In the wake of the army’s ultimatum and President Morsi’s subsequent speech, there has been much discussion – mostly speculation – over what is next to come. There appear to be widespread and vocal calls to return to military rule, and intransigence on the part of the President and his camp. In this climate, Salafis seem to be nervously backing off of their own overly ideological and infrequently qualified support for their fellow Islamist. While some have joined pro-Morsi protests, the leadership appears to be endorsing calls for early elections.
Rather than polarization, the not totally unexpected scenario has pushed the new regime against a wall. It is a similar wall against which Mubarak, probably under the influence of his wife and younger son, and his technocratic coalition were pushed. The overzealous population of bureaucratic institutions with loyalists, and the overzealous pursuit by President Morsi of questionably constitutional methods of problem solving have stoked some serious flames.
But the kindling was split between a very broad complicity in and acceptance of the methods and thinking of the former system and a purported and wholehearted enthusiasm for its removal. But the political system, much like Mubarak’s ouster, was clearly based on the underlying republican structure of Egypt – which is based on the military. I had debates with friends, almost immediately after Mubarak resigned, as to whether this constituted a military coup – and I believed it did.
Still, whatever one’s metaphysical inclinations, without a clear unifying symbol to oppose, the opposition fractured both among and within itself. Early examples ranged in ridiculousness from education-qualified voting or the ban on former National Democratic Party candidates, which was later ruled unconstitutional. Liberals were almost immediately fractured into a tiny minority of democrats and those whose methodology is eerily similar to that of filoul. But all of this occurred against a more or less untouched military backdrop.
Almost nobody can hold claim to a continuous mantle of liberalism in Egyptian politics. Even the socialist candidate Hamdeen Sabahi recently repeated a call for military intervention. That is a disturbing pronouncement for someone who had more or less represented radically democratic hopes for a chunk of the population. But President Morsi’s speech was reminiscent of Mubarak’s speech – and it was replete with references to legitimacy. The obvious difference is that Morsi was elected; and in that respect has a more obvious claim to legitimacy. The problem is that elections are a democratic mechanism.
Democratic states nearly always fade or wither without the solidification of constitutional republicanism. And in this regard, President Morsi’s attempts to dismiss the Prosecutor General or to seize legislative powers makes it difficult to accept his argument of legitimacy. It is equally difficult to accept his argument that simply remaining in power is his duty. In large part, his lethargy or ambivalence in dealing with Egypt’s crises have made it far easier for the majority of the population to nominally withdraw their support. Simply saying legitimacy enough may subliminally alter the stars, but people can use it as little more than a meme.
This is notwithstanding that qualifying the election results by turnout and voter registration, Morsi actually received about 24.6% of the total vote in Round 1 or 11.2% of the total number of registered voters. Turnout was slightly higher in the second round – and at just over 50% argues for the broadly acceptable legitimacy of second round results – but qualified by registration Morsi still only received support from just over 24% of the electorate. Morsi did have a slim democratic mandate. However, these figures highlight both how slim it really was (particularly qualified by the first round) and the large number of disenfranchised from the outset of Egyptian elections. It may not be an unusual feature among new democracies or democracies in general. But it adds a pretty powerful wildcard.
So, much speculation has concerned Morsi’s potential departure. Speculation persists over the interests of the military, with many perhaps indicating they have forgotten that the military ceded power only a year ago. Still more have forgotten that the military seized power in 1952 and has ruled more or less unchallenged since then. But Morsi’s departure will resolve itself tomorrow. Similarly, President Mubarak resigned in a day; although technically he didn’t resign, and he didn’t go fully of his own accord, necessarily.
But issues of blame and appearance are not necessarily paramount. People have forgotten that the army is in large part to blame for some of the current crises. Morsi seems to forget that the minimum wage hike he took credit for apparently occurred under the SCAF. The New York Times reported on a number of Morsi-ally arrests, although the only thing I have seen regarded the body guards of Khairat el-Shater, with his whereabouts unknown at the time.
Very little speculation seems to concern how this situation would differ from January 25th, or how the competency of politicians or the military has been altered in that interim? What exactly would change if Egypt returned to the policies it had pursued since at least the mid-1950s?
Hezb el-Nour, the Salafi Party, may have backed off its support. But they must know that they will never rule Egypt. However much things have come to a head between the military and the President and Brotherhood – and it is clear that they have – they were still unwilling allies at times. The same cannot be said of Hezb el-Nour. It is not necessarily relevant, but I had seen some suggestion that Nour could emerge as the major player if the Brotherhood were once again banned. This is implausible, as the only mechanism for power since 1952 has been through endorsement of the military.
Reasons given for Morsi’s ouster do not seem to match broader stated goals. In fact, many of the underlying problems Morsi is claimed to have not addressed are also not being addressed in the most recent round of protests. Beneficiaries of such an ouster are really unclear; because while the Brotherhood will almost certainly lose new Presidential elections, a new president will face similar problems. And any new president will be equally constrained by the omnipresent military structure of economics and politics.
But a new president is also unlikely to have as cohesive a support base, making action additionally difficult. People may have forgotten almost entirely that a military is supposed to defend against external threats. But this could be explained by police forces never really taking the lead in protecting people domestically anyway.
On some level, the military benefits most from a nominally stable political situation without a strong, social movement-backed political force. A recent video blog post by a friend mentioned the situation in Egypt prior to revolution, in which there was a sort of three-way split between the palace, the parliament, and the British. Nasser himself acknowledged that Egyptians were fond of cyclical identification: and slogans used against the Ottomans were subsequently adapted to the British. But unlike during that time, Parliament and Palace – in this case – were not really in conflict.
Moreover, the impact of American involvement is very unclear. The strongest relationship between the US and any Egyptian political players is clearly with the army, which receives American aid but which also maintains interpersonal and lobbying relationships. Ultimately, the jubilant calls in the street signal the worst kind of counter-revolution. It threatens to once again legitimate the military rule that has already continued unabated throughout this period. And it threatens to do so at the expense of the nascent attempts to institutionalize democratic processes.
In fairness, Morsi does increasingly seem to be intractably incompetent. And he cannot, at least not yet, claim that he was threatened despite all attempts at outreach. He is not seen as a reliable player among most political entities or the public. But most political entities would probably meet and deal with him anyway – even if they would publicly eschew meetings. And this is where my fear and condemnation of the ‘opposition’ movement is starting to grow in anticipation of tomorrow. [I should clarify that I mean my annoyance grows with their own intransigence, and a lack of recognition that the goal should not be Morsi’s resignation.]
Constitutional issues are, ironically, not of paramount import. This is mostly because the constitution has been sidelined since the issue of Islam as the continuing official religion wasted everyone’s energy and political capital. The constitutional issues at root are far more fundamental, and cannot be encoded in a document without being resolved in the broadest possible consensus.
When protests started in 2011, they galvanized and changed a lot of people. In part, feeling part of something bigger and having hope for change and vox populi was inspiring to many who had lived under a semi-official policy of forced political apathy. And then that apathy somewhat resurfaced. Some ‘career’ revolutionaries may not see a path back to normal governance. Yet others have no connection to the revolution; and the most recent protests seem to have fused together various [‘original’] revolutionaries and various non-revolutionaries [or nouveau-revolutionaries].
This is dangerous to the former, who already clearly are seen as the greatest threat by the military and political establishment. Their lack of connection to either, and the looseness of their hierarchy make them difficult to co-opt consistently. But the idea that the military has ‘left,’ is absurd. And the idea that the military should re-intervene is a matter of showmanship and sleight of hand. Ultimately, the majority of the population has apparently not been sold on the need for radical social reformation – or at least not in the direction originally envisaged by most revolutionaries. Conversely, a subset has not really been sold on the politics of normalcy – and I am not sure they want to be.
In part this is due to the lack of reliable information through polling material. I am both lucky and sad that my own attempt to start a polling company in Cairo in April 2011 ultimately failed. I would undoubtedly otherwise be in jail for espionage. But one must wonder about the democratic prospect of such a situation in which gathering critical information on the public’s composition and demands is extremely tightly controlled. [Maybe I’m misinformed and it’s wonderful now. But it seems that from the Presidential palace to Mohammed Mahmoud, I don’t seem to be much less aware of what’s going on…]
And the media also shares a lot of blame in the scenario for printing all news – they’ve simply mitigated the fitness criterion. Many papers treated Morsi’s ouster as all but a fait accompli over the weeks leading up to June 30. The condition on the ground is unclear, but I have read several accounts of random street violence involving serious firearms. If some of this sounds similar to January 2011, it probably should. There is a greater degree of freedom in public discourse and media, but it is qualified by partisanship. It is a free press as existed in 18th century America. And what followed that were the sedition acts that are likely to follow any new transition away from democratic structures. Another key difference is that the military has been more visibly political in a way not apparent for decades prior.
But they have not subsequently left power; and they did not enter into power in February 2011. They clear waded a little further with Morsi. But my inclination is that they will not ditch him if possible. [This may be an attempt to forestall his own notions of a civil state, however.] To borrow from the pages of January 2011, two possibilities have not been explored in great depth: the first involves his direct military ouster, and the second involves him being ditched by his party. He doesn’t really have a party, so it is difficult to see how a coalition could push him out. For once it seems he may be more of a public liability to the Freedom and Justice Party than vice versa.
But ultimately, the military will almost certainly not find a more reliable partner in the opposition scene – unless they are banking on some miraculous return of Ahmed Shafiq. In all, democrats undoubtedly stand to lose the most. If the military forces out the Brotherhood and FJP, they will have signaled an exclusion of any future relationship with Islamists moving forward. This would bring jubilation to some of the population. And why not? No doubt many of them missed their opportunity to demonstrate in 2011; so they will get their fill now – when their interests more directly oppose a movement away from the NDP and previous corrupt structures. Many could afford to live under such structures.
But Mubarak ruled for decades. Morsi has ruled for three days over a year. The same type of symbolic resistance is not appropriate. There is a sense of juvenile fascination – like an infant learning about its body. There is a great corresponding sense of justice accompanying a breaking point after which people confront decades of oppression and stagnation. But like hatred of Obama over his deficit, and clearly not due to at least partly latent racism, many protesters simply hate the Brotherhood because it’s an Islamist organization. It was disheartening to see discussions on Sandmonkey’s twitter feed calling Morsi Egypt’s worst president – even worse than Mubarak.
Anyone can say what they want – to a point. But that level of anger is somewhat difficult to understand. It is particularly difficult to understand coming from someone so personally harassed and affected by the former regime. But moreover, returning to a fifty-year old policy of excluding the Brotherhood entirely would be a devastating to Egypt’s nascent democracy. And it would alienate a large segment of the population – including those to the right of the Brotherhood. Liberals, and there are not many, should have no doubt that once their role in legitimating a re-transition is satisfied, they too will return to jail. [Most will go abroad.]
It is very disheartening that political and policy disagreements have been allowed to cloud the vision of previous visionaries. But worse, I am shocked that in the year and more that the opposition has had to think, and ponder, and articulate they have come up with no actual unifying positive measures forward. [In fairness, Baradei has, but he came up with it either around or before like February 2011.] Morsi has become a symbolic victim as much as Mubarak. Neither is wholly undeserved. But such objects of mobilization are frightening because there is no corresponding mobilization in support of building institutions or entrenching constitutionalism.