On Egypt's failure

I have been out of Egypt since late May, and my reaction to all that's happened there is shaped by that distance, by not having had the contact high of millions on the street, the ambient euphoria of collective will flexed and fulfilled.  But in this case perhaps it was a good thing. 

When I left the Tamarrod campaign seemed significant but unrealistic, part of the politics of regret and indignation that was all the powerless non-Islamist groups had left. Now lo an behold their improbable demands have all been granted, the compass of power has flipped, and we have Islamist leaders facing prison and men like Mohamed El Baradei in government. 

But who had the power to make these dreams come true, to so drastically alter Egypt's political reality? Who were the millions of protesters calling on to act? The deus ex machina, once again, is the military. For the second time in three years the Egyptian army, acting in response to enormous protests, has deposed a president. The first was a dictator of 30 years. The second had been elected, by a slim majority, a year ago, and had gone on to alienate, infuriate and terrify a good number of his countrymen.  

I've spent the last year railing against the Brotherhood's increasing bigotry, bullying, incompetence. They failed, on strategy and substance. They don't have the vision or the guts or the skills or the decency to govern Egypt and make something better of it. And the divisiveness the country suffers from now is largely their fault -- they could never represent anyone beyond themselves, and they could never believe that there were so many who they did not represent at all. 

But that doesn't mean one should support unwarranted retaliation agains them, or countenance the dehumanization (and murder) of their supporters. And that doesn't mean one should celebrate now -- quite the contrary, I fear. Since June 30, on social and old-fashioned Egyptian media, I have found a startling lack of lucidity. The endless denunciations of US meddling -- the alleged American backing of the Brotherhood, CNN’s biased coverage --  and the endless aspersions cast on all Islamists are pathological, a way to change the subject, to use indignation as a rhetorical and psychological feint. The denial of the pivotal, dangerous role played by the army and the police in what happened (a  role that continues to be documented in greater detail) is, as one observer puts it,  "a delusion so outlandish that it must be willfully self-induced, a device to conceal the enormity of a shameful choice."

From far away, there was something troubling, almost immediately, with Egypt's "second revolution." Now, as activists admit that retired army generals asked them not to chant against the military or the police; as gas shortages and power cuts suddenly end; as the entire Egyptian media, state and private, spews propaganda; as charges are brought against the Brotherhood that would make them responsible for both the violence of protesters and the police during the original 18 days (hence proving there was no raging animosity on one side, no criminal wrong-doing on the other); now my misgivings have congealed. And so have others'. I've been reading an awful lot of what's been written about Egypt in the last three weeks, and almost everything that strikes me as true is also grim. 

Here is Baheyya, for example:

It’s soothing to believe that a popular uprising ejected an incompetent Islamist president. It’s not comforting to point out that a popular uprising was on the cusp of doing so, until the generals stepped in, aborted a vital political process, arrested the president, and proclaimed their own “roadmap” for how things will be from now on.
The constant equating of democracy with disorder and the positioning of the military as the stabilizer and guarantor, this is the stuff of the resurgent Egyptian counter-revolution.

If you need further circumstantial evidence, look at the support of reactionary countries like Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates. What is most dispiriting to see is how skillfully the army and police manipulated -- turned into useful pageantry -- the kind of mass public protest that just two years caught them completely off guard. 

Here are the editors of MERIP:

All of the major political forces in Egypt seem to be playing a winner-takes-all game where the prize is total control of the state. The rhetorical indicator is the ubiquitous offer to shed one’s own blood; everyone is primed to be a martyr to the cause, whether the purge of Muslim Brothers from government or Mursi’s reinstatement. Almost no one appears ready to face the messy and time-consuming task of power sharing. In this scenario, typical and absolutely logical in societies that have been heavily repressed, the true victor tends to be the entrenched power broker, here the military and its fat-cat friends.

I share their pessimistic view of the current "political arithmetic" in Egypt:

In 2011, the revolutionaries needed the Brothers to topple Mubarak; in 2013, they needed Mubarak loyalists and salafis to toss out the Brothers. What coalition can now form to tackle the structures of inequity, arbitrary rule and social strife in Egypt? In the near term, none leaps to mind.

Khalil Anani's assessment is even more dire: Egypt is witnessing "a setback and critical failure of politics and morality together." 

Hence, as Ahmad Shokr notes, also in MERIP

...a societal mood that is becoming more inclined toward intolerance and scapegoating. Egypt’s unsavory climate of chauvinism, intransigence, opportunism and deceit from almost every side has been made worse by Mursi’s ouster and its bloody aftermath. Media outlets are constantly in search of fifth columnists to demonize, whether as “terrorists” or as “infidels.” The Brothers are portrayed as traitors with a penchant for violence who must be forcibly subdued.

To scapegoat Islamists this way is not fair or healthy. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamist project were spectacularly delegitimized on June 30th -- what threat did they present after that?  And what threat, on the other hand, do the country's resurgent security services and empowered generals pose now? 

For, as Sarah Carr notes, the Muslim Brotherhood "missed the point that for public relations purposes, if you are an Arab president who desires to quash dissent through an organized group, you better make sure that that group is in uniform."

And here is Nathan Brown, on the road ahead -- a road we would seem to have already traveled. 

What mistakes are being repeated? Start with a constitutional declaration written in secret and dropped on a population that, still basking in post-revolutionary goodwill, is not reading the fine print. Then add a considerable measure of vagueness, an extremely rushed timetable, critical gaps and loopholes, and a promise that everyone gets a seat at a table but not much of a guarantee that anybody listens to what is said at that table: The generals are clearly calling the shots for the short term, but there's just enough opacity, and a dose of influence for civilian officials and politicians, that it's not clear where the real responsibility lies. Reward those who cut deals with the military or security apparatus, but also allow those who missed out on cutting a deal to decry the very idea of such deals. Add in measures of repression, xenophobia, media restrictions and harassment, and the postponement of all reform questions. Use state media in a blatantly partisan way. And subject Egyptians to a rapid series of elections so that, as soon as they're done with one round of balloting, they are called to vote on the next.