online 13.07.13

talking politics

Egypt has lost its way

by Yacov Ben Efrat

The Egyptian revolution of 2011 was a rare opportunity to drive the country towards the future by creating a democratic regime which would enable Egyptians to develop a political awareness. The Muslim Brotherhood is incapable of turning Egypt into a modern state, because its religious outlook directly opposes cultural and scientific freedom, while the oppression of women prevents Egypt from shaking off backwardness and social introversion. But this is no reason to support the generals and the military coup. The only way of contending with these issues is via democratic elections.

On July 7, the masses gathered in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in an attempt to show the world that this was no ordinary military coup, but a correction to the revolution of January 25, 2011 that would lead Egypt to democracy. To enforce this picture, air force planes circled the skies over Cairo leaving trails of smoke in the colors of the Egyptian flag. The revolutionaries were angry with Obama because he didn’t give his blessing to the ousting of Morsi, and they pleaded with CNN to change its version and cease calling the events a coup.

But already by the following day the atmosphere had changed completely. The 51 victims, killed by the army as they demonstrated in front of the Republican Guard base where Morsi was being held, spoiled the party and brought the Egyptian nation and the world face to face with reality. The army and police explained that they had been attacked, but these explanations were insufficient. The world was not persuaded that the army had become the people’s army overnight. Straight after the massacre, the Salafist al-Nour Party and the Strong Egypt Party, which had split from the Muslim Brotherhood, announced they were leaving the coalition which supports the army. Al-Azhar, seat of Islamic learning, did the same. Egypt’s liberals, who gave their blessing to the overthrow, supported the army’s version and didn’t even bother to express sorrow at the deaths. While they halfheartedly called for a committee of inquiry, the army hurried to apportion blame and arrested 650 people associated with the Islamic faction suspected of terror acts.

The army: source of authority

The day after the killings, interim president Adly Mansour published a new constitutional order, basing his authority on the military order of July 3, 2013. He thus unequivocally revealed who really rules Egypt. The presidential order caused embarrassment among the political partners to the coup, especially the Tamarod movement and the National Salvation Front. They criticized the order, claiming it had been prepared by the army in secret and without consulting them. They were also concerned to discover that the order grants the interim president totalitarian authority.

While Saudi Arabia and the Emirates have already transferred 8 billion dollars in support of the new regime, in order to ensure the death of the Arab Spring which threatens the Saudi kingdom, the US administration is still dithering, unsure whether to define the events as a coup – which would mean the end of US aid. Israel’s call to continue the flow of support clearly demonstrates that for the Israelis and Americans, democracy in Egypt was never the issue – the most important thing was maintaining the Camp David peace agreement.

To make things easier for Obama, Mansour announced that new elections would be held within six months. But the absurdity is clear to all: how can free elections be held with the participation of the Muslim Brotherhood, as Obama demands, when the army is shutting down its offices and television channels and running a campaign of delegitimization, accusing them of terror? Thus the real intentions of the army, as well as the National Salvation Front and the Tamarod partners, are exposed: to prevent the Muslim Brotherhood from participating in elections, just as Mubarak had done before. The oft-repeated slogan since the unseating of Morsi has been, “There’s no going back.” But how can Egypt not go back if in six months’ time free elections are held and the Muslim Brotherhood is victorious, as it has been repeatedly since 2011?

Returning to the Mubarak era

The behavior of the “revolutionaries” shows clearly that democracy is of little interest to them. The appointment of Hazem el-Beblawi as prime minister indicates the regime’s intentions. Beblawi is a neoliberal economist whose role is to persuade the International Monetary Fund to support the regime and to dismantle the Egyptian system of food subsidies, which would lead to even greater poverty and hunger. The new regime has nothing to offer the workers’ movement, which is demanding a range of changes including an increase in the minimum wage. The stance taken by the leader of the National Salvation Front, Mohamed el-Baradei, shows just how much their position has changed: Baradei, who once demanded that the army withdraw from politics and spoke of human rights, is now granting the army a free hand. This is the same army that controls some 25% of the economy and is responsible for the killing of 51 Egyptian citizens as well as the undermining of freedom of association and freedom of speech.

Indeed, Egypt has returned to the old formula that ruled before the revolution. The Egyptian people are once again caught between Mubarak’s old regime, represented by the army and the liberals, and the Muslim Brotherhood. The television channels rapidly adjusted to the new situation; all speaking with one voice; and Mubarak’s spirit once again hovers over the Maspero Building from which official television is broadcast, just as it did for 30 long years. The position adopted by the leftist parties and the Wafd Party in Mubarak’s days – better the army than the Muslim Brotherhood – once again reigns. The Egyptian people are caught in the middle, wallowing in poverty under the dictatorial and corrupt regime which makes citizens mere shadows lacking all rights – the same regime against which it rose up just two and a half years ago.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a symptom of Egypt’s problems, not the cause. Its rise to prominence is the result of 60 years of dictatorship, of rapid population growth, of poverty and illiteracy, of the collapse of crucial infrastructure, and of disconnection from the modern world. This is the cradle of the Islamic movement.

The weakness of the Left

The Egyptian revolution was a rare opportunity to drive the country towards the future by creating a democratic regime which would enable Egyptians to develop a political awareness. The Muslim Brotherhood is incapable of turning Egypt into a modern state, because its religious outlook directly opposes cultural and scientific freedom, while the oppression of women prevents Egypt from shaking off backwardness and social introversion. But this is no reason to support the generals and the military coup. The only way of contending with these issues is via democratic elections.

Egypt took the path of military coup not because of Morsi and Islamization, but because of the weakness of the Left and of the liberals. They didn’t believe they could win in free elections, they fear and loathe the poor because they can be bought for “a bag of sugar and a can of oil,” and thus they preferred to take Egypt back to the old regime. Moreover, their economic outlook is no different from that of the Islamists: both seek the support of the US and the IMF.

A revolution is not a quick fix; it is a long process of struggle between different worldviews, over programs to take Egypt forward. But the youth of Tamarod, the Left, and the Muslim Brotherhood have no such program. Nor does the army have a solution to Egypt’s pressing problems.

The future is uncertain of course, but it is impossible to erase the revolution of 2011 and the deep change of consciousness it wrought. The enormous rallies in Tahrir Square supporting the coup, and the rallies in support of the Muslim Brotherhood, should make it clear that one cannot ignore half a nation, and that the fighting between the two sides plays into the hands of the army. The choice is stark: either the two camps cooperate and set up a democratic regime to save Egypt, or the country will continue to rot under the burden of dictatorship for many long years. If the political forces don’t come to their senses, the Egyptian people will get rid of them. The Egyptian nation sparked the revolution of 2011; the political parties have merely sullied it. The youth of the revolution should create a revolutionary “roadmap” of their own, to save democracy and to ensure their future and the future of their nation.