Egypt: back to military despotism?

The only way out of the current stalemate is launching an inclusive reconciliation process in which all political forces admit their responsibility for the early failure of transition and show their willingness to move towards building a democratic state, says Rawia M.Tawfik Amer

Rawia M Tawfik Amer
5 August 2013

A year ago, after the victory of Muslim Brotherhood’s Mohamed Morsi in the first presidential elections after the 25th of January revolution, I wrote an article claiming that  Egypt has a historic responsibility to present a model of development and democracy inspired by the principles of Islam. I shared with many optimists in my generation the revolutionary euphoria and the aspiration for achieving the calls for dignity, freedom, and social justice. I did not imagine that I would write one year later mourning the loss of this dream after the military coup that overthrew President Morsi, suspended the constitution adopted by a referendum in December 2012, and appointed a caretaker Head of State. 

These developments are serious setbacks in the way of entrenching the institutions and culture of democracy in Egypt. More sadly, the way in which Morsi was removed leaves no opportunity for the major parties in the political scene in Egypt to learn from the past. Let’s start with the most powerful force in the scene; the military. It is true that the army’s removal of Morsi came after millions of Egyptians took the streets on the 30th of June to express their disappointment with the poor performance of Morsi and his government and their call for early presidential elections. However, this removal put the Egyptian army in confrontation with other millions of Egyptians that reject the coup; feeling that their votes were trashed. Obviously, the military failed to learn from its experience in ruling the country for a year and half after the fall of Hosni Mubarak. During this period, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces’ lack of political experience and the unqualifiedness of army forces to deal with demonstrations invited criticism from different political forces and plagued the military’s reputation by human rights abuses. Feeling that military rule was gradually killing their democratic dream, hundreds of thousands of protestors took the streets in several occasions chanting ‘down with SCAF’.  Now again, army forces are back to the streets, this time targeting the supporters of the removed president.  During the last four weeks, International human rights organisations have reported the excessive use of force by army and police officers against unarmed Morsi supporters in several occasions leaving tens dead and thousands injured. Other reports recorded that hundreds of supporters were arrested for charges of inciting or participating in violence and condemned the detention of media correspondents.

The military levelled up the confrontation when the Minister of Defence, General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi, called for mass street protests to mandate the army to fight ‘potential terrorism and violence’, a call that engendered societal divisions and confirmed the impression that the army is siding with one political force against the other.  More dangerously, this position has encouraged extreme voices to call for the full exclusion of Islamist parties from the political system.

On its part, the Muslim Brotherhood movement is not likely to learn from its very short term in office. Violations against Morsi supporters would deepen the movement’s sense of victimisation; neglecting its responsibility for the failures that forced millions to take the streets in protest of Morsi’s performance after one year of his election. Evidently Morsi forgot that he was only able to secure a narrow majority in the second round with the support of other revolutionary movements and in return for committing himself to fulfilling a number of pledges. These included forming a team of presidential advisors from across the political spectrum, defending the legal rights of the martyrs of the 25th of January revolution, and forming a government of national unity. The President, however, failed to deliver on his promises, including the promise he made to the opposition to ensure reaching a consensus on the draft constitution before holding the constitutional referendum. In a few months, most of his advisers resigned to protest his decisions and inability to stop the killing of peaceful protestors by police forces. He neglected calls for reforming the security sector and adopting a comprehensive transitional justice plan. Morsi further claimed that the police, with its record of human rights violations that triggered the revolution, was ‘at the heart of the revolution’. This gave the impression that he was trying to forge alliances with the state’s repressive apparatus to protect his rule. This happened at a time when crime rates were rising and personal security was deteriorating. These failures, coupled with the incompetence in dealing with economic challenges including rising unemployment, frequent power cuts, and shortages of gasoline, have raised pressures on Morsi’s fragile rule. But the army’s swift intervention to remove Morsi and target the leaders of his party and his supporters provide an opportunity for the Brotherhood to claim that it was not given a chance rather than to admit and learn from its failures.

Finally, the opposition’s alliance with the military against their rivals means that it opted for the easy, but risky, way to topple Morsi. It is highly doubtful that opposition parties in Egypt learned from the two-year long political race of elections and constitutional referenda. Rather, they seem to have come to the conclusion that a potential military rule is preferable to a factual Islamist rule. Further, the rising secular-military alliance against Islamist parties makes reconciliation, based on ensuring equal rights to citizens regardless of their political orientation, a distant dream. The failure to include all the political forces in the political and reconciliation process, combined with the targeting of Islamists referred to earlier, may lead to the continuation of the current wave of violence and push targeted moderate political forces to the extreme.  The only way out of the current stalemate is launching an inclusive reconciliation process in which all political forces admit their responsibility for the early failure of transition and show their willingness to move towards building a democratic state. I particularly reiterate my advice (published on openDemocracy September 2011) to the young revolutionaries from across the political spectrum after the revolution. I advised them to avoid being co-opted by any political regime, organisation or party and to collectively continue mobilising masses around the demands of the revolution and the shared aspirations for a better future. Free from the burden of historical antagonisms, this generation should lead the process of reconciliation and transition to democracy.   


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