Only in the middle is there support for reconciliation
August 1, 2013
The concept of “speaking truth to power” – a phrase made popular by a 1955 Quaker pamphlet – only really applies when great power is arrayed against you, and all you have on your side is truth and right. Welcome to Egypt.
When Hosni Mubarak, then the country’s president, was under siege during the original 18-day protest in 2011, the population at large was either supportive or lukewarm about the protests and the revolution. Eventually the majority came to agree with the demand that he leave office.
Under Field Marshall Hussein Tantawi, who succeeded Mr Mubarak, most Egyptians were supportive of the army; even after a year, only a slight majority opposed military involvement in politics.
After that, Mohammed Morsi’s popular support evaporated most quickly, because his actions and policies made it easy for the masses to reject his rule.
But with each of these changes in government came, and comes, a corresponding crisis.
Within a few weeks of Mr Mubarak’s departure, the pro-January 25 forces were split. Most of them wanted to engage in thorough reform, and did not view the military’s road-map as the first step in achieving that.
Meanwhile the Muslim Brotherhood decided to proceed alone and to engage with the military. Had the MB stayed with the revolutionary camp, things might have turned out very differently.
Following Field Marshall Tantawi’s replacement by Gen Abdel Fattah El Sissi, another crisis arose: the shrinking array of options for allies in the revolutionary camp, except when it came to removing Mr Morsi (there were plenty of allies for that). Otherwise, the revolution’s goals of reform and progress were the concern of a very few.
After the expulsion from office of Mr Morsi, the challenge remains unchanged: that of “speaking truth to power”.
Following the latest military takeover, Egyptian society has been sharply divided between those who support Mr Morsi, despite his unpopularity, and those who more or less unconditionally support the military-backed government that replaced his.
Criticisms of either side from within its own ranks are absent – and criticisms of both come from only a small minority of Egyptians. The extremes have become, together, the overwhelming majority – and the country’s maverick, marginal middle risks being compressed into oblivion.
That middle has always been a minority. Only a small minority believed at first that the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak was possible.
Here lies the great challenge for that middle group now: to speak truth to power, whether it is to those who lead the pro-Morsi faction, or to the new military-backed government, which is a far more important audience, considering that it is currently the real power.
Speaking truth is not easy at a time when the death toll is rising sharply amid clashes between mostly-unarmed pro-Morsi protesters and security forces, and with criminal insurgents attacking defenceless civilians around the country as a way of supporting Mr Morsi.
That maverick, marginal middle gave Mr Morsi a chance, but then saw that Egypt’s revolution could not be fulfilled with him in charge, and that the very stability of Egypt was at stake. So that middle supported early presidential elections. When Mr Morsi rejected that, the middle supported his ejection, but remained wary about how it took place.
Now that middle insists on national reconciliation, although it sees that the public mood is strongly against the Brotherhood, and that it too rejects reconciliation, demanding Mr Morsi’s restoration.
That middle insists that the military belongs in its barracks, answering to civilian authority, and that it needs no additional popular authority to do its duty of protecting the country from enemies, foreign or domestic.
That middle insists that justice be done through legal, justifiable means, and will demand accountability for the killings of Maspero, Muhammad Mahmoud St, Port Said, the Republican Guard sit-in, Nasr City and the rest, regardless of who killed whom.
Are there truly many who are willing to stand in front of power and say, clearly: “I shall not imbue your power with my personal moral permission to abuse another?” No. Egyptian journalist Lina Attalah wrote recently of the revolution going “back to the margins”, but perhaps it has always been there, since February 11, 2011. The media collective of Mosireen; media sources such as Mada Masr and Tahrir Squared; these are also part of that marginal middle.
Those few Egyptians in the middle are now perhaps more relevant than at any previous time in the 30 months of revolution.
Now the truth must be spoken not simply to the powers that rule Egypt, or seek to, but to the Egyptian people. For it is the people who are the final source of temporal power in Egypt – and they ought to exercise it with the responsibility imposed by the blood of the martyrs of their revolution.
There will be a time for petty partisan politics, but that time is not now – and the maverick marginal middle will not let anyone forget that. For them, the January 25 revolution continues – and the millions in the crowds protesting for and against Mr Morsi last Friday are not fulfilling it.
But that middle is the best chance for the revolution, because in truth, they’re the ones who have, beyond all odds, kept it alive.
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 National UAE on August 1, 2013. Read it here.