Saturday, 6 July 2013

In Egypt, is the only way forward out of the question?

It was clear that this would be no ordinary Friday (on July 5), given all the recent events the past week in Egypt. The holy Muslim day has served, for all sides, as a critical time to mobilize demonstrations. Yesterday was no different. Masses of supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi, gathered outside the Rabaa al-Adawiyah Mosque in Nasr City, an area in Cairo just several kilometres from the famed Tahrir Square. Their chants grew louder throughout the day, with a series of speeches by leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, culminating in the fiery (oral) missive by the Supreme Guide of the movement, Mohammed Badie. It was a day of "rejection," called for by supporters of Morsi, and the rejection was vociferous and real. That rejection and its swell of supporters, later in the evening, marched down the October 6 Bridge towards Tahrir Square. Already earlier in the day, unarmed demonstrators from the pro-Morsi camp had been shot dead (as seen in this graphic video here) when coming too close to military positions. By nightfall, the two camps - the pro-Tamarod (or rebellion) groups in Tahrir & the pro-Morsi demonstrators - were in full-fledged street battles, not just in Cairo but in Alexandria and other cities as well, leaving 30 people dead.

If there's a lesson (for post-revolutionary contexts) to be taken from the past week  it is that 'impatience' is not a virtue. The military takeover of the Egyptian government - albeit fuelled by a legitimate and popular uprising - did not resolve anything but it definitely made things worse. Instead of hitting the reset button, Friday's clashes have shown that Pandora's Box is now wide open. In the midst of growing uncertainty, there would appear to be only one way forward and that is the immediate return to democratic legitimacy, whether through the re-running of a presidential election or a referendum on Mohammad Morsi. Everything else is a red herring, including discussion on whether what transpired in the last few days was a military coup.

There is no question that the movement to oust President Morsi was a popular uprising. Driven by deep frustration from political overreach (by Morsi) starting in November 2012 and exacerbated by worsening living conditions, millions of people joined the Tamarod movement, culminating in the Tahrir protests that coincided with Morsi's one year mark in office (more on this is available in a previous post). Yet, two things should have been clear: 1) Removing an elected President, no matter how unpopular, is not easy; and 2) There was a popular base that still supported President Morsi. On Friday, the latter disenfranchised group, perhaps the same that saw "their" democratically elected parliament invalidated back in September 2012 by the courts, now saw "their" democratically elected President overthrown. Add to that, the Constitution that was passed with 64% support of the vote was essentially also declared null and void by the armed forces, to be re-drafted or amended by a select committee.

To believe that an 85 year old movement - the Muslim Brotherhood - flanked by its supporters and with the winds of at least electoral legitimacy in their sails, would take these developments lying down, would have been naive. And if the face of this change for all intents and purposes was the very armed forces that have essentially dominated Egypt since 1952, than certainly it would raise the spectre of forceful if not violent resistance. Thus, what has unfolded so far in Egypt on Friday is completely expected and moreover, is a reaction that will only deepen and grow. Furthermore, there is an absence of a 'neutral' authority, as the military appears to have chosen one side in this clash of camps, especially as it is arresting leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood in the interim.

And so we arrive at the inevitable question: How bad can it really get? Despite the fact that the Brotherhood was ruling 'non-inclusively' and without an effective plan for the government, there is no basis to argue that what has replaced it is anymore inclusive (in fact likely the opposite) and has any clearer plan or set of policies for the country. The country is divided and there is no broader political or democratic legitimacy for the military transition, beyond the assumption that it represented the popular will; but can the latter be proved? We hear numbers such as 33 million bandied about but not only are these figures not based on any tangible scientific analysis (see Wired for how to measure people in Tahrir Square) but they are assuredly less 'legitimate' than an actual vote.

With both sides claiming popular support and the cringe-inducing word (thanks to Morsi's speech), 'legitimacy, the clashes that began Friday will not end and if anything, they will escalate (or become something even more dangerous if driven underground). There are 93 million people in Egypt, and each confrontation will lead to more deaths, more 'martyrs', and more outraged friends, supporters, and families. Each week that passes will only deepen the divide and the division, ultimately rooting out the basis for any coexistence in the near-term. Civil disobedience, will turn into civil strife, and civil strife could turn into, yes, civil war (a distant but real possibility). There are multiple videos emerging of salafi-jihadi style groups seeking to exploit this moment, and resort to outright violence against the governing authorities. While naysayers may be right that Egypt will not turn into Syria tomorrow, each day that passes without resolution, the disintegration of the state becomes an evermore possible scenario. And if that happens, the consequences will be unimaginable.

There then appears to be only one way forward and that is the immediate (or urgent) return to a democratic process. While there are some who have cheerleaded the military takeover and the appointment of Adly Mansour, not only does this not have broad-based (mind universal) support within Egypt, but the continuation of this process in its current form, will only destabilize the country further. Given that the unquestioned return of Mohammed Morsi to the presidency would also only inflame tensions within the previous opposition, the only way forward is to hold a referendum with the following question:

1) Do you support Mohammed Morsi finishing his full-term as President of Egypt?

It is a direct question on the mood in Egypt, and the answer given, while not quelling all unrest, would provide the legitimacy to any transitional period that would follow (that is if the people answered no). With this referendum in tow, the country could move towards new presidential elections under a carefully managed process or continue with Morsi's presidency, with guarantees that he would govern much more inclusively (if the answer is yes). Yet, who will press for this type of solution, both internally and externally? On an international level, thus far, the U.S. has appeared "aloof", the Europeans "ineffective," and the Arab states mostly partisan. And while the African Union, which has dealt with such situations previously and has come out strongly on the current situation, likely has less influence in Egypt. Thus the reality should dawn on all Egyptians and all political forces within the country that there will be no basis for compromise or true salvation, if it does not emanate from within Egypt itself.

There will be many analyses made in the coming days around definitions and comparisons. Yet, fundamentally, Egypt is not Iran in 1980 or Algeria in 1991 or Turkey in 1997. It is Egypt in 2013, as hollow as that sounds - but that is the truth through which everything flows. And any resolution that emerges, must come from within the forces of Egypt in 2013. With Nelson Mandela, appearing to be on his deathbed (and our prayers with him), it is worth heeding, in closing, some of his words of wisdom, in this crisis:

"If you want to make peace with your enemy, you have to work with your enemy. Then he becomes your partner."

No comments:

Post a Comment