In Tahrir, the beginning and end of a Pharaoh

  • December 3, 2012

People & Protest

Egypt’s revolutionaries are back in Tahrir, and this time they are there to finish what they started: to topple the Pharaoh and institute real democracy.

When Sadat came to power in 1970, the Muslim Brotherhood went from being an illegal political group to the only political organization with free reign to grow. They were able to express their views openly; they were able to spread their Islamist ideology without consequence; they were able to indoctrinate children without government intervention; and were able to spread to the grassroots of the most impoverished areas of Egypt.

This was over 40 years ago. It is obvious, then, that having been the only opposition force in a tyrannical regime for over a generation, that the Muslim Brotherhood was the only real party capable of taking the Parliament and Presidency once representative democracy had been put in place in the wake of the overthrow of Mubarak.

When the revolution began on January 25th, 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood initially boycotted the revolt, saying it was morally wrong to go out in protest. But once they realized that it was a movement that would not end without victory, they sided with the people. Imams in mosques began ending each prayer by telling the men and women inside to hit the streets. As beautiful as that may sound, make no mistake: it was a political decision and not one of morals. Mubarak’s ousting on February 11th, 2011 opened up a void that hasn’t been seen in Egypt in generations. The time had come for the Muslim Brotherhood to make its move.

When, over the summer of 2012 Egypt’s first “democratic” elections took place, the basic choice was one which many of us in the West have long been familiar with: a choice between the lesser of two evils. Yes, the choice was between a representative of the old regime, Ahmed Shafiq, and a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi. Having had enough of the old regime, people went out in scores to vote in Morsi – and thus the first elected president in 60 years came to power.

This is the story that everyone in the West heard – the accepted belief of what is going on in Egypt. “The revolution is over!” was the message to be sent. This was democracy, this was what the Egyptian people had been fighting for. But behind the scenes the revolutionaries, who largely boycotted the election to express their discontent at the lack of real choice, never stopped fighting against the continued repression of the state and the concentration of power inside a single office claimed by an Islamist party.

The Egyptian revolution has also not been disconnected from international pressure. The IMF, for example, has promised billions in aid to help rebuild Egypt’s economy no matter who was in power, demanding the typical neoliberal free market reforms in return for its emergency funding. This, coupled with Obama’s promise to continue the $1.2bn per year in military aid to Egypt, shows something very important: the Muslim Brotherhood is but another puppet to international forces, just as the Mubarak regime and its predecessor had been.

Egypt’s geography, size, and cultural importance for the rest of the Arab world make it an important ally to the West and Israel. The media’s job, then, was to make Morsi a hero for Egypt and its allies. And they did well, praising Morsi as the man who helped negotiate the ceasefire between Israel and Palestine. Just as they did with Sadat, the international community believed that Morsi was a responsible pragmatist and a reliable diplomatic partner — not a tyrant.

Then, just a day after the ceasefire between Hamas and Israel was announced, a decree was sent out publicly by Morsi that shocked not only the Egyptian people but also the international community:

Facts about the new decree (according to Al Jazeera):

  • President says new decree is aimed at ‘cleansing state institutions’
  • Decree allows president to appoint public prosecutor for a four-year term
  • Morsi gave himself power to enact any law he wants
  • Morsi’s decree effectively sacks the current prosecutor general, which means no authority can revoke any presidential decisions
  • Morsi has ordered the retrial of officials linked to killing of protesters
  • Morsi’s decree to remain in force until a new parliament is elected
  • Parliament cannot be elected until a new constitution is in place
  • Morsi also extended the timeline for drafted the new constitution
  • Morsi says he has to have absolute power to protect the revolution

The decree did not only ensure absolute power for Morsi; it also ensured that the upper house of Parliament as well as the constituent assembly (charged with making the new constitution) cannot be dissolved. Both of which, coincidentally, are controlled by a majority of Muslim Brotherhood representatives. Some members of both groups have walked out in protest, but could not stop the process.

Fears have become reality within the past couple of months as new laws and parts of the constitution continue to not only suppress women’s rights, but also steadily turn Egypt into an Islamist state. It is because of this downward spiral in Morsi’s legitimacy that many revolutionaries have been taking to the streets for months now hoping to spread awareness about the hijacking of the people’s revolution.

Some vigilante groups have been scouring downtown Cairo looking for abusive men who (verbally and physically) attack women. Their attitude would range from peaceful – placing themselves between the abusive man and the woman until the woman gets to safety – to a more reactive form of violence. One group has been seen spray-painting men in the eyes who committed abuse against women in the streets.

As soon as Morsi’s new decrees came to light, however, scores upon scores of people began to hit the streets and the infamous Tahrir Square was lit up, once again, with the rage of the people. Signs were seen showing half the face of Morsi with the other half Mubarak’s face, stating: “Mohamed Morsi Mubarak”. And therein lies the mistake of the Muslim Brotherhood: they believed that they had waited long enough for the revolutionary spirit of the masses to cool down. They obviously thought wrong.

In the past year and a half, Egyptian society has achieved an unprecedented level of political consciousness. The revolutionary sentiment among the revolutionaries themselves — especially those who fought in the front-lines during the overthrow of Mubarak, and many of whom lost friends and/or family in the uprising — is particularly strong. So when the average Egyptian found out about Morsi’s decrees, they felt as though their struggle had been in vain. But rather than giving up, they took back to Tahrir — and started another sit-in.

But inside Egypt, the people are divided. A schism of epic proportions has developed between Morsi’s supporters and his detractors; a schism that has only now begun to surface. On the one side are the liberals, the leftists, the judges, the youth, intellectuals, and revolutionaries. On the other side are the Muslim Brotherhood members, sympathizers, and many of the poverty-stricken people who have been bought out with a kilo of sugar, bread, or (in the rare occasion) meat – the same people who were bought out on the day of the Camel attacks during the 18-day occupation of Tahrir Square.

The streets have once again become a small war-zone. Tear gas thrown by the police; Muslim Brotherhood militia attacking peaceful dissidents; stones and Molotov’s being thrown by the revolutionaries. But all of this happens as we await, whilst biting our nails, the position of the military. This, just like the beginning of the revolution, will tip the scales in either direction. If the military sides with the dissidents, Morsi will be unable to stand up against the people for long. His Pharaoh-like rule will come to and end as quickly as it came. But if the Egyptian military decides to side with Brotherhood, expect a civil war.

In November 2011, the New York Times declared that the Egyptian revolution was an unfinished revolution. At the time, it was true: the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) had held onto power as a “transition government”. All throughout this time, military trials on civilians were being conducted and it seemed that the Egyptian people had simply fought one oppressive, tyrannical regime, only to be met with another. The system itself had not been brought down. Only its face had changed: from Mubarak, to the SCAF, to Mohamed Morsi.

Currently, we are witnessing the slow and painful birth of the final stage of that unfinished revolution. Having been forced by reality on the ground to recognize the inherent fallacies embedded within the representative democratic process, is it possible that the Egyptian people will rise up demanding something more? Could it be that the Egyptians — almost two years after inspiring the world to rise up for real democracy everywhere — could be back on the barricades demanding such real democracy themselves?

These questions, along with the decision of the Egyptian military, can only be answered with time. But no matter what the answers are, nearly two years since the beginning of this revolution, the end is nigh. It will no longer be the unfinished revolution. Either this revolution will succeed, or it will fail. This time, though, things may not be as simple as they were in 2011.

Nadim Fetaih

Nadim Fetaih is a writer, activist and documentary filmmaker. His first film is A Tale of Two Revolutions.

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