Egypt looks increasingly like a clusterfuck and to hordes of internet commentators it is no surprise, though many seem to be big fans of the word “foreboding.”
As it stands today, the clock is ticking on a 48-hour ultimatum from the Egyptian Army to address “the will of the people.” President Mohammed Morsi has “rebuffed” the army, arguing that the ultimatum sets the stage for an unconstitutional coup.
Of course, that constitution he’s citing was the one he rushed through with Islamist support, largely ignoring the will of the opposition parties that constitute the bulk of those protesting.
After the 48 hours is up, which conveniently coincides with a deadline imposed by the protesters, the army will impose a “road map” to conciliation, though they’ve stressed they want no political role beyond possibly installing a technocratic government to rewrite the constitution and supervise presidential elections.
This itself is an interesting move given the Egyptian Army’s historical role as a political player since the coup that brought former President Gamal Abdel Nasser to power in 1952. It’s more than possible the army is taking this stance because of the threat that cutting the Islamist parties and the Brotherhood out of the conciliatory process would pose to Egypt’s security, the self-declared interest of the army.
Brotherhood supporters, which include a large number of Salafi extremists, are likely to view any move to oust Morsi as “a coup against not just the president but against Islam as they perceive it,” says Khalil al-Anani, an academic at Durham University, in the Guardian.
The implication here is that if you piss off a secular opposition, it’s street protests and urban chaos — but if you piss off an Islamists, especially by deriving them of power, there’s the possibility of this being rephrased in jihadi terms. The risk there is that the Salafis who provided so much support to Morsi, and who have received inordinate sway over Egyptian politics in return, may simply forgo democratic processes altogether, viewing them as corrupted by the opposition.
Attacks against the opposition by Salafi preachers already reached fever-pitch and suggested jihadi street politics before the opposition began calling explicitly for a coup. Any attempt to cut them out of the political process would not only be undemocratic, given their widespread support within Egypt, but also dangerous for the integrity of the Egyptian state. As one blogger put it, it would no longer be citizen against state, “it will be citizen against citizen.”
Of course, the question remains whether the Egyptian state has any integrity left at all. Vigilante justice, like that suggested by supporters of Morsi donning homemade helmets and riot shields to “defend” Brotherhood headquarters, is no new feature, nor is it unique to Morsi’s loyalists.
The near-complete unraveling of the security state, so strong under former President Hosni Mubarak’s authoritarian regime, has created an entire generation of revolutionaries conditioned to street violence and able to purchase any manner of weapons on Egypt’s expanding black market. The police are powerless to stop this, both because of inadequacy in administration and their own unwillingness, many of them the same people who broke skulls and tortured prisoners under Mubarak.
There is also no guarantee any successor would be able to deal with the problems that have faced Egypt since well before the revolution, of food shortages, economic unsteadiness, sectarian violence, and unraveling security.
Nonetheless, as Nathan Brown in the Financial Post points out, protesters are prematurely jubilant as they were on the eve of the revolution that ousted Mubarak in favour of Morsi and the Brotherhood. This revolution has become a personal one, Brown writes, more to do with the deposition of Morsi and the perceived empowerment of secular opposition than it is about any systemic change.
One skeptical protester blogging Revolution 2.0 is right to point out that many who took to the streets to end the army’s repressive rule are now the ones clamouring for a coup. “It is either we have become the counter-revolutionaries or the revolution has become the counter-revolution,” she writes.
It is certainly becoming harder to imagine Morsi’s Brotherhood as the torchbearers of the revolution. If it is a counter-revolution, one can only hope that the whiff of power a coup will give to the military will not encourage them to seize the reigns and end Egypt’s “experiment with democracy.”
Meanwhile, in Turkey…
I can’t help looking at Morsi and seeing some interesting parallels to Erdogan during the Gezi Protests. Though they were in no way on the same scale as the June 30 protests, Erdogan’s approach during Gezi, and Morsi’s approach during these protests, seem to me to identify a type.
It’s the self-appointed democrat/authoritarian, the man in power who panders to his base, which may indeed constitute a thin majority, while taking an authoritarian stance to opposition.
A few comparisons. Both have employed pretty much identical rhetoric in the face of mass opposition. They began by delegitimizing protests as the work of foreigners, terrorists, and traitors, though this is nothing new.
They also both reigned in national media, instructing them to focus on their base, which they simultaneously galvanized to action with counter-protests and mass rallies. The both rose to power with the aid of “clan-based practices,” with electoral platforms promising wide-reaching reforms but, when in power, appealing to specific religious or ethnic bases.
Both have also been told off by President Obama using pretty much the same language — “Democracy is about more than elections.”
Perhaps where Morsi failed, and Erdogan succeeded, is in neutering the army. In both states, the army stood as the “powers that be”, the hand of the state that acts out of the reach of squabbling politicians but is given the power to remove them from office, at the whim of “the people”.
Even though Morsi used Erdogan’s exact words, saying “the age of military coups is over,” and even though the Egyptian Army argues they want no political role after the exhaustion of their post-Mubarak junta, the widespread support of the opposition in Egypt for a military coup, something abhorred by Turkey’s fledgling opposition, indicates that the age of military coups is anything but over.
In other news, one deputy prime minister, Bulent Arinc, said marriages at “early ages” is a “very rewarding thing”, while the other, Besir Atalay, said the “Jewish Diaspora” was behind the Gezi protests. Where else but Turkey?