A Battle That No One Can Win?
If all this were a novel, then it must be said that – despite or specifically because of its tragic elements – it does not fulfil the artistic requirements of the genre.
The limited imagination and the limitless greed of the Muslim Brothers, their arrogant treatment of millions of Egyptians and their allegiances with radical Islamist groups, whose presence was aimed at frightening people off the mere idea of resistance – all this has made the year of their reign a banal lesson on the consequences of avarice and blindness.
But in the end a literary text, whether it works or not, remains nothing more than a construct of words; while this story has happened in reality and is still going on – quite possibly with terrible consequences. After all, real blood is spilled in true stories, and innocent people pay the price for the power struggles being waged over their heads.
In January 2011, millions of Egyptians streamed onto squares and streets to join the fight for a better life for themselves and their children, and to achieve a free, democratic homeland, so that the army in the end saw itself obliged to bow to their wishes and force President Mubarak out of office. During the interim phase, which was dominated by the Military Council, Egyptians also continued to demonstrate in support of their dream of freedom and democracy; and young people lost their lives in pursuit of this goal.
When the first presidential elections after the revolution went into the deciding round, many of us received a rude awakening – in the runoff, the only choice left for us was between Ahmad Shafiq, a familiar face from the Mubarak era, and the Muslim Brotherhood candidate; both men had, after the toppling of Mubarak, manoeuvred themselves past the secular opposition and close to the military council, in order to secure the main role on the political stage for themselves.
Some members of the secular opposition boycotted the poll, others cast empty ballots in protest, but most gritted their teeth and voted for Mohammed Morsi, so as to at least avoid having to embrace a representative of the old system as the country's new president.
And had Morsi not promised during the election campaign that in the event of a victory, he would involve secular forces in the process, build a coalition government and not leave the drawing up of the new constitution to his religious party colleagues alone?
Morsi's empty election promises
As it is now known, these promises were consigned to the trash bin after Morsi's election victory. Repression and violence against dissidents continued, he never delivered on his promise to restructure the police force, diverging political opinions descended into poisonous spats, in which the president repudiated his opponents variously as crooks, disciples of the old system or as infidels.
It was soon evident to the disappointed secular opposition that for the new president, democracy consisted only of the ballot boxes that put him in power. But apart from the economic decline during Morsi's presidency, there are two other major events that should be singled out as having partly caused public anger to boil over during the past few months.
The first was the adoption of the constitution in late 2012 – a document with a strong Islamic slant, therefore making it controversial – and the occasionally brutal crackdown on the rallies that flared up as a result. Also, Egyptians have been more recently alarmed by a demonstration of solidarity for Syria that – in the presence of the president – took place in June in a Cairo stadium. There, Morsi waved a flag of Egypt and the Syrian opposition and announced denounced Lebanon's Shiite Hezbollah guerrillas for fighting alongside Assad's forces.
This then served as a green light for radical Sunnis to issue hate tirades against the Shiites and calls for Jihad in Syria – which fanned the flames of the civil war raging there and, in the minds of Egyptians, triggered bad memories of past experience with radicalized war returnees from Afghanistan.
His closeness to militant Islamists has cost Morsi a great deal of trust; support from figures such as Mohammed az-Zawahri (brother of the notorious al Qaida leader) and the Jihadist Tariq az-Zamar have given rise to doubts over his declared belief in national security and moderate standpoints.
A nation in paralysis
But I do not want to give the impression that I am demonizing Morsi or the Muslim Brotherhood lock, stock and barrel. I am aware that as president, he took on a difficult legacy and was confronted with quite daunting challenges; but the fatal error that Morsi committed – all too obligated to his organization – was to almost totally exclude dissidents from governmental power and his allegiances with radical Islamist groupings.
A further weakness of the President is his unchecked propensity for conspiracy theories, which consequently means that he perceived all criticism as attempts to force him out of office. He has always regarded himself as the sole representative of the revolution and his opponents a priori as agents of the corrupt old guard.
That Morsi's year in power will go down in history as a period of paralysis, of rising prices, growing queues of cars at gas stations and ever increasing power cuts is now known; although his government was wont to consign citizens' complaints to the realm of evil lies, while maintaining that fuel was plentiful and that the economy was on the right track.
If an expert dared to refer to the imminent threat of economic collapse, Morsi contented himself with a retort along the lines of: "Only the bankrupt blather on about bankruptcy!" The Tamarod movement was then able to channel the dissatisfaction of the population with appropriate efficacy.
The movement only needed one-and-a-half months to validate the demand for Morsi's resignation with more than 22 million signatures and then, on 30 June, bring millions of people out on the streets. But the president refused any compromise that might have led to the establishment of peace and stability.
At the beginning of this article I wrote that the reign of the Muslim Brotherhood has been a banal lesson: it remains to be said that in view of the increasing levels of violence in this saga, there can only be losers. The Muslim Brotherhood has, as a consequence of its obstinacy and its radicalization, lost more in the space of one single year than previously in two decades of repression.
The price for this is paid first and foremost by the young members of the organization, because they are the ones that are now being sent ahead unarmed in the battle against their compatriots and being made to face public ire.
With every bullet fired, with every act of violence committed in the name of an Islamist group, the Muslim Brothers are increasingly finding themselves cast the public enemy, while in parallel to this the aura of the army grows, an army that is being perceived as the only saviour; this could signify a serious danger for the goals of the revolution.
Dream and nightmare
Those who took to the streets in the revolts for a free Egypt could now see their dream become a nightmare. They fought for a modern, democratic state, one that is now in danger of degenerating into a pseudo democracy or in the worst-case scenario, into the paradox of a totalitarian democracy.
Most of those who are now cheering the army and its leaders did not view Morsi's dismissal as a military putsch, but as the army's siding with millions of demonstrating compatriots; and although they might have been initially aware of the risks of this intervention, the army is now viewed as the sole guarantor of the nation's survival.
In this context, anyone drawing attention to the far from blemish-free conduct of the military council following the ousting of Morsi can expect to earn nothing but wry looks at present.
In the Islamist groups outside of the Muslim Brotherhood (the majority of them Salafist) many see this as confirmation of their fundamental mistrust of democracy; this deepens the gulf between them and the Muslim Brotherhood, but above all also their alienation from the moderate and secular sections of Egyptian society. A dangerous emotional state that feeds off the still-fresh memory of the persecution of Islamists in the Mubarak era and in the fear of a return to such a situation.
The revolution has not reached its end
These recent events give rise to the fear that Egypt has entered one of the most dangerous periods of its modern history. I am holding on tight to the hope that the voice of reason will triumph and drown out the hate-filled voices presently dominating the picture – after all, in a battle such as this, there are neither winners nor losers.
Everyone is paying the price for the violence that is flaring up, and everyone shares the responsibility for it – to varying degrees. And we must realize that we are not in a democratic transition phase, but in a revolution that has been going on for two-and-a-half years.
The wrangling for freedom, social justice, a solid anchoring of human rights and the rule of law is far from over, and any attempt to discourage the nation from this path or to monopolise political power will cost us all very dear.
The launch of negotiations – including the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist groups – and the determination of a strategy that guarantees an interim phase characterized by fairness and justice: These would be initial steps that might lead Egypt out of this vicious circle of violence.
© Qantara.de 2013
Translation: Nina Coon
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de