A Blog by the Editor of The Middle East Journal

Putting Middle Eastern Events in Cultural and Historical Context

Friday, June 28, 2013

The Paradoxes and Contradictions of June 30

 On Sunday, June 30, opponents of Egyptian President Muhammad Morsi will take to the streets on the anniversary of his presidency to demand new Presidential elections and a reboot of the democratization efforts that began with the January 25 revolution. They want to remove the President, dissolve the Shura Council (Islamist dominated and acting as the sole legislative body), and rewrite the new constitution. The Tamarrud (rebellion, insurrection) movement, the main organizers of the protests, are mostly secularist revolutionaries of 2011 disillusioned and feeling their accomplishments were sidetracked, perhaps derailed, when the Muslim Brotherhood got control of the locomotive. As Zeinobia notes, they're now trying to institutionalize a front organization.

The Brotherhood and its Freedom and Justice Party intend to defend the regime, seeing it as legitimate, democratically elected. and, as Morsi said in his speech this week, needing more time. They wouldn't object too strongly if the independent press (and maybe a couple of state-owned papers as well) and the judiciary got hammered a bit in the process.

US Ambassador Anne Patterson came under fire this week for suggesting that protests against the elected government would be a bad idea (an oversimplification of what she said, but one feeding the conspiracy theory among some Egyptian conspiracy theorists among liberal secularists that the US is backing the Muslim Brotherhood).

There's rather open yearning among some secularists for a military coup, to reset the clock and restart the democratization process. Really? Wasn't that what the 1952 coup promised? Didn't you finally shuffle your last general off the stage in 2011. 59 years later? Yeah, that'll work. It worked so well the last time. What are you thinking?

The prospect of the demonstrations has also fueled insecurity. There's a gasoline shortage and runs on other necessities. Insecurity is just what Egypt needs.

So am I opposed to June 30 (conspiracy theorists could say I'm in league with Ambassador Patterson)? No, the right to demonstrate should be sacrosanct. But there are problems with the demands being made. They would roll everything back, in effect, to February 11, 2011. That is not going to happen,because it ignores the Parliamentary and Presidential election results. Morsi won an election (by 51%) and the Freedom and Justice Party won a plurality in the Parliament (since dissolved) while Islamists held a majority overall. That can't be ignored. The Brotherhood and its allies have proven their support base.

The other side of the coin is they've proven other things as well: 
  1. A remarkable incompetence and inability to address serious issues like the economy, and a tendency to rally against outside enemies (Ethiopia on Nile waters, the usual suspects of Israel, "outside influences" meaning the West, Syria) while ignoring horrors at home (the recent killings of Shi‘ites, continued looking the other way on Coptic-Muslim clashes, public harassment, abuse, and even rape of women, torture in the prison Morsi himself once spent time in, etc.)
  2. Despite the FJP having won only a plurality in Parliament and Morsi's narrow squeaker win for the Presidency, an unwillingness to compromise, a sense of "legitimacy is ours and you're the enemy," and an attitude to NGOs and the press that is indistinguishable from Mubarak's except for the identity of some of the targets.
  3. An overall performance that, in a Parliamentary system, might already have led to the fall of the government, and that might justify a constitutional impeachment if there were in fact a Parliament in place.
But the opposition doesn't want a constitutional removal; they want a new revolution. Or so they say.

Now as an American, I have standing to criticize emerging democracies because of our sterling record of our two major parties working together. OK, how about the House, Senate, and President fully understand the need for compromise and always work together. Oh, all right. At least all sides universally accept judicial decisions. 

OK I see your point, maybe I don't have standing to criticize. But hey, Henry Clay, Daniel Webster, and John C. Calhoun got on real well in the 1840s. Too bad about that little Civil War unpleasantness that followed.

It is in fact the refusal of either side in Egypt to recognize the legitimacy of the other or consider power sharing that is most disturbing. One of the best expressions of the conflicting issues and ambiguities of this quarrel I have seen is in this post by Egyptian journalist Sarah Carr (who has an English father and Egyptian mother and is always a good read). Excerpts (but read it all)(language warning for one phrase):
Ideologically, I am extremely torn about the protests’ demands. I would like nothing better than for Morsy and his arrogant, obstinate Brothers to be booted out of Egyptian political life (and I voted for Morsy in order to keep out Shafiq) but have three issues:
1. It would hit the Muslim Brotherhood harder if they were ejected from Egyptian public life via elections. They would not be able to cry foul, and this would hit at their precious legitimacy in a way that the protests don’t. I have long been of the opinion that the Muslim Brotherhood should be left to their own devices as long as the economy can stand it, so that they continue to fuck up, destroy their support base, and we can be rid of them forever. This is a problematic and unpopular position, I know and it assumes firstly, they hold elections and secondly, they don’t forge results.
2. I keep imagining that it was ElBaradei or Hamdeen [Sabahi] or someone non-MB and palatable to those taking to the streets on Sunday was elected. I imagine, what if Mr Palatable did something to garner the ire of his (Islamist) opposition on a par with Morsy’s constitutional amendment, something along the lines of removing all reference to Sharia in the constitution (PEDANTS: I AM JUST IMAGINING FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS EXERCISE AND AM NOT SUGGESTING THEY WOULD).
Say that this inspired mass protests similar to those at the presidential palace in December 2012 and that Mr Palatable’s supporters used violence against the raging Islamist mobs. Now imagine that the political impasse dragged on and on until the exasperated Islamist opposition, together with ordinary Egyptians fed up at the economic situation and turmoil (I am assuming that no president could have fixed much in a year) took to the streets demanding Palatable go.
What would my position be? I would most likely stand against the Islamist mob and one of the arguments I would invoke is that Palatable was democratically elected and you, raving Islamist mob, represent nobody but yourselves.
3. If a miracle happened and Morsy did step down as a result of these protests it sets an awkward precedent. Particularly if the army is involved.
So I am in a quandary. I despise the Muslim Brotherhood and hate what they have done to the country. I like democracy, such as it is, and think that respecting clean election results is a useful and pretty essential rule in a functioning society, but then the Muslim Brotherhood themselves seem to have no respect for the rule of law. The reappearance of the Egyptian army in politics would be disastrous, and prompt a jingoistic army lovefest that my embattled nerves could not withstand. It would be ammunition for the Omar Suleiman “Egyptians are not ready for democracy” crowd, and that would be heartbreaking.

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