As always, Egypt has managed to surpass and tear apart all expectations and write its own script. At the same time, I feel like my thoughts are so scattered and contradictory that it would be good to write some of them down, so I can remember them later.
Last night President Morsi was removed from power by the Egyptian military. To deny that this was—technically—a coup, is problematic. The military intervened and influenced the outcome of a political deadlock.
But my instinctive response is not to feel as devastated as I thought I would. The military’s move was not as bad as I had expected—they did not announce that they will be running the country during the transition, and in my opinion el Sisi made a remarkably smart move by appointing the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court as interim president. Understanding the history of the military as well as their interests suggests that the Egyptian military does not want to openly govern Egypt. Rather they want to protect their (vast) economic interests, through protecting their political privileges (no government oversight, no accountability, and no transparency). The period following the 2011 revolution, during which SCAF was in charge of the country, was negative for the institution of the military. They lost legitimacy and support following a series of events including the Maspero massacre, the Port Said massacre and the virginity testing scandal. Additionally, questions were being raised about the economic empire the military controlled, as well as their role in political life.
So the military learned their lesson: ruling the country means being accountable to it (post-revolution, that is), so why risk that? Why not continue to exercise power from behind the scenes, while appointing a civilian interim president? Of course the military is a problematic institution (as it is in any country) and of course this is not an ideal situation. But by focusing solely on the military intervention, the grassroots mobilization of millions of Egyptians on June 30 is completely erased from the narrative.
But at the same time, I feel like I should be feeling more devastated, and less calm. This is the military we’re talking about. The most powerful institution in the country that has proven itself capable of brutality & authoritarianism. Of course I’m wary, as is everyone I know. But there is also a feeling of inevitability: this was bound to happen. Along with a feeling of relief, because the demands of the protesters were met. But the feeling of being scared is still there. (Yes, I know the military is still there. But how is that new? It was there before 2011, after 2011, after Morsi, and it’s there now.)
The reality is that June 30 came first. And it didn’t come out of nowhere. It was a popular response to widespread discontent with Morsi’s presidency.
The masses have not revolted anew out of a desire for military rule or love for the feloul liberal alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood. They have revolted anew because Morsi and the Brotherhood betrayed the revolution.
In fact, Brotherhood rule deepened the same policies as the Mubarak regime, of impoverishment and corruption, and the desperate defense of big business interests in the service of American and Zionist interests. (Sameh Naguib)
As I’ve pointed out elsewhere, being elected does not mean being allowed to do whatever you want. Morsi’s policies were problematic and were taking Egypt down a road many Egyptians did not want to go down. The protests on June 30 were bigger than those during the 2011 revolution, and that’s saying something. The demands were clear: Morsi should step down, and there should be early presidential elections. This is not to say that the Muslim Brotherhood no longer have a place in Egyptian politics. Most protesters I spoke to said they wanted the MB to be part of the political scene—but not at the exclusion of everyone else. Moreover, Egypt has no other mechanisms through which people can express their political discontent.
There was anger at the worsening economic situation, at the instability, at the lack of political inclusion. Granted, these problems were inherited from Mubarak (which is why it is dangerous and stupid to romanticize the Mubarak regime), but Morsi did not appear to be addressing them.
So people responded. And pushed. Until it was clear that Morsi had no option but to step down, which he refused to do (again, understandable considering the way the MB have historically been treated by the state, the army and the police).
The question of the old regime is an important one. There is no doubt that the 2011 revolution did not bring down the regime in its entirety. There is also no doubt that the Egyptian state did not magically transform itself into an “Ikhwan-state” in less than one year. Importantly, the same economic elite pre-2011 were active post-2011, in addition to the economic elite from the Muslim Brotherhood. Allegiances and alliances don’t shift that fast, and so of course there was influence from the old regime and old elites, especially since the military was still powerful. But the million-dollar question is: how much influence? Can this explain every mistake Morsi made? Can it account for all of the failings of the Muslim Brotherhood?
I don’t know.
Things are complicated.
So the conclusion is that things are complicated. There are so many historical trajectories that are coming together to create the current situation in Egypt:
- The position of the military in the Egyptian collective memory and consciousness.
- The behaviour of the military during the 2011 transition as well as before and after, and its position as Egypt’s powerhouse.
- The exclusion, repression and murder of the Muslim Brotherhood at the hands of the state, police and military since 1952.
- The monumental psychological shift experienced by Egyptians in 2011 that has made it impossible to govern Egyptians without accountability.
- The nature of the Egyptian state, which continues to reproduce itself in specific ways, particularly institutionally.
- The fact that many Egyptians do support the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi, and now feel completely excluded.
Things are definitely complicated.
But people are happy. Not all people. The widespread arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members are a bad sign, there is no doubt about that. The way things play out during this transition will determine the next phase of the revolution. What is happening now – the mass arrests of Muslim Brotherhood members – is not a promising sign, and confirms the fears everyone has about the military. Again, the history of military-Brotherhood relations is important. But what option is there but to wait?
we must be consistent in opposing all forms of abuse and repression to which the Islamists will be exposed in the form of arrests and closures of satellite channels and newspapers, for what happens today to the Islamists will happen tomorrow to the workers and the leftists. (Sameh Naguib)
In fact there is also this strong feeling of helplessness. 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? That feeling of creating change during protests is quickly replaced by a feeling of powerlessness when you hear about the meetings happening between political elites. Many (including myself) want to defend allegations that this is terrible because we were there on Sunday and know that it shouldn’t have turned out like this. We know people shouldn’t be thrown in jail, we know Islamists shouldn’t be tried faster than Mubarak & co. But somehow it feels like that will happen.
And then what? At the bottom of all of this is the Egyptian military, who since 1952 have structured the state and have ruled the country, whether directly or indirectly. There is no getting around the fact that if the revolution is going to succeed, the state and the economy have to be de-militarized.
The question is how?
(Oh, and a side-note to all foreign (western and non-western) observers, analysts, commentators and whatever else: you can ask why. You can ask how. You can ask what next. You can say you are worried.
But please don’t be condescending, petty and rude. Don’t insult or deny Egyptian intelligence and agency. Don’t say ridiculous things like “Egyptians want military rule, did they forget already?”—this is bullshit. Revolutions are complex. Many actors are involved. Many people wanted early elections and they got them. Was it ideal the way it happened? No. But it’s not the “death of democracy.” There is no ‘return of military rule’ because military rule never left.
If you’re confused about what’s going on, ASK. Don’t make snide comments and flippant degrading remarks. There are 90 million+ Egyptians. Ask. One.)
(Another side-note to Egyptians who are anti-Morsi: the classist, insulting language and discourse being used to target and delegitimise pro-Morsi protesters is disgusting & polarising. No, the Ikhwan shouldn’t be thrown in jail or kicked out of the country. They shouldn’t be arrested. Their channels shouldn’t be shut down. They’re not ignorant or uneducated. Seriously, move on.)
What has happened in Egypt is the height of democracy, a revolution of millions to directly topple the ruler. As for the military displacement of Morsi, this was nothing but a foregone conclusion, once the military institution saw that the masses had already settled the issue in the streets and squares of Egypt. Al Sisi did on July 3 2013 what Tantawi did before him on February 11 2011; he acquiesced to the will of the rebelling populace, not out of any patriotism or revolutionary fervor, but out of fear of the revolution. For if al Sisi had not intervened to dislodge Morsi, the revolution would not have stopped with the overthrow of Morsi and the Brotherhood, but was – and still remains – competent to transform into a complete social revolution which would oust the entire capitalist state, including the leaders of the military institution. (Sameh Naguib)
Till things become clearer, the revolution lives on. But I can’t say I’m optimistic.
And there’s also doubt now. Maybe it shouldn’t have happened this way? Or maybe I’m being influenced by the overwhelmingly negative reactions from outside, from people who are usually in solidarity with Egyptians? But what’s happened has happened. What next?