Why the Egyptian revolution is far from dead

by Philip Rizk on July 11, 2013

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The revolution lives. Even if we face a serious threat of its co-optation, popular rule is clearly moving out of the institutions and into the streets.

Is the Egyptian revolution dead? The short answer is “No.” A longer answer follows. What happened in Egypt between June 30 and July 3 was not a coup against an elected government. It was another attempt by the generals to co-opt Egypt’s January 25 Revolution. The situation’s complexity and its globally and ideologically charged nature make it hard to see the forest for the trees. Here is my view on why the revolution is far from over.

In the space of a few days Mohamed Morsi went from being a ruler who implemented laws and alienated the opposition in order to monopolize power, to one without any power because the people went into the streets. To say the Muslim Brotherhood made mistakes in the last year is an understatement. They did not just replicate the Hosni Mubarak regime that we ousted from power; they took things even further. They allowed the police to maintain their use of violence against everyday citizens and revolutionaries, locking us up, maiming us, torturing us, and killing us.

In response to protests against the Brotherhood’s monopolization of power, both their members and the security forces they oversaw fought back with incredible brutality. All this took place without any legal retribution of police or army members. The Brotherhood’s prosecutor general refused to reopen cases against the police who killed or were complicit in killing protesters during the revolution despite having promised to so in the name of the revolution. Police brutality did not once wane under Brotherhood rule. Instead, the police maintained their impunity to wreak havoc on a society still in revolutionary momentum.

On the economic front, the Brotherhood gained popularity during the Mubarak era by providing free education and hand-outs in poor neighborhoods. These kinds of activities helped solidify their support base in an era of rising prices and decreasing opportunities for decent standards of living. Yet, once in power, their commitment to charity did not translate into policies that would benefit the poor in the long run. Rather, the Brothers deepened the neo-liberalization of the Mubarak era. In order to please the conditions of never-ending International Monetary Fund (IMF) negotiations, they had already begun removing subsidies from basic goods like fuel. They also announced tax increases on basic goods, which they then rescinded due to street opposition.

During their period in power, the Brotherhood took countless loans from both governments and regional banks. They did this in the absence of a Parliament. They did this without publicizing the conditions that Egyptians will have to bare for years to come. One such condition was that of a pending IMF loan that called for the regimental devaluing of the Egyptian pound, causing an unbearable increase in the prices of Egypt’s food, much of which is imported and purchased in foreign currency. The Brotherhood government also maintained the Mubarak era opposition to independent unionization of workers, by allowing the business elite to fire union members without consequence. They did not attempt to identify or recover stolen assets of Mubarak and his cronies. Instead, they began reconciliation processes with former regime members citing the need to boost Egypt’s economy.

The revolution’s main call was “bread, freedom and social justice.” On judicial retribution, police violence and financial redistribution, the Muslim Brotherhood did not just fail. They drove Egypt to the brink, to conditions that were even worse than they had been under Mubarak’s reign. And all this they did with complete arrogance, alienating the entire landscape of political movements and parties in the process.

This reality drove people back to the street.

This reality discredits that thing called democracy.

In the context of the authoritarian Brotherhood regime, which was supported by their Western trading partners who had their own political and economic interests in mind, the everyday needs of the people are not a priority of the political decision-making process. This means that those who come to power in Egypt through the electoral process must first receive the approval of local elites like the military generals and their foreign backers. Then, a flawed electoral process allows their emergence to power. It is as simple as that. In Egypt, we have never had “fair” elections and never will as long as this power constellation remains. This neo-colonial reality makes the very idea of democracy redundant.

People went to the street to express their rejection of all this. But there is an uglier side to this mass mobilization. The growing rage on the streets against the Muslim Brotherhood caused their local partners — the generals — to back out of their power-sharing arrangement and push for the Brotherhood’s ouster. Enter the Egyptian military. In the days leading up to June 30, liberal television stations spread massive amounts of anti-Brotherhood propaganda. While much of the information was true, its timing and direct messaging revealed that it was part of a larger campaign against Brotherhood rule.

Accompanying this was a fuel shortage that the secret police and military further accentuated. In doing so, they allowed the Tamarod campaign to gain support it would not have otherwise have had, had these same state forces intervened to stop them as they always do once state power is under threat. In a statement prior to June 30, the Tamarod leadership convinced protesters to unify their rebellion against one target: the Muslim Brotherhood. All other battles were to be left for a later stage. This logic of “my enemy’s enemies are my friends” meant that despite their role in suppressing the revolution, the military and — even more alarmingly — the police were celebrated on the public stage in the past week as absolute heroes of this revolutionary moment.

At this point, we need to assess the role of the military.

The army that now parade our streets as heroes, are ruled by the same generals that ordered our protests to be crushed at a protest march at the Maspero building. They are the same generals who oversaw the murder of seventy-two football fans because they participated in the revolution. They are the same generals who carried out military trials against more than 12,000 Egyptian civilians to re-instill fear. They are the same generals who hog a large portion of our economy for their own interests. They are the same generals who ordered the attacks on our protests that killed Mina Danial, Emad Effat, Alaa Abd El Hady, and hundreds more, while injuring, torturing and locking up tens of thousands. They are the same generals who incited sectarianism, and conducted virginity tests to divide society and crush any form of public protest.

In this polarized political atmosphere Egyptians forget the past too quickly. We suffer from collective amnesia in order to suppress our fears and put our faith in the fata morgana of promises for change. The discourse of democracy and the illusion of a better, freer, richer life are the illusions that tempt many Egyptians to put blind faith in those who claim they will bring this about.

Let us look at the role of the generals in key moments during the January 25 revolution.

January 28, 2011: Though protests had been building, the Day of Rage on Friday January 28 caught everybody by surprise. Yet, the neo-colonial constellation of the military generals and their international backers, who had been Mubarak’s life-long partners, played it smart. They removed Mubarak from power two weeks later, claiming to fulfill the revolution’s demands. The majority of the Egyptian people celebrated them as heroes; they saw the Mubarak era faults as concentrated in one man rather than the system the symbolized.

Following a period of direct rule, the military junta handed over a majority of power to a “civilian” and “democratically-elected” government after agreeing to terms of divided sovereignty. They decidedly removed themselves from direct responsibility for any failings of government, while maintaining their share of the political and economic pie. Their vast economic empire could not be threatened.

July 3, 2013: The military repeats a tactic similar to the one they carried out after Mubarak’s ouster. This time they were more prepared. They claimed to implement the will of the people. They took full credit for a glorious “June 30 Revolution.” These were steps to contain the wrath of revolution: the actual coup is not the deposing of Morsi or other elected officials — it is the attempt to overthrow a mass revolutionary mobilization. Our revolution brought down Morsi, but the army coup wants to take the credit for his ouster, thereby absorbing the power of the people that made it happen.

This time was different. This time the generals saw the ship sinking and wanted out. The Brotherhood’s governance had not only failed miserably, they had also started to believe they could impose their authority on the Ministry of Interior and even inside the military ranks. These steps threatened to chip at the general’s piece of the power pie. On July 3, the military leaders succeeded at ridding themselves of a partnership that had gone wrong while receiving unprecedented praise from the population at large.

For their international backers, the game has not been so easy. First world nations, especially the Americans who consider themselves the gatekeepers of legitimate democracy, have done their utmost to stand by the Muslim Brotherhood’s legitimacy to maintain power. What is at stake is what they deem to be a timeless discourse: democracy. This discourse eases these nations’ roles in a global hegemony through which they can alternatively condemn, suppress, and fund Third World leaders. Democracy is the golden key to play global judge between good and evil.

In sum, let us take a step back.

There is no such thing as democracy within a neo-colonial context. Such is the case in Egypt. Further, the logic of a coup against a government falls apart completely without the possibility of a democratic order. The power of millions of Egyptians taking to the streets on June 30 shatters the illusion of the necessity of elected representation and has the potential to lay bare this neo-colonial reality.

The fear is that the forces that maintain hegemony over our society are using every means possible to prevent the further fruition of our revolution. This includes a dirty game of exploiting these recent events by purposefully deepening divisions within Egyptian society to make their rule unavoidable, more violent and even less accountable to the population at large. Since June 30, this has meant an unending stream of bloodshed among Brotherhood supporters and civilians either protesting them or caught in the crossfire or within sectarian battles. We are caught in a situation where a population is being held hostage and their death is being incited and capitalized upon by almost all political elites vying for power: the military generals, the Brotherhood and the liberals.

Today we are still in the midst of the January 25 Revolution. We face a serious threat of its co-optation, but until now the power still lies with the people. In order to fight on we must both remember the past as well as see our immediate situation in light of the global power constellation.

We are not alone.

Despite the different contexts across Brazil, Turkey, and Chile, as in Greece, Spain, Portugal, and the United States, people are taking to the streets to stand in the way of the rule of local and global elites by the logic of the longevity of their power and the increase of a minority’s wealth. Seeing all these revolutionary moments within one frame means that with or without democracy, with or without elections, popular rule is moving to the street and out of institutions and government offices. As Max Weber wrote, representation is a “structure of domination”, and thus we maintain the revolution’s cry: “the people want the fall of the system.”

We are at a global turning point.

We must fight on.

This article was originally published on Jadaliyya and reproduced with the author’s permission here.

{ 5 comments… read them below or add one }

Sergey July 11, 2013 at 22:57

So what I can conclude from this text as well as Tamarod movement history…
First you need much more organized political/social infrastructure for revolution to succeed in place: Direct democracy people committies, horizontal networking, representative and diversive (all genre, sex, religion etc) organic local groups with organic and skillful leaders, your own media outlets and PR campaigns(not just blogs/sites but radio/tv/wifi and cable/satellite stations), local and over country small business ownership/support, legal and healthcare centers, crowdfunding and sourcing, distribution network for basic goods&supplies, sport&hunters clubs with legal gun and protection ownership, hostels and care divisions and much more of other groundbase resources.
Second true revolutionaries cant rely on external power sources be it army, old Mubarac media, liberals, religion organizaitons or even interim alliances. All of them have their own agenda – power&money acquisition usually. Only wide support from masses and different social groups (revolutionary by any nature) is needed. Generously helping them to achive their needs&desires will provide that support. Protest and riots are usefull means but infrustructure mentioned earlier is much more usefull.
Third you need general but wide enough range of goals and plans for real achievement of them. Bread, social justice,freedom, education must be gently and agile implemented in concrete terms – what, when,why, who, where. And those basic needs can be provided not only by state governance but inclusion in real economy. SO empowerment by education&entrepreneurial projects will help. Yes all of youth on Earth can help each other on the front of using capitalist system humanely for good purposes not for greed of minorities.
Fourth – DONT STOP to press interim or elected goverment for better cause every day, every hour, with any possible means not corrupted. And use inspiration from Quaran and kindness and love. People wanna be loved and cared, be listen and shared. But even riots, bribe and speach skills can press state to respond. Opponents arent united, they are greedy, divided, blind and arrogant. And their masses are not so sure in their leaders or even totally ignorant. Your enemy can be future friend.
Fifth – Egyptians encourage us to fight for our Russian good cause, with great injustice, corruption and violence of state system. Stay United.
And last if I can somehow help – reach me by mail or twitter @HwtkaPtah

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jkelvynrichards July 13, 2013 at 08:45

The initiation and operation of democracy is complex. It is easy to ignore how the voters can be manipulated.
On July 1, the Military Forces decided to side with the millions of protesters on the streets and in the squares.
The Air Forces flew overhead in peace. The Army did not attack, their guns were down.
And yet, it was known that the Military forces were capitalist forces in Egypt, looking for the growth and protection of investments.
Why didn’t the millions of protesters move against the Military? Why did they approve the actions of the Military?What did they think would happen? Why didn’t they take this opportunity to change the system?

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jkelvynrichards July 17, 2013 at 13:14

As the days pass in July it is becoming clearer that the various political groups are acting in opposition, refusing to negotiate, carrying out vendettas for past injuries. Coptic christians are being attacked and killed as a punishment for supporting the overthrow of Morsi. The Salafist Nour Party, a major party, have refused to cooperate with the National Salvation Front, a minor party. Kefaya Party cannot agree amongst themselves, and reform as Tamarod to cooperate with the Military. The Legitimacy Coalition do not want Morsi back, but cannot support the Military. The Constitutional Court provides a new President against the wishes of the Muslim Brotherhood. It is true that a military coup cannot provide a legitimate government. However, a quick review of Egypt’s history reveals that military coups have been used to generate governments. Democratic elections have not produced successful long term governments in Egypt …………[this is despite the fact that the British governments that controlled Egypt before 1954 tried to devise electoral governments based on the parliamentary system of the UK] . Of course, this underlines the point that colonialism is anti-democratic. Does this mean that Egypt is anti-democratic? that Egypt is pro-military?

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hakim December 31, 2013 at 10:34

Morcy never had the power,so to blame him for the behaviour of the police is unfair. Secondly when he tried to make changes he was stopt by all the means. And finally the old Egyptian intelegencia was more interested in hosting Morcy than in helping him put the basis of a democracy and counter the military power who has ruled Egypt for the las 60 years. I think that they will rule them till the end of the world.

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Thealienanthropologist January 10, 2014 at 15:37

“In the space of a few days Mohamed Morsi went from being a ruler who implemented laws and alienated the opposition in order to monopolize power, to one without any power because the people went into the streets.”

No sir. Mr. Morsi was not removed because the people went into the streets. He was removed because the military entered his home with guns. This is the same army who has arrested all of the April 6 organizers. The same army that sent thugs in our midst to rape the women. The same army which molested women in the Egyptian museum (an act Sisi himself defended in the state owned Al Ahram newspaper claiming “these women are not like your sister or mine”).
Reconcile this out loud.

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