Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Egypt's Last Chance Revolution: June 30th

When I told an American friend recently about the millions-strong revolt against President Morsi’s Islamist administration planned for June 30th, she asked: “And does the regime know about it?” “Of course,” I retorted, “it’s been advertised for weeks!” In Egypt as elsewhere these days, revolutions are not only televised, they are advertised weeks ahead on social media to build momentum and pressure. The entire strategy is built on mobilizing a public response so massive it would overwhelm any attempt by the regime in power to thwart it.
That strategy worked in ousting Hosni Mubarak in January 2011, and many of the same elements that organized that successful revolt are now making a last ditch effort to reclaim their revolution from the Islamists who seem to have hijacked it when Muslim Brotherhood candidate Morsi was elected president a year ago on June 30th.  Fifteen million people, by some counts, have pledged to participate in the demonstrations to force the abdication of President Morsi. The plan has already been released on social media: sit-ins are to begin two days earlier, on Friday and Saturday, and Tahrir Square is no longer the focus, the Presidential Itihadiya Palace is. Other key locations for launching demonstrations- Egypt’s Supreme Court, the Ministry of Defense, and the syndicate headquarters of the Judges, Lawyers, Journalists, and Police- represent groups with long-standing antipathy to the Muslim Brotherhood in general and more recently inflamed conflicts with the Morsi administration in particular.  
Marching orders are clear: protest only against Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood Party, and its ideological ‘Guidance Bureau’. Protest in the name of Egypt only, not in the name of any person, party, candidate, sect or group. Peaceful protest only: no incitement against police or military or engagement in any altercations with either or with any opposing demonstrators. Women to march only in the center of a demonstration, where they can best be protected. That last instruction is necessary given the alarming record of increased assaults on women demonstrators during the past two years. This time, the call-to-arms on Face Book stresses, this is the Last Chance Revolution. We must dig in for the long-haul; we must go into it with the mindset of ‘in it to win it.’ Failure means rule by the Muslim Brotherhood, forever and ever.
To an outside observer in the West, this might seem like hyperbole. Morsi was elected in a relatively free election, these observers point out, and ‘elections have consequences’ if democracy is to be respected. And yet, the notion of post-election, postmortem protest seems to be gaining ground right here in the United States, indeed right here in my backyard of North Carolina. The ‘Moral Monday’ movement  protests against what it perceives as regressive social and economic policies launched by the conservative Republicans who were elected in 2012 and now control the state- from the Governor’s mansion to the Legislature. ‘Moral Monday’ stages civil disobedience every week in which as many people as possible, and as many public figures as possible, try to get themselves arrested protesting against the reversal of civil rights and other issues.
Granted, trying to get arrested is not a problem for the Egyptian protesters taking their lives in their hands when they take to the streets on June 30th. But the analogy holds: in some cases, election results, and their consequences, are deemed to be too disastrous to wait for the next round of elections. The stakes are infinitely higher in Egypt, where the consensus seems to be that the next elections, if they take place with the Muslim Brotherhood in power, will be a sham.
The big question, of course, is whether Morsi will resign in response to public pressure, however intense. And the answer seems to be that he will not, unless the military intervene to force his hand. That intervention, even a few months ago, would have been seen as a regression to the military dictatorship of the past sixty years; today it is seen by many as the lesser of two evils. The last straw, for many, was the shocking Sunni-Shiite sectarian violence two days ago that left four Shiite men dead. Shiites are so rare in Egypt today that most Egyptians are unaware of their existence, even if the more educated remember from their schoolbooks that the Fatimid Caliphate that ruled Egypt for two centuries, a thousand years ago, was Shia. Such sectarian conflict is unprecedented, and signals an extremist Salafi mindset that makes ‘infidels’ not just of Egyptian Copts but Shia Muslims as well.   

The fact that President Morsi tolerated a tirade against the Shia by a Salafi extremist during a recent rally days before the murderous attack adds fuel to the fire of the opposition in Egypt, already banking on despair over the worsening living conditions of the average man in the street. On the other hand, the plight of Coptic Christians seems to have turned the tide of Western public opinion against Morsi’s administration abroad.  With internal and external pressure mounting against the Islamists in power, it remains to be seen if June 30th turns out to be the Chronicle of a Coup Foretold, or a bloody mess.  

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