Signs cover over the front of the Constitutional Court at the Maadi Corniche in Cairo. The Muslim Brotherhood sit-in has been here since December 2. The signs read, “The Presidency is a Red Line” and “Morsi is Red Line.” Abdel Fattah, one of those at the sit-in told me that he was there to “protect the legitimacy of the presidency and show the Court that we are here.”
The Tahrir banners are signed by political parties, trade unions and youth groups. These banners are signed by families and clans, districts and villages. “The people of Kafr el Sheikh support Morsi,” says one. Another, “The clan of Mahfouz says a million Yes to Morsi.” There are no speakers, no podiums, no music, no chants, and no women either. “It is not like Tahrir where men and women stay in the same tent,” a man tells me. “We take turns. Each day it is a new group of married men. We are not always outside home. We respect Egyptian tradition and Islamic teachings. Sitting-in is not an Islamic tradition. But when one is pushed to take this measure we have to do it. We have rules for this or else it becomes immoral,” says Ahmad.
I got to the sit-in at 5 o’clock. Under a tree on a side road, middle-aged men, some with ties on, lay sheets on the ground and began to pray. Three men sat under a tree, sipping tea near a street vendor’s table. I asked if I could speak with them. They are not protestors, they said, but policemen. “We can’t comment. We are neutral. We are here as well as in Tahrir.” They invited me to sit till the protestors finished praying.
“Who are you? Where are you from? And why do you want to talk to them? Your name and then your religion!”
“Here it is very different from Tahrir,” said one of the policemen. “There is safety and people are respectable. You feel different here, no?” I said yes, but I also felt comfortable at Tahrir. I was there often, I tell them, and am yet in one piece.
The policemen’s neutrality began to fade. Ahmad, who told me it was more respectable here, began to tell me about the people from Dar Assalam, the neighborhood that supports the opposition, came attacked this camp with stones and Molotov cocktails. “We could not catch them. They ran away.” His friend Mostafa jumped in. “Stop lying,” he said. “If you are from the Muslim Brotherhood you don’t have to create stories about attacks to pretend that the others are thugs!” “Nothing happened,” Mostafa assured me. “There was no Molotov, no stones. Don’t believe him. Two children threw stones and left. They were begging. When no one gave them money, they were angry. It was not an orchestrated attack on the camp.” Ahmad and Mostafa argued for a bit till the third policeman said that there was no attack.
War on the Brotherhood
The prayers ended. I approached Abdel Fattah, a businessman, and asked him about the sit-in. He said that the sit-in originated when he and his friends sensed that there was “the danger of dissolving the assembly by the constitutional court . The courts, the constitutional and the high court are against us — the Ikhwan. The high court decided to dissolve the parliament. Even if there were mistakes they should have ignored these mistakes so the country runs again and there is stability then they can put things in order. They used to ignore mistakes during Mubarak. What happened now? Is it only because the Muslim Brotherhood is in power? It is a war to end the Muslim Brotherhood. Otherwise, how do you explain the accusation that Morsi gets advice from Badie? At the same time everybody in the country and the world knows that Mohamed Hassanein Heikal used to guide Abdel Nasser who was politically inexperienced and naïve. How come what’s allowed for Abdel Nasser is not allowed for us? Badie is only helping, and there is no doubt he is a good man and has the best of Egypt and the Egyptians at heart.”
Persecution is the general tenor of the comments from the members of the Brotherhood. Adel, in another corner, considered the meeting of the “so-called Salvation Front to discuss the new constitutional decree.” Adel complains about the barriers placed before Morsi by the liberals and the communists, the democrats and the “Evilists.” “Since Morsi took over there has been one war after the other. The parliament is dissolved. They withdraw from the assembly….” Youssef, a translator, interrupts him, reciting a list of strikes that took place since “we took power.” “Doctors, teachers, lawyers, workers….have they no heart? Do they only think of their own interests? Why did they not strike under Mubarak? No one dared to criticize the regime then. Now they curse the president all the time. Why? Because they hate us!”
I asked them if isn’t normal for people to protest in a revolution, to be more daring with their demands, to hold the president accountable to the hopes of the revolution? Their answer was simple and precise. It was a historical account of the persecution of the Muslim Brotherhood. “Listen, since the founding of the Muslim Brotherhood, we have been suppressed. Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, and now those Salvation Front mud and dirt people continue the persecution. Why can’t we enjoy being in power? Why would they deprive us from this? We have been fighting for more than a century and when we gained power, they want to keep up our persecution. They want to deprive us of power.”
The language of persecution was married to the rhetoric of violence. “Tell them,” says Ahmad, “if they want to break bones, they should know who we are. We are ready for it. And we are believers. We defeated the Soviet Union because we have conviction. What do they have?” Someone joked, “Democracy and human rights!”
It is the history of persecution that offers these Brotherhood supporters an excuse for their delayed arrival at the revolution against Mubarak. “If we had joined after the 28th [of January],” says Ali, “it would have been disastrous for us. Mubarak did not go after them. He only persecuted us. It would have been suicide if we joined from the beginning. We would all have been in jail, and the liberals would have withdrawn from the field.”
Their Democracy, Our Legitimacy
At the other end of the Court, a conversation was going on. “The Jews and the Americans say that Morsi is a great president. The Israeli newspapers said that Morsi is going at a rocket pace, achieving for his country what needs to be achieved. Obama also supported Morsi’s decision and said that the opposition is worth nothing. If great powers think that he is doing great, how could a bunch of Fouloul here think he is a failure?” I am struck by these words. How could a movement that claims to be anti-American and anti-Israeli look to them for validation? “We are not quoting the Americans and the Israelis because we love them,” said Ismail. “The liberals and democrats love western democracy, so if western democrats attest to Morsi, why do they still object?”
The Brotherhood sees democracy as a means to achieve and to remain in power. “The people gave legitimacy to Morsi. They need to accept this.” There is a strong sense that the liberals and democrats want democracy but, “they are not organized. We are organized. And the streets are ours. So they should live as they preach, accepting that we are in power.”
“That they are a majority is just a lie, a big lie,” says Omar from Mohamed el-Baradei’s Hizb el-Dostour (Constitution Party). “Actually one can say that their violent attacks and their use of verbal violence is related to their anger because they did not expect that we can gather much support. They were really surprised by the numbers of people our demonstrations brought together and that’s why they are insisting on quick action on the constitution.”
There is a yawning gap between what someone like Omar believes and what Ismail, a pharmacist at the sit-in believes. “It is normal when you are a president,” says Ismail, “to bring people from your own party to hold positions of power. Otherwise how can you get things done? If we are in one of the ministries, let’s say, and I have liberals working with me, they have different visions. We want to work on finding jobs for the youth. They want to work on encouraging tourism. We won’t agree. No work will be done.” Ayman agreed, saying that there is a benefit to having “people from the same party working with the president.” Ayman referred to François Hollande, the French president, who wanted his own party people in charge so that France, he said, can achieve development and stability. “Doesn’t Tahrir want the democracy of the West?” asked Ayman.
I hinted that at the heart of Tahrir’s fear is precisely this Ikhwanization of the State, filling its institutions with Brotherhood people. Ismail objected. “Morsi won’t be a dictator,” he said. “We trust him. He has Islamic values. He won’t be a dictator. He will employ poor people. Isn’t the revolution about finding jobs for the poor and for social justice? We have so many supporters who are poor and marginalized and we will find them work. They are Muslim Brotherhood and they are poor. Not like the Fouloul and the followers of Hamdeen and el-Baradei. They are rich and capable.”
Tahrir Democracy is a Western import, they say. It is precisely what the Brothers use as a way to argue for the legitimacy of the president. Ikhwanization for them means jobs for poor Muslim Brothers and social justice along Islamic lines in post-revolution Egypt.
Ahmed stood under a banner that read, No to Fouloul. The presence of the Fouloul in Tahrir, says Ahmad, calls into question the revolutionaries’ legitimacy. “How can you be a revolutionary and stand side-by-side with the Fouloul?” he asks. I mention that there are six Fouloul in the Morsi government. He says, “Not all those who were in Mubarak’s party are Fouloul. Only those who were part of the corruption, the plunder and the oppression. Good people joined Morsi’s party. They are not Fouloul. The corrupt are the Fouloul, and they support the Salvation Front.” He paused. Then said, “But this is the rule of democracy. It shows you how the Muslim Brotherhood is open to different groups, even the Fouloul.” Democracy is pliable: if the Fouloul are for you, then they are fine; if they are against you, then they are part of the problem, namely Tahrir.
As I go home, a taxi driver says to me, “Neither Nasser, nor Sadat nor Hosni was able to defeat the Brotherhood. Morsi will. They feel like a dog that has been deprived for 80 years. Then you throw a bone to it. Of course he won’t let go. It is a matter of life and death for them. They will not let go of power.”
Meanwhile, preparations are taking place for a last round of demonstrations, both pro and against, just one day before the divisive referendum.
Mayssoun Sukarieh lives in Cairo.