the dead, would use their superior organizational skills to win/buy votes and thereby dominate the People’s Assembly. The only thing the extra time did was create an environment in which the very same people who had petitioned the military for more time denounced the officers for wanting to hold onto power indefinitely, culminating in calls for the Field Marshal’s death in late November 2011. When the elections took place, the feloul were shut out, but the Brothers and the Salafis of al Nour did very well together garnering 65 percent of the 498 seats, and the civil/secular/so-called liberal groups securing 15 percent. Not bad, but it was clear they did not have a broad appeal.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s egregious mistake and the military’s intervention have for better or worse given the groups that did not do well during the 2011-12 parliamentary elections a new opportunity at the ballot box. There is no evidence that they are doing anything about this new lease on life provided courtesy of the Egyptian armed forces. It’s entirely unclear if anyone on the non-religious end of the political spectrum is doing any political work or merely relying on the fact that the Brothers so botched their time in office that they will be a non-factor in politics for some time. Maybe. Their supporters seem highly motivated. Even if the Brotherhood says now that it will not legitimate the political process resulting from a coup, or the military makes good on its promise to clear the area around the Rabaa al Adawiya mosque, who knows what will happen in six or nine months.
The fact that some revolutionary groups and democracy activists, who claim to be liberal, have made common cause with remnants of the old regime and the military undermines their claims to be democratic. It also makes them—if they are not careful—potential pawns in a game that anti-revolutionary forces are playing aimed at restoring some semblance of the old order. This effort is likely not as organized as some media reports might suggest, but no one can deny that that there are groups embedded within the state who want nothing more than to roll back the uprising. This is all the more reason to get out on the hustings to convince Egyptians that they have something new and appealing to offer. If they do not, Egypt’s democrats will soon discover that their allies of the moment will not look all that different from their adversaries of the past.