48 hours of bliss, fear and anger – in that order

Nour The Intern writes in with some personal thoughts...

Following the military's earlier-than-expected ultimatum, protesters in Tahrir and elsewhere, and their supporters at home, let out a collective sigh of relief and smiled contentedly. The military had just promised to get rid of Morsi, they just have to stay put for two short days. No one has to die or sleep on the asphalt. All they have to do is wait.

The ultimatum, which people are treating as if it were employment termination letter, gave the channel Al-Kahera Wa Alnas, who already shared Mahmoud Saad's views on the importance of a neutral media - which he summarized last night in two words and a sound: "Huh? What neutrality?" - the courage to rid themselves of the last pretense of it. The channel now has a 4-split screen coverage of protests: three anti-Morsi protests by "the Egyptian people" and one by mere, probably foreign,"regime supporters," topped with a timer counting down the hours to Morsi's ouster.

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How did we get here? — Evan Hill

A great piece looking at the journey from January 25 to June 30 2013 by Cairo-based journalist Evan Hill — here's the bit that looks at the crucial role of the November 27 2012 constitutional declaration, the point where I agree with Evan it was over for Morsi's claim to leadership beyond his core base:  

The beginning of the end came in November, almost a year to the day after the Mohamed Mahmoud battle, when Morsi issued a package of sovereign decrees - just four months into his term - that essentially placed himself and assembly above judicial review. He and his allies argued that to stand by and do nothing would leave courts packed with Mubarak appointees free to undermine every step of the transition. The opposition, which may have once been inclined to agree, did not take his side. There had been too many betrayals, trust had evaporated. To the apparent surprise of Morsi’s administration, they were outraged. Protesters took to the streets, calling the president a “new pharaoh.” The remaining liberals, progressives, leftists and Christians in the constituent assembly walked out. Morsi gave them two extra months to resolve their differences, but the assembly rushed the draft constitution through an overnight session and passed it. Opposition politicians increasingly believed that Morsi did not even call his own shots; that decisions of national import were made in the Brotherhood's secretive Guidance Bureau. In Egypt's new constitution, human rights groups and other critics saw gaping loopholes, lax protections for minorities, women and children, and troubling roles for religious oversight from conservative Sunni institutions.

The November crisis awakened the opposition to a harsh reality: they were going to keep losing this game, and the Brotherhood was not going to stop playing. The only solution was to change the rules. They united, for the first time, under the banner of the National Salvation Front. Their faltering effort to boycott and then vote down the new constitution failed, but the unexpectedly tight result convinced them that Morsi’s base was shrinking. Soon after, the NSF declared that it would boycott upcoming parliamentary elections unless many of the rules - written by the nearly wholly Islamist upper house - were changed. Improbably, filled with inflated egos and highly oppositional parties, the NSF held its front.

In December, after Morsi supporters ransacked a small sit-in outside the presidential palace and sparked deadly street battles, a more extreme wing of the opposition began to wield influence inside the coalition. They argued that Morsi had lost all legitimacy. He would have to go, voluntarily or by force. Violent anti-Brotherhood protests became the order of the day. Instability worked in the opposition’s favor. The economy was nose-diving, and security forces - becoming more openly vocal in their disdain for the Brotherhood government - could not or would not do their jobs. They took no pleasure facing the brunt of public ire for protecting a conservative, formerly clandestine movement that had stood against the state for so long. Social media and independent television stations lit up with images of Brotherhood members beating away protesters. Newspapers openly mocked Morsi’s government for its inability to right the ship. Rumors and anonymously sourced news reports spread about the Brotherhood’s ambitions to Islamize the army and police and carve off critical swaths of sovereign assets, such as those along the Suez Canal, to sell to benefactors in Qatar. Morsi - one of the more deeply uncharismatic leaders in modern Arab history - proved incapable of rallying anyone outside his base. Nearly everything he said became gas on the fire of the opposition’s anger.

Do read the whole thing.

The delegitimization of Mohamed Morsi

I have a piece in The National   looking the three battling types of legitimacy in Egypt — revolutionary, electoral and institutional — and how they have played out in the last two years. The piece offers no predictions on the outcome of June 30, as there are too many variables and unknowns, but I do feel grimly confident of the following: 

  • The army will wait it out to the last minute (possibly disastrously so as early intervention might be better in cases of large-scale violence) and may be internally divided about how to proceed (hence the hesitation).
  • Should Morsi be toppled, it will create an enormous problem with the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamists for years to come. They will feel cheated of legitimately gained power and Egyptian politics will only grow more divisive and violent. 
  • Whatever alliance came together behind the Tamarrod protests will fall apart the day after its successful, because its components are as incompatible as the alliance that toppled Hosni Mubarak.
  • The leadership around the NSF (ElBaradei, Moussa, Sabahi etc.) has followed rather than led Tamarrod and will not be able to provide effective leadership in the coming days. Only the army can. 
  • If Morsi remains and the protests are repressed or simply die out, the country will nonetheless remain as difficult to govern considering Morsi's lack of engagement with the opposition. 

I'd like, time permitting, to do a series of short posts on the current crisis over the next day or two. I have not been in Egypt since late May as I'm spending the summer in Morocco, but do want to note some of the more long-term trends that led to this moment.  

What is most striking about June 30 is how effectively Mohamed Morsi has been delegitimized despite his election, a year ago, having been largely considered free and fair by the public. Part of that is his own fault, of course: his November 27, 2012, constitutional declaration was probably illegal and ended any benefit of the doubt the opposition was ready to give to him. The rushing of the constitution was likewise a slap in the face that created the opportunity of the current moment, with revolutionaries, liberals and old regime members temporarily collaborating against what they perceive as the greater evil of the Muslim Brotherhood. And he has made at least one disastrous decision, in the context of last December's crisis, that has significantly worsened the economic outlook of the country by postponing reforms that had been planned as part of the IMF rescue package. I do not think it is fair, however, to blame Morsi for the more general economic situation (he inherited massive debt, an electricity crisis, a subsidies crisis, etc.) but it is true that save from raising loans from Qatar and elsewhere he has done little to stem it — and indeed his profligate spending on civil service salaries has worsened things to some extent.

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Even the financial types are freaking out

From this morning Beltone Financial newsletter, by an Egypt-based regional investment bank that does a pretty good roundup of local news:  

The size of masses to protest against Morsi, the duration and intensity of the protests, the role of the army, and the support of the west including the US will all determine the outcome of the protests. We are inclined to believe that the end of Morsi’s presidency is looming, but that it will likely take deadly clashes and continued civil disobedience. This may extend beyond the week of June 30th, thus extending the length of political instability in Egypt. We also believe that it would take army intervention to control the Muslim Brotherhood before and after Morsi steps down. The Brotherhood’s dream of a caliphate in the region and beyond is at stake and they will not give up that easily. The West will stop supporting President Morsi only when they see the Egyptians themselves all turn against him. The lack of US and western support of President Morsi will definitely turn the table against him and will result in the end of his rule. The army will intervene when the clashes become deadly and widespread, yet it is unclear whether their role will end there or if they will aspire for more power and thus the scenario whereby the Egyptians turn against the army starts again.

Yup - but it's a tall order to align those conditions. So far, the army is waiting and Obama is supportive of Morsi as legitimately elected leader. But that could change fast.

Morsi regrets constitutional declaration - kinda

From the Guardian's interview with Mohamed Morsi:  

In a rare moment of contrition, Morsi admitted for the first time in the English-language media that he regretted using unilateral powers to force through Egypt's controversial new constitution – a move that the opposition saw as dictatorial. This was the pivotal moment of his first year, sowing the seeds for widespread dissent against his administration.

"It contributed to some kind of misconception in society," Morsi said, distancing himself from one of the most divisive clauses in the new Islamist-slanted constitution, which allows for greater religious input into Egyptian legislation. "It's not me who changed this article. I didn't interfere in this constitutional committee's work. Absolutely not."

The president added that once MPs were finally elected to Egypt's currently empty lower house of parliamentary, he would personally submit constitutional amendments for debate in the house's very first session.

But Morsi's contrition only went so far. Amid opposition claims that the failure to achieve consensus had led to Egypt's current polarisation, Morsi blamed the refusal of secular politicians to participate in the political process for the impasse. He denied that his government was unduly loaded with Islamists. He went on to list numerous offers he claimed he had made to bring non-Islamists on board, while simultaneously defending the right of a popularly-elected president to promote his allies. "This is the concept of real democracy," he said.

Back to the Margins

Lina Attalah, observing June 30 uncomfortably from the margins, which is where the 25 January 2011 uprising started: 

For one, those assigned the job of articulating street politics, namely the formal opposition, are excelling in their own bankruptcy and decadence. Figures that were once broadly associated with the revolutionary camp, as they fell outside the Islamists-Mubarak regime binary in the presidential elections, are now the ones declaring today that there is no solution to end the Brothers’ rule but a military takeover. In juxtaposition, the Brotherhood elites in power and their self-appointed spokespersons added one more item to their list of sins: they have successfully contaminated the realm of contentious politics with their clan-based practices and their overall inability to enunciate genuine propositions that would put an end to the current stalemate. In other words, they rid the political space of meaning, and hence killed all possibilities for meaningful engagement by the opposition.

This also translates on discursive levels. The Islamist elites have in a way generated some of the counter-discourses of their opponents, who now say “let them go back to their prison cells.” After all, it is people like al-Jamaa al-Islamiyya leader Assem Abd El Magued who say things like, “we will cut your throats and come to you with a thousand men, each of them worth a thousand men.”

So, lesson learned, after a three-year-old revolution: let us not demonize the people, and let us not fall into our repeated failure to understand where they come from. The fight for what we imagine are our revolutionary ideals will need to take a different shape. I still engage in conversations with neighbors, friends, and family members who lament the economic failures, the political debacle, and the sectarianism, while I keep reminding them that all of these were also attributes of the Mubarak regime and the military junta that followed it. But I often also disengage when they start guilt tripping me about my decision to vote for Morsi in the presidential election’s runoffs, when he faced off against Mubarak regime figure Ahmed Shafiq. As soon as these accusations begin, I find myself enumerating in my head the list of groceries I need to buy. 

But the question remains: How do we take a position, those of us with clarity around the rejection of the very nature of the Egyptian state as a militaristic/security state? How do we handle our sense of possession of a revolution that we wanted so much to be against an unjust, exclusionary state, as manifested in its robust military and security apparatuses, and not simply against a regime? How do we grapple with a revolution transcending our dreams, our aspirations, and even ourselves, while possibly putting us in its camp of adversaries in its new configuration? 

 

Why efforts to broker a compromise in Egypt failed

Nathan Brown writes: 

Yet these maximal positions are not the core of the problem. An agreement may actually have been possible but the political will was simply missing. There were a series of quiet efforts undertaken in the past few months to bring the government and opposition together. These efforts (some domestic, some international) all centered around a set of proposals to form a new cabinet with credible national figures, consider constitutional amendments, and move toward an agreed electoral framework. Those involved in these efforts reported considerable progress the major (and perhaps only) missing ingredient was a willingness to sign on the dotted line. While the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) sent mixed signals, ultimately its judgment seemed to be that agreement offered few benefits and too high a cost. They had too many forces to contend with, and ultimately those within the state apparatus (military, security forces, judiciary, bureaucracy) absorbed all their energy. For divided opposition leaders unwilling to be seen as negotiating, mistrust of their sporadic interlocutors ran just as deep.
And now attitudes have grown hard indeed. I asked one leading FJP parliamentarian -- a figure I have come to respect as level headed, calm, introspective, and patient -- whether he thought he wished his side had done anything differently (referring specifically to the crisis over Morsi's November 2012 constitutional declaration and the subsequent clashes). He replied with visible anger that not only did he think they would do it all over again but that in fact they will do it all over again if necessary. And when I remarked to a friend in a responsible position that I did not think Morsi would leave office voluntarily, he replied that he thought the Egyptian people would deal with him as Libyans had dealt with Muammar al-Qaddafi.
Calmer language was used in Europe in the summer of 1914.

 

The mood in Cairo

We asked Nour The Intern to send us a ground-level view of the mood in Cairo ahead of #June30mageddon. This is her response. 

Well, the atmosphere in Cairo is relatively calm, as opposed to other governorates, like Sharqia, Alexandria, Assiut, Suez, where unrest arrived a few days early. Whether it’s the kind of calm that comes before the storm or one that could last beyond June 30, no one knows.

The weather has officially lost its spot as the number one topic for small talk to June 30. Asking someone about their views of, or plans for, June 30 is the new "Very humid today, worse than yesterday, right?" and saying "God save us on June 30," or things to that effect, has all but replaced goodbyes.

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