Tuesday, 18 June 2013

Egypt: The Most Dangerous Moment of a Revolution

The most dangerous moment in a revolution, history teaches us, is not when the new rulers first come to power, but later when they are faced with their first serious opposition. That is when the new ruling forces are likely to turn most violent in repressing dissent, and often give way to more radical, bloodier elements. The French Revolution, the Russian, all followed that seemingly inexorable dynamic, leading to their form of ‘the Terror.’ Right on time, right on target, two and a half years after the January 25th revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, Egypt is set to face a major attempt at a countercoup. This time, the revolution will be televised. The Vendee is on!
June 30th has been announced, for weeks now, as the date when fifteen million Egyptians who have signed the ‘Tamarod’ (Rebellion) petition have vowed to take to the streets to force the ouster of President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood party rule. Whenever you talk to anyone living in Egypt today, you get the impression that their lives are on hold as they brace for the fatal day. June 30th marks a year to the day when Morsi was inaugurated, the first president elected in relatively free elections against actual opposing candidates. His narrow margin of victory in that election is largely attributed to the anathema that prevented the secular/liberal revolutionary forces from voting for Morsi’s opponent, Mubarak loyalist and hardliner General Ahmed Shafiq. 
In an ironic reversal, today that same secular/liberal coalition that had organized the January 25th uprising, toppled Mubarak, and- holding its nose- voted for Morsi over Shafiq, is preparing to attempt to force the resignation of Morsi and his cohort. The way the secular opposition see it, they are trying to win their revolution back from the Islamist forces that hijacked it. But as Doctor Frankenstein could attest, second thoughts may come too late.
It may or may not be too late already, the opposition forces argue, but it will certainly be too late if they wait until President Morsi comes up for re-election in another three years, and try to oust him at the ballot box. By then, the opposition believes, not only will the power-grabbing, judiciary-gutting Islamist party be too firmly entrenched to dislodge by peaceful means, but the deterioration of the country will be too far advanced to stanch the bleeding and reverse course. The economy is in free fall, and the daily life of the average citizen is plagued by power and water shortages, traffic nightmares and rampant insecurity. The boiling discontent will be harnessed, the organizers of June 30th hope, to put pressure on President Morsi to resign.  
Beyond that point, the plans are not clear for the post-Morsi transition until a new round of early presidential elections yields a new president. The interim government, according to the opposition, might be a council broadly representing the opposition coalition but also the Islamist elements in the country, a sort of Directoire, headed by the head of the Supreme Constitutional Court. To ensure that this governing council oversees free and fair elections, any member who agrees to serve on the council forfeits his right to run for presidential election, and that includes Nobel Prize winner Mohamed Baradei.
But even the most optimistic are not counting on Morsi resigning in response to street pressure alone, so the intervention of the army and police will be crucial, particularly since the Islamist parties have also vowed their own counter-demonstrations, so violent clashes between opposing street protests are guaranteed. At the moment the roles of the army and police, those two historically quasi-independent forces, are unclear. The minister of the interior, responsible for the police, has made ambiguous pronouncements about who and what the police will protect. The Muslim Brotherhood has vowed to take into its own hands the protection of the president and the party headquarters. The military is known to have serious issues with the Islamists in power, and might intervene, but on the other hand, it might choose to stand on the sidelines.
If June 30th sounds like January 25 redux, it is because the same scenario seems to be preparing to play out, with changes in some of the principal actors. Except that this time, after the success of the first revolution, the hopes may be higher, but so are the stakes, and, in the current desperate state of national polarization and economic meltdown, the danger is even greater.

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