Turning Up the Heat in Egypt
The incredibly massive June 30 protests of millions in dozens of cities across Egypt exceeded expectations of supporters and adversaries alike. The protest demands were “to withdraw confidence in President Mohamed Morsi, to uphold the goals of the revolution and to call for early presidential elections.”
Despite hundreds of thousands of Morsi supporters rallying in Cairo on the same day, there can be no doubt that the one-year old Muslim Brotherhood government is under siege.
The opposition Tamarod (Rebel or Rebellion in Arabic) June 30 protests clearly marks a new and higher stage of the revolution, distinguished not just by their enormous size but by their far-reaching popular demands.
“We reject you,” Tamarod petitions signed by millions declared emphatically before each phrase, “…Because Security has not been established; …Because the deprived have still no place to fit; …Because we are still begging loans from the outside; …Because no justice has been brought to the martyrs; …Because no dignity was left neither for me nor for my country; …Because the economy has collapsed and depends only on begging and,…Because Egypt is still following the footsteps of the United States.”
A mass petition drive represented a new tactic for the government opposition, initiated several months ago by its radical youth wing.
Young Tamarod Rebel organizers switched tactical gears to prepare for June 30 by taking into account police repression of public protests that have increased fears and anxieties and dramatically reduced the size of protests this year.
“The rationale behind ‘Rebel’ is to move the revolution from the squares, in which demonstrations are held, to society at large,” Tamarod leader Abdel-Aziz told English.Ahram.org, website of Egypt’s largest circulation daily newspaper, Ahram.
Instead of simply calling for another demonstration, a broad educational campaign was begun with the ambitious intention of gathering 15 million signatures calling for early presidential elections in order to oust Morsi and to release the ever tightening grip of the Muslim Brotherhood.
“‘Rebel’ forms are now available from street vendors, at bakeries, at grocery stores and at kiosks,” another Tamarod leader told Ahram last week, adding that, instead of people hearing about protests and demonstrations through the media, they can directly communicate with each other in their homes, workplaces and the streets where critical political conversations can take shape.
Ultimately, as June 30 protests approached, credible news agencies reported 22 million people actually signed the Rebel petitions, another unprecedented milestone in a country of 84 million.
By contrast, Morsi was elected with 12 million votes on June 30 last year and that was only by the narrow margin of 51 percent. Many indicated they voted for Morsi in the second and final election round because there were only two choices left – Morsi and deposed dictator Hosni Mubarak’s cohort, Ahmed Shafik. Others indicated they voted for Morsi because they believed his religious values enhanced his promises to address the country’s grave social problems.
But, from the very first days of the new government, there were a series of missteps, including an incendiary presidential declaration by Morsi that his decisions would be immune from court review. This arrogant usurpation of power inflamed and outraged the population.
In addition, opposition grew ever more steadily once it became clear that neither were Morsi’s religious values leading to needed economic and social reforms. Instead, his religion was a thin veneer to conceal sectarian and divisive intentions to entrench the Muslim Brotherhood and even more conservative, traditional Islamists into leading government positions.
It is absolutely essential to remind ourselves that the conflict embroiling Egypt should not be posed in secular versus Islamic terms. As one young woman told me during a Tahrir protest last February: “Most of us protesting are also Muslim so it has nothing to do with Morsi being Muslim. It has everything to do with what he is doing to our country.”
The western press often describes the conflict in religious terms to avoid confronting real economic and social problems that is the horrible heritage of U.S. and European investment and aid policies that stress military strength and imports over the country’s domestic economic development.
In any case, religion is being used once again, as in so many historical precedents, as the mask to cover economic and political policies that have largely remain unchanged since the toppling of Mubarak.
“Morsi is selling the same merchandise that Mubarak sold, only…there’s an Islamic label on it,” said lawyer Abdel-Aziz, a leader of the Tamorad Campaign, as quoted in the May 29, 2013 English.Ahram.org. He added that, were Morsi to shave his beard and look into a mirror, he would “see Mubarak staring back at him.”
With this background of seething discontent, the country’s press universally conceded that the Tamarod education campaign easily achieved its June 30 target of mobilizing several million people nationwide.
Foreign investors, western diplomats and Washington, in particular, were stunned. It explains the immediate reaction on July 1 of the equally shell-shocked Egyptian army brass to “give [all parties] 48 hours, as a last chance, to take responsibility for the historic circumstances the country is going through.”
“If the demands of the people are not met in this period,” the televised broadcast statement read, the army “will announce a future roadmap and measures to oversee its implementation.”
Muslim Brotherhood allies described the armed forces’ response as “ambiguous” and it certainly was intentionally designed that way by a military extremely reluctant to directly intervene. These are not the same popular defense forces embraced as liberators after dictator Hosni Mubarak was deposed on February 11, 2011.
Holding power for one year before the 2012 election of Muslim Brotherhood leader Morsi, the army failed to enact any meaningful reforms while killing and jailing more protestors than during the entire 29-year emergency-decree rule of Mubarak. A significant section of the population would no doubt be reconciled to another takeover by the military as an alternative to Morsi, but there is today a far more conscious and mobilized opposition to this option, openly expressed in statements by important leaders of Tamarod.
The army understands the risks to its stature by openly assuming power and prefers working behind the scenes without spotlights and without reviews in order to conduct its business, and it is a very big business indeed. Recall that the military is estimated to control up to 35 percent of the national economy. All its nefarious economic affairs are shrouded in secrecy and actually sealed off in the new constitution under “state security” protections.
With these considerations in mind, it is more likely the Supreme Command of the Armed Forces issued more of a veiled threat to exert maximum pressure on both the Muslim Brotherhood and the “loyal” opposition National Salvation Front (NSF) to come to some kind of agreement, such as a coalition government.
In the past, the Muslim Brotherhood totally rejected such efforts. At the same time, important radical leaders have chided their timid NSF partners in the Tamarod movement for their willingness to discard the fight for genuine reforms in exchange for seats in government.
Even if a new government coalition does emerge, it will only succeed in buying some time for the entrenched power structure. Just as all other government renovations have failed, this new “construct” will soon also “destruct” in the face of unaddressed problems of unemployment and rising inflation.
And to be sure, any government that agrees to U.S. government demands for reducing food and fuel subsidies as a precondition for International Monetary Fund (IMF) loans, risks setting off a “revolution of the hungry” –conjecture that appears regularly in the Egyptian press.
It is precisely this dangerous dilemma that has forestalled Morsi from approving pending IMF and World Bank offers of money attached with such onerous stipulations.
How all this plays out will become known rather soon. The Egyptian masses have shown that time has not diminished their zeal for genuine improvements in their lives.
Assemblies of the People
Unlike other upsurges in the Arab world of recent years, the Egyptian rebellion stands atop the field for a number of reasons.
The determination of its people has not been beaten back by U.S. and Saudi Arabia encouraged repression as in Bahrain, Jordan and Yemen; their hopes have not been subverted by fake “reform” governments as in Tunisia and Morocco and their great country has thankfully not been torn apart into tribalism and ethnic and religious conflicts through Balkanized “divide and conquer” U.S. and European influences as in Libya and Syria.
On the contrary, the Tamarod education campaign has begun an important broad discussion on separating church and state in a civil society, on recognizing international standards of labor and women’s rights, on increasing the minimum wage and social subsidies, on ending privatization schemes and protecting state property and on investing loans directly into the economy to create millions of jobs rather than using the money to pay off Mubarak’s debts to foreign banks and governments as demanded by the IMF and World Bank.
These and other absolutely critical reforms are deserving of debate and discussion among the people, particularly because they are not being addressed by parliament or the president. Tamarod is the result. Tamarod filled this political vacuum.
Leading up to June 30, discussions in plazas, squares, work sites, schools and homes throughout Egypt became, in effect, assemblies of the people.
Building an effective mass organization and establishing political clarity among the various strands of opinion within society is an extremely difficult task. The necessary mass political organization of the courageous Egyptian people still severely lags behind their individual political courage and determination to make radical changes but, as a result of Tamarod’s efforts leading up to June 30, it can be said with confidence that the gap began to close.
Carl Finamore arrived in Egypt only a few hours after Hosni Mubarak was deposed on February 11, 2011 and he has been back reporting twice more on the anniversaries of the revolution. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org