June 30, 2013 marks the continuation of the Egyptian revolution that started on the 25th of January 2011. It is not a new revolution, nor is it simply another protest. It is a new phase in the country’s transition to a new system of governance, and represents another monumental protest that will be remembered by many.
The Question of Democracy
There are on-going debates about whether these protests should even be happening, and whether the demands being made are legitimate.
On the one hand, some argue that once a leader is elected he should be able to finish his term and that any calls for early elections are undemocratic and set a dangerous precedent. On the other hand, others argue this framing defines democracy exclusively in terms of electoral politics, as if a leader’s election is more important than his performance.
The demands of Egypt’s revolution were not just for free and fair elections—they were also for social justice, bread, and freedom, all of which have yet to be achieved.
While Morsi may have been elected one year ago, his actions since then have raised serious questions about the Muslim Brotherhood.
The IMF loaf was the first sign things were going in the same direction as under ousted President Hosni Mubarak. The IMF is neoliberal to its core, and the reforms it demands as a part of the loan will lead to more social stratification and less social justice. Overall, the Muslim Brotherhood’s economic policies have not differed much from the Mubarak regime, and Egypt remains a neoliberal capitalist economy.
Morsi’s attempts to concentrate power in the hands of the presidency are also troubling. The November 2012 decree concentrating legal power in the office of the president is a key example. The way the Muslim Brotherhood handled clashes resulting from the decree was also problematic. Following massive demonstrations in front of the Presidential Palace, the night of December 4, 2012 saw innocent protesters being attacked by what some called organized Muslim Brotherhood members with weapons.
Other notable events include the standoff with the judiciary and the problematic constitutional process. Finally, in terms of transitional justice, very little has been offered. Most police officers tried for murder during the revolution have been freed. There has been little reform of the police force, even though police brutality was one of the main causes of the revolution. Additionally, there has been little progress in terms of trying politicians and businessmen that were active in corruption pre-revolution.
While it may seem drastic to call for Morsi to step down, two things should be noted.
First, in response to critiques stating that Morsi has only had one year and should be given more time, I would argue that it is not a question of time but rather of direction. The country is headed down a dangerous path, especially in light of the IMF loan and the judiciary crisis. None of the revolution’s goals have been achieved or even in the process of being achieved, notably that of police reform and social justice. Continuing along this path for another three years will make it more difficult to achieve the revolution’s goals.
Second, this past year has seen various attempts by the opposition to engage with Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, often to no avail. These protests were not the first choice; they were one of the last responses to a deteriorating economic and political situation.
The June 30 Protests
While there are many similarities between the June 30 protest and the ones that occurred in 2011, there are also notable differences. The police were not present, and in some places even joined the protesters in rallying against Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. The numbers were bigger, with some estimates putting the figure at more than 10 million. The protests were not as spontaneous as at the start of the revolution in 2011, with a group called Tamarod organizing many aspects of the protests on June 30. But above all, the composition of those protesting has changed quite dramatically.
The people that took to the streets on June 30 included not only the original protesters from 2011, but also many who had become disenchanted with Morsi and decided to protest for the first time.
It was not rare to hear someone mention that one of their friends or family members from hizb el kanaba (the couch party) had joined the protests. Feloul (remnants of the old regime) were also present, although they did not dominate the protests, as was expected by some (most notably the Muslim Brotherhood, who tried to smear the protests by claiming they were made up of Mubarak-loyalists).
Many protesting were pro-military, as is to be expected in a country where the military not only holds a very esteemed position in the collective memory and consciousness of the people, but also where the last two years have seen extreme economic and political instability. Many of those protesting were pro-military because they believed it was the only institution that could bring stability back to the country.
Finally, there were also those that were pro-police, although their numbers were smaller. The march I participated in broke out into pro-police chanting as we passed a police checkpoint, although many people in the march did not join the chant and moved away quickly. Some have argued that the pro-police faction is comprised of people who were not present during the 2011 protests and did not see fellow Egyptians being killed by the police.
This complexity has made the Egyptian revolutionary narrative more complicated. The main goal of these protests is to demand the resignation of Mohamed Morsi and call for early presidential elections. This demand is one that appeals to a wide range of Egyptians, from feloul to revolutionaries, from pro-military factions to anti-military factions, and from one side of the class spectrum to the other.
It is not surprising to see so many different protesters, all with their different ideologies, because the aim uniting everybody is so strong. While some have used this diversity to claim the protests are problematic, at this point in the revolution it is impossible to control the narratives and ideologies that are now part of the revolutionary story. Indeed, why would we want to? Egypt is complex, and so the revolution will be complex as well.
The tricky question is what comes next. The inevitability of a military solution seems to be a dominant prediction. If violence breaks out, it seems likely the military will intervene and take over the governing of the country.
While some invite this, others are wary of military engagement in politics (although arguably the military has always been involved in politics—the question is one of visibility). Others are against military involvement at all costs, even if it is the only alternative to Morsi.
This latter view is understandable, given the role the military played during the transitional phase—the Port Said massacre, the Maspero massacre and the virginity tests conducted against women all occurred under military rule.
Nevertheless, it appears that Egypt is once again in a situation where the choice is between the lesser of two evils, in which case the question is whether one views Morsi or the military as the lesser evil.
The third alternative is that protesters’ demands are granted, Morsi steps down, and early presidential elections are held. This seems to be almost utopian, and yet in Egypt one never knows what will happen.
It is perhaps more realistic to expect the military to take over and then hold presidential elections. Another scenario is that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood will try to hold out and hope the protests stop when Ramadan begins sometime around July 8. How realistic that is is up for debate.
While Morsi may not give in that easily, it appears that neither will the Egyptian people. While the numbers are staggering and the energy festive, there have still been problematic developments on the ground. On the night of June 30, over 46 sexual assaults were reported in Tahrir Square alone.
This is not just a small negative blip, but rather brings the whole revolutionary movement into perspective. This revolution belongs to men and women, and the ability of women to protest (and indeed walk) on the streets of Egypt is a necessary prerequisite to any other revolutionary goals. As others have argued, the fight against sexual violence must be at the core of this struggle, not something that will be tackled “later”—a word women are sadly used to hearing. These assaults demonstrate all too painfully that the solutions to Egypt’s problems are not to be found in the political sphere alone.
Conclusion: Some Final Thoughts
During last year’s presidential election run-off between Morsi and Ahmed Shafik, I remember feeling extremely torn. I knew Shafik was a definite no go – as an official under the Mubarak regime, he would simply have been a continuation of the establishment the revolution had been trying to remove. At the same time, Morsi did not strike me as a pro-revolutionary candidate either.
Morsi won, and I remember feeling relieved. I was willing to give him a chance. But this past year has been disappointing on many fronts, including the economic front (the IMF loan), the political front (the clash with the judiciary, the lack of transparency, the constitutional crisis) and the social front (problematic discourse around minorities, increasing pressure on social structures due to a lack of progress on the economic front).
Is it possible for a president to lose legitimacy? Yes. Is it acceptable for the president to then be challenged? Yes.
Personally, I believe the goals of the revolution come above everything else. This revolution was not just about holding elections. It was about social justice, freedom and dignity. We know Egypt has much more to offer.
Is it naïve and idealistic to expect we can do better than both Mubarak and Morsi? Maybe. But it looks like the protesters are here to stay.