Over the last few weeks, discourse in Egypt has changed from one of anti-authoritarianism to one of antiterrorism. Whereas the previous administration was accused of a tendency toward developing autocracy, its ‘remnants’ are now accused of being outright terrorists. An analyst, on twitter, asked a former Shafiq spokesman when he had come to this conclusion. The latter had no real answer, citing himself saying they were bad in 2011. The former pushed, explaining that obviously to move from believing the Muslim Brotherhood was ‘bad’ to that they were ‘terrorists,’ would obviously require decisive evidence. The responses from most like-minded people have been equally absent.
My previous long, rambling piece originated in an even longer, more rambling piece. The impetus was my realization, today, that Adly Mansour is both head of the Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) and President of the Republic. The claims of autocracy, which were largely touted by political elites, came from two primary sources. The first was President Morsi’s constitutional declaration, suspending the SCC ability to review Presidential decisions until a new constitution passed, authorized retrials of former regime members allegedly involved in killings, and expanded Presidential powers. The second was the apparent solidification of appointments around Brotherhood members.
Meet the New Boss…
From a factual standpoint, both things have a valid basis in reality. The Constitutional Declaration was issued, in November 2012. But was it a drive to autocracy? I’m pretty sure that the US Supreme Court has rarely ruled against an acting executive. I pointed out to my dad that I felt that President Obama deserved some degree of blame for being ineffective; and that Lyndon Johnson (domestically) deserved praise for his ability to push legislation through – like the Civil Rights and Voting Rights Acts. He pointed out that the Democrats controlled Congress. That’s sort of the rub – on the one hand, cooperative legislatures and executives tend to be more effective at implementing agendas; on the other hand the power of the latter tends to be less checked.
No doubt, this along with the appointment of loyalists scared those who’d defected from their ideologies to support Morsi in the second round of elections. They clearly believed that political reality, setting in, would cause him to appoint a broader coalition. Conversely, there was a lot of distrust at working with the Brotherhood from the get-go. On the one hand, there was an early mandate for strong Presidential action toward reform. On the other hand, many became nervous when reform entailed actually changing things.
It highlights how much of a perceptual matter history in the making is. The problem is pure liberals are in the extreme minority, and all truly differentiable currents are arguably pluralities at best. The return of ‘tacit-Liberal’ Nationalists to their support for the military has seriously damaged the credibility of a specifically Liberal movement, possibly irreparably. The New York Times recently pointed out the legacy of military involvement in Pan-Arabism as one possible reason some Liberal-Nationalists have embraced the military.
Nevertheless, the other real problem is that we (those on the ground) who gave in to early optimism largely saw the progression as clear – it was a fight between a broad reformist coalition and the old regime. Whatever the transient interests of each group, the clarity was undeniable. As a result, everyone lost perhaps the first real opportunity in Egypt’s history to spread support for a broad-based democratic coalition supporting reform. Because it was assumed to exist, it died before it was ever birthed.
That clarity was really a farce. With Mubarak gone, there was no longer a unifying central symbol to oppose. While the FJP and Morsi were the legitimately elected majority party and head of state with a mandate to serve out their time, their victory was essentially indicative of the first breach of trust of that clarity. Revolutionaries assumed they would sweep everything, in part perhaps because most Revolutionaries are themselves members of various class, political, and ideological elites. But there was probably some degree of entitlement – they had started the Revolution. One could see it a bit in ElBaradei, who before Mubarak’s ouster offered to lead an interim government.
I understand the admirable nature of his call, and at the time was arguing with my friends about the need for a shadow government coalition in Tahrir Square. But it was also presumptuous to assume that he would enter and totally supplant previous networks of opposition. Likewise, the entitlement felt by Revolutionaries, with which I sympathize, does not entitle them – nor should anything entitle anyone – to circumnavigate the inherent reality of full enfranchisement for all citizens in a liberal democratic system. Someone told me of the former regime in Tahrir, on February 4, 2011, that “the real shame is we’ll have to share our freedom with them.” I wonder if he still feels that way.
Underlying the drive to actual power was a drive to actual principle. In that respect, nobody who’s so far ruled since the Revolution has been successful in keeping to the broadest principles of Bread, Freedom and Social Justice. What has happened is, essentially, a realignment of those Liberals who supported Morsi in the second round of Presidential Elections – at the time, essentially ideological defectors. The coup saw a decisive realignment of some or most of them with Nationalist camps against the Islamists. However, my own calculations (probably not worth seeing: https://inimsharra.wordpress.com/2013/06/30/egypt-should-not-backslide-from-democracy/) suggest this would comprise just under 3,000,000 voters. Along with them, the coup would not have succeeded without the approval of key Salafi organizations. Some have since backtracked.
Taking a Page from the Post-Cold War
The real problem, which my ranting previous post was exploring, is that the anti-Morsi movement had no constructive platform. This is, essentially, a sad recognition I originally had during the Revolution and consistently thereafter. I joked about it first under Mubarak, then under SCAF, and finally under Morsi. Basically, with Mubarak gone, Egyptians were just as likely to agree on anything as they were before Ben Ali’s ouster. Likewise, the putchists, possibly outside the military, had no real idea of where they wanted to take the government other than ‘elsewhere.’ Worse, the broadly-sought mechanism for such ambiguous, poorly thought out change was the military.
The military, just like under SCAF, now under somewhat younger leadership, seemed to have no idea what to do either. But like the young child of a dying king, the remainder of the officials from the previous administration had to be snuffed out, before they could claim their rightful place – even if only to abdicate it. No chance of kerfuffling the fait accompli could be allowed. What would have been the best ideological backing against an elected regime? Probably the same thing that would have best shielded that regime from undemocratic ouster – Bread, Freedom, and Social Justice.
The military, essentially unopposed for several weeks, could easily have forced through a reform agenda that, while alienating many, would have galvanized most into support. Obviously, this would require interests aligned with those goals. Instead, the military has taken over a discourse of antiterrorism. A structural comparison with the US War on Terror is not necessary, nor is it relevant. What is relevant is what had been widespread Egyptian skepticism of the American-led War on Terror. Walking through ghettos, I would see pictures of the ‘martyrs’ Saddam Hussein and Osama bin Laden. Whatever their owners’ actual thoughts, they were indicators of skepticism over the strategic motives of coalition antiterrorism efforts.
And yet when the same discourse is applied in a far less believable manner to many of their longtime neighbors, Egyptians seem unwilling to offer a similar skeptical attitude. Quite the opposite, many well-educated Liberals have wholesale bought into the idea that the Brotherhood is systemically committing violence – for which there is no evidence. On the contrary, a Vicar in Minya recently contradicted the claim that the Brotherhood was behind a church destruction there, and rather singled out security forces for failing to respond to calls for help, and noted local imams’ calls for their congregations to protect churches.
The issue isn’t whether violence has occurred. I don’t doubt that a small number of weapons were privately possessed in protests; and I do not doubt that Islamists are behind some violence. These are extraordinarily different claims that the Muslim Brotherhood being behind all church attacks. Yet no conclusive evidence can be produced to support this claim. Moreover, the organization itself would have no specific motive to sanction such violence. Quite the contrary, there has been little reason given for the detention of many figures – other than that they are, ultimately, Islamists.
Much Egyptian judgment and discussion of the US War on Terror was euphemistic. There was a sordid sarcasm to descriptions of arrests and killings. It underlay a broader suspicion over the conspiratorial strategic underpinnings of American policy. Yet that skeptical sarcasm has not, apparently, been extended to the illegal detentions seemingly cheered by the street. In extreme though not isolate cases, people have cheered the massacres and killings. If foreigners dare to point out the obvious parallel to Egyptian criticisms of American policy, they are hushed by references to Guantanamo. Somehow the jingoist stalwarts don’t seem to see the irony in the comparison.