Mohamed Morsi can help Egypt’s revolution to succeed – or not
June 30, 2013
It was March earlier this year when the idea of early presidential elections in Egypt was first touted. Ironically, by a former member of the Muslim Brotherhood, the more leftwing, progressive Islamist, former presidential candidate Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh. Then, few people took notice – but today, it is the demand of probably tens of millions of Egyptians. At the time, Aboul Fotouh’s call could have meant the continuation of President Mohamed Morsi’s rule, if only for a while, as the president would not have needed to resign in order to simply schedule early elections. Today, the stakes are much higher – early elections may be the last chance for he, and the Islamist group of the Muslim Brotherhood from which he hails, to survive.
A new campaign group, Tamarod (Rebel), took that demand and, in the space of a few months, turned it into the backbone of a movement. Tamarod does not lead that movement – and neither do those who lead the political opposition. Nor is the movement made up of the same group that called for the revolution in January 2011 that led to the fall of Hosni Mubarak – indeed, it has elements within it that were actively opposed to that revolution. Therein began the quandary of many revolutionaries – could they join hands with people who did not share their dream of a more progressive Egypt, and were simply against the abuses perpetrated by the Muslim Brotherhood?
Today, those revolutionaries are still feeling that trepidation – and, increasingly, it seems their trepidation may be the only thing that saves their revolution. Many of the revolutionaries defended the right of the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in political life during Mubarak’s tenure; under the military governorship that followed Mubarak, they were the loudest voices against the abuses of military rule, calling for civilian control; and when the showdown came between Mubarak’s last prime minister, Ahmad Shafiq, and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Morsi himself, many backed the latter to keep their revolution alive.
This next phase is not one where the “old” revolutionaries (as some backing the June 30 protests have taken to calling them) are irrelevant. On the contrary, they could be the best hope for Egypt to progress. If early presidential elections do take place, it is increasingly unlikely they will do so with the voluntary acquiescence of Morsi. It is far more likely they will happen with direct intervention from the military – a military that is hardly a democratic institution, and has little interest in total civilian control in Egypt. In that scenario, those revolutionaries will continue to agitate for the rights of all Egyptians – Islamist and non-Islamist alike.
If early presidential elections do not take place, it is entirely plausible, if not a foregone conclusion, that the situation for Egyptians will worsen in the areas of civil rights. The battle for rights is one that these revolutionaries have never stopped fighting – under Mubarak, the military regime, and the Morsi presidency. They won’t stop now.
The story of this revolution, established for “bread, freedom, social justice and human dignity”, is not one that can be considered successful in the short or medium term, and the blame for that cannot be laid simply at the door of the Muslim Brotherhood. Political leadership in Egypt, from every quarter, has been an utter failure on all levels. But the greatest responsibility must be apportioned to the party of power. The Muslim Brotherhood correctly identified that a “deep state” and Mubarak remnants continue to hinder efforts for democratic change – but it consistently failed to take the necessary steps to address those challenges.
By alienating almost all other forces by a disastrous extra-legal presidential decree in November, the passing of a truly divisive constitution, and a deepening economic disaster owing to lack of competency, the Muslim Brotherhood has made the continuation of a Morsi presidency more difficult than any effort made by the deep state. It needed allies: not more enemies.
Regardless of his efforts, the revolutionaries seem to have already made their choice. They continue to agitate for the original claims of the revolution, of “bread, freedom, social justice, human dignity”, rejecting any role for violence or a military intervention – but insisting that Egypt’s route cannot continue without the president placing Egypt’s interests first. Whether Morsi stays or leaves, their struggle continues. Whether the Rebel movement succeeds or not, this country’s story continues – and its revolution remains. President Morsi can make it easier – or harder. He can ensure a future for the Muslim Brotherhood in a freer, pluralistic Egypt – or not. The choice really is his.
Dr H.A. Hellyer, a non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution, is a Cairo-based specialist on Arab affairs, and relations between the Muslim world and the west. Fellow at ISPU, he was previously senior practice consultant at Gallup, and senior research fellow at Warwick University. Find him online @hahellyer and www.hahellyer.com.
This article was published by the Guardian on June 30, 2013. Read it here.