The situation in Egypt is exceedingly difficult to follow. It may not have been easier in late January and early February 2011. I didn’t use Twitter then. I had my fix of rumor on the ground. And, failing all else, took it upon myself to go out in some cases to visually confirm or debunk the worst. I acknowledge, knowing what I do now, that my presence as a foreigner may have actually played a small and inadvertent role in stoking the flames kindled by such obvious fabrications.
Things still seemed clearer cut. Then, there was a leader ruling in an unquestionable void of constitutional legitimacy, almost exclusively through the apparatuses of an unabashed police state. This had gone on for decades. Somehow President Morsi’s single year of feebleness has attracted more animosity. I’ll give them some freedom, but where’s the justice? A onetime former boss, the director of school where I briefly taught, disappeared over a month ago. He has been illegally detained – kidnapped, his family says – without cause, on account of having become Morsi’s Foreign Policy adviser.
Despite outcries over more palatable, publicly consumable matters, virtually nobody outside of his immediate acquaintances seem willing to inquire on or even acknowledge the troubling precedent lower-level illegal detentions set for the new government. One might argue that they call into serious question the ability of the government to operate independently of the military.
The cognitive dissonance with which one must view any current cohesion of the Egyptian state is interesting on a number of levels. On the one hand, those now in power – and their loose (likely) plurality of supporters – largely seem unwilling to acknowledge the quandary they have created. I empathize with their desire to simply return to normalcy (I recall this partly destroying the January 25th Revolutionaries’ protests too). But most seem vapidly incognizant of the severe procedural kerfuffle they have employed. By enlisting the military, rather than forcing concessions through sustained and massive popular pressure (remember how January 25th wasn’t the day of President Mubarak’s resignation). In so doing, they have largely abandoned their own principles stemming from the January 25th Revolution.
I will no doubt take flak on all sides for saying this, but January 30th was a fascistic, deceitful counterrevolution, born of numerical fallacies and – I have no doubt – lies, lies, and more lies. I am not questioning the intentions of a core minority of protesters – namely those few (couple?) who were perturbed by the military’s intervention and who didn’t support it before or during. Similarly, few questioned the motives of the Muslim Brotherhood’s when its members joined January 25th protests. Broad participation served the prevailing interests in both cases. And no doubt, one might argue that military intervention in February 2011 was itself a counter-revolutionary coup. I argued that passively at the time, but the key was the following momentum in light of a unique phenomenon. The phenomenon, now replicated in kind (at least), is no longer unique.
Who knows how many people came out in either case, or whether Tamarrod is a counter-revolutionary disinformation campaign partly associated with the security services – or simply an ignorant immature manifestation of discontent?
Still, I am deeply amused by a few cases in which news appears to have been ‘accidentally leaked,’ denied, and then subsequently confirmed. A tweet suggested this: “When MOI and the MB both denied Shater meeting with foreign diplomats, it became obvious that the meeting in fact happened.” His son, a former student of mine, suggested his father was ordered to the meeting by the Tora prison warden on initially unclear pretenses. On July 27th, al-Arabiya tweeted “#Egypt police chief denies forces used live rounds in deadly Cairo clash,” whereas it is a bit difficult to believe such a massacre could have occurred without live fire. These aren’t remarkably new processes in Egypt or politics, but they illustrate the continuity of the lack of transparency not confined to military-backed, Islamist-led, or undemocratically appointed liberal governments.
There is a remarkable, fascistic, and elitist sense of entitlement among many of the key political actors. They believe their principles are right and righteous; only they are the only valid arbiters of state legitimacy. In this respect, the Muslim Brotherhood has a lot of informal ideological brothers. And some mutual distaste might be more rightly attributed to behavioral similarity rather than any indelible ideological divide. I didn’t need Twitter in 2011; I actually made and promptly deleted an account. But now, disconnected, I find at least passive monitoring useful – with the caveat that these are internet users (somewhat disconnected from the street). But it is not a useless source of information.
So what about the government? Can one take at face value that these people are not the Shafiqs, Sharafs or Ganzouris of the moment? I actually feel bad for Sharaf: I suspect he may have been the Naguib, or Morsi, or Baradei of his moment. Criticize the juxtaposition, but the overriding issues are not political, they are structural: What place does the military have in government? What powers should the President of the Republic have? What can be done about an incompetent, corrupt police force? How can one reform the Balkanized government (also) – including the not-immune judiciary? Is strong Presidential power initially necessary, or is it ultimately harmful? Is anybody out there
I find a few things interesting. The first involves the editor of al-Ahram, Abdel Nasser Salama, publishing an article on July 21st claiming that the public prosecution had detained Morsi for 15 days pending investigation into espionage and other charges. Salama was subsequently detained over this ‘inflammatory’ publication. Less than a week later, investigations began into Morsi’s criminality and espionage – more or less along the lines stated by Salama. There are many questions; I choose to forward how the editor of state mouthpiece al-Ahram received the news six or seven days before it occurred? Let’s not get into issues of why he was arrested for his farsighted truthfulness.
Perhaps similarly, state-owned al-Akhbar printed a scathing criticism of Vice President, Nobel laureate, and former IAEA Director General Mohammed ElBaradei on August 6th. In response, ElBaradei tweeted a statement translating to: “It seems that my work to spare the country slipping into a cycle of violence is not reaching the governmental newspapers other than articles on ‘my dangerousness to the people and state.’ The road ahead is long and bumpy.” His road maybe somewhat shorter: by his own standards, he entered office a failure, having previously promised that: “My conscience does not permit me to run for the presidency or any other official position unless it is within a real democratic system.” In technical deference, he didn’t run.
He was appointed Vice President a year and a half after making this statement, following the suspension of the constitution and depositions of Egypt’s first democratically elected leader following the suspension of government. Despite having either a change or loss of conscience, it is also (perhaps…) possible he has developed a genuine fear over the potential failure of the Egyptian state – seeing himself increasingly irrelevant or backed against a wall. In electoral terms he is irrelevant and (at least was a year ago) widely unpopular; and this is deeply problematic given his stated goal of fostering democracy, and his political success exclusively on the backs of tanks and doctored crowd numbers.
The article itself is unnecessarily denigrating. One key issue is its attack on his support for the inclusion of religious groups in politics. This is a really important issue because – before Parliamentary elections – religious parties were technically unconstitutional. Regardless, both the FJP and Nour – which through electoral victory became Egypt’s top two Parliamentary parties – are now almost entirely excluded from the transitional process, the latter somewhat less so. In addition to almost half the electorate not voting in the first place, this casts serious doubts on the ability of the current transition to, in fact, engender a subsequent and continuous democratic system through an undemocratic process.
But my question here is one of, what did that awful movie call it?, pre-crime. How was this article was allowed publication? It recalls two events: the New York Times’ David Kirkpatrick wrote that the day before the coup, “Egypt’s generals took control of the state’s flagship newspaper, Al Ahram, and used it to describe on Wednesday’s [July 3rd] front page their plans to enforce a military ultimatum issued a day earlier: remove Mr. Morsi from office if he failed to satisfy protesters’ demands”.
I offered a comparison to the Akhbar editorial, an analyst (has so far) tweet-replied only “No, that’s not really how the press works. It’s not totalitarian in its function.” There is truth to this; but it ignores the apparent developing relationship between the press and generals during the coup. I also recall reading of Sisi’s assurances to Morsi that bad press – in the months ahead of the coup – alongside leaked anonymous military ‘concerns,’ were simply venting and attempts to appease his men.
So the question becomes whether this is the beginning of the obvious end for ElBaradei. His position as Vice President has left him, quite specifically, with the portfolio of international affairs. He is the face of the coup to the West – as well as perhaps to some domestic liberals. But his actual power within the system is suspect if extant. Moreover, his statements regarding restraint from use of force and the need for pluralism place him somewhat out of the governmental mainstream. Even if there is no dissonance between the government and military (who knows…), ElBaradei may be feeling the pressure on what he could have thought was the purity of his own, however disaffected, intentions. This would make him merely a lonely third pole, rapidly melting in the face of the increasingly inevitable thaw of a societal cold war.