[from August 1; edited for grammar August 16; except where ‘’ used]
What has been lost in the oft-puerile debate over whether the Egyptian military staged a coup is not the elephant in the room. Rather it’s the pony, which is the meaning, believe it or not, of Sisi, a word dating back some 4,500 years to the ancient Sumerian zi-zi. Whether Morsi did or did not have legitimacy, or whether the several million people that protested against his rule conferred it on the military, the military had never really actually left power.
Subsequent to the 1952 Revolution against British colonialism, and the 1954 ousting of President Naguib that arguably thwarted one man’s plans for democracy (cycling the twittersphere every now and again), the Egyptian military has played the primary role in defining and governing the Egyptian state and economy. So with the election of Morsi, generally recognized as Egypt’s first democratically elected president, an outsider had finally punctured the carefully shielded throne of the Republic – always occupied by a military-man – and immediately was portrayed as intent on diluting the ranks of the bureaucratic patronage apparatuses carefully groomed by the former regime.
The purpose of the January 25th Revolution is, increasingly in my mind, murky. The unifying symbol was undoubtedly President Mubarak and his ‘regime.’ Whether this entailed a systemic shift or simply administrative shift is increasingly be unclear to me. Even before Mubarak resigned, this longstanding fear of the Brotherhood began to surface. After Morsi’s election, a wave of antipathy toward the ‘New Pharaoh’ had already begun – justified or not. The games between political elites are one thing, but as for the impact among common citizens, it is possible Leila Murad songs would have been equally inflammatory given the visible decline in the economic situation. It did not help that in possibly combating the entrenched structures and corrupt institutions, Morsi primarily drew from a cadre of loyalists rather than a broader coalition.
His November 2012 constitutional declaration, which expanded presidential powers and immunized his decisions from judicial review, proved a miscalculation in provoking bureaucratic friction and bringing a fight with the judiciary to a head. The judiciary has had one of the less corrupt reputations in Egypt, and currents within the judiciary had a tense relationship with the Mubarak regime. Still, the dispute over the dismissal of the Public Prosecutor Abdel Meguid Mahmoud is not clear-cut. The latter had previously prosecuted Muslim Brotherhood members, making for a strained operational relationship; but one could also highlight his failures over the prosecution of police and officials. The timing of his July 2nd reinstatement and near-immediate resignation sent a powerful signal by the post-coup forces, and to the previous-coup establishment – namely the Freedom & Justice Party and its allies (the FJP is the political party associated with the Muslim Brotherhood).
But the problem now is that many see the military’s tactics as indicative of a desire for a quick or near-immediate withdrawal from politics. No doubt the face of this argument is valid. But it is removable; what’s the word? It’s a mask, a facade – at least according to the long-standing interests of the army, and the subsequent interests those realities produce. The military has vast investments in Egyptian manufacturing and the economy more broadly, along with more or less directorial privileges earned outside the military based on rank within – seemingly. Without perennial control of politics, that fiefdom is at risk.
Thus there is a keen interest in keeping Egyptian politics either divided or rigged to prevent a broadly popular reform-front. Rigging was the former preference, but with international attention on the issue, that may not be as possible moving forward. In that the regime had previously dealt with the Muslim Brotherhood when the latter entered into the 2005 Parliamentary Elections, the military may have tried to make a deal with the FJP on the eve of Morsi’s victory – with Morsi hypothetically agreeing to maintain military privileges in exchange for the formal success of the Brotherhood in its game of throney elitist politicking.
I was one of those who believed Morsi’s appointment of Sisi was a genuine first step toward placing the military under civilian control. I was also initially skeptical after the coup, but also to a lesser degree before it, that Sisi was actually in charge over Tantawi and Anan. It is possible, as some others have also suggested, that some political posturing has more to do with Sisi’s solidification of his own position in the armed forces and control over his officers. His unquestionable popularity in the streets has certainly accomplished that.
I have previously suggest four relevant voting trends – Islamist Establishment, Islamist Independents, Secular Independents (or Revolutionaries), and Secular Establishment. Ending January 12, 2012, a parliament was elected that arguably consisted of 36.5% Islamist Establishment party members, 30.5% Islamist Independents, 13% Secular Independents and 20.12% Secular Establishment. Then in May 2012, the First Round of the Presidential Elections arguably yielded 25.7% Islamist Establishment, 19.6% Islamist Independents, 20.3% Secular Independents and 34.4% Secular Establishment. Using that latter data (by district), I predicted probable alignment in the second round – based on the hypothesis that the ‘revolutionary’ vote was split, which turned out to be surprisingly accurate. Overall, one might estimate that similar turnouts could produce a breakdown such as Establishment Islamists (31%) and Independent Islamists (25%), and Establishment Secularists (27%) and Independent Secular (17%).
But turnout, overall, is only about 50%, suggesting a large disenfranchised or suspicious segment of the population. This is very important, particularly when noting possible disconnects between protests and electoral outcomes. Some, though who knows how many, may simply not trust the state, and they may never trust the state. Their experience is one of oppression. And such oppression has multifaceted effects, shocking the system in some way. Maybe some shutdown and simply ignore or abandon politics entirely. Some may come away with greater sensitivity to such action, embarking on a lifelong pursuit in support of rectifying such injustice.
Sometimes this can become an ultra-sensitivity – seeing injustice anywhere – and taking vigilante action in pursuit of justice of principle in the moment, though perhaps against long-term interests or broader principles. Watching institutions of the state function against the people is a constant psychological barrage, and it can break down perceptual barriers and blur our understanding of justifications and actions. Seeing what only happens ‘somewhere else,’ in pursuit of retaining sanity, forces (either a) denial or a more comparative approach to disturbing similarities in institutional thinking, speech, and behavior.
For some, the pattern is encapsulated in individuals or events and not underlying interests and structures. Some forsake waxing philosophic or ‘holding down the couch’ in favor of a sort of “protysteria.” No doubt there is a well-intentioned though perpetual belief in righteousness of purpose and earnestness of cause – one could see it during January 25th, in the two years following, and no doubt also on June 30th. No doubt there was also a more insidious recidivism in response to decades of state violence. Morsi’s administration, in frequently siding with the police and military, has indirectly affected a muting of some Egyptians’ empathy to victims of the violence following the coup.
Violence has also seen sporadic occurrence in protests [as well as systematic sexual abuse], or systematic occurrence in the torture of various people in Rabaa and al-Nahda and in at least the year preceding that. And violence has also sprung up in Sinai, in part due to decades of violence and specific, repressive, ineffectual policies whose broader strategic underpinnings have reverted along with the security flare-up and crackdown – a consistent pattern under military rule. Oddly, the military’s response despite their professed urgency, seems to have yet to occur in full. Whether Morsi’s administration sided with security services temporarily toward long-term reform will never be known, but it typifies a seemingly insurmountable obstacle.
Somehow, despite all this, there has been no materialization of the empathy requisite to overpowering the very real political differences between civilian groups with some otherwise long-term shared interests. Miscalculations and official support contributed to divisive dialogues early on. Despite fear of Muslim Brotherhood fascism in media intervention, the majority of the crackdown seems to have come after the coup. Egyptian media primarily seems to propagate a discourse of protester-terrorism and military neutrality and infallibility. This should be familiar to anyone who was alive and awake at least sometimes between 2011 and 2013.
The discourse also proffers the dangerously misleading opinion that these events mark the failures of either the MB or Islamism. Morsi’s failures were real, for sure. But the current directions of exclusion and disunity are likely to reveal him not unique. And whatever ongoing conspiracies in his year as President, the military coup signaled the true intentions of the military command. Rather than supporting or even forcing (a soft coup) a referendum, the calculated timeline, immediate crackdowns and quick and individual glorification of Sisi are very telling. The new politics – with the security services backed by the military – detaining or even better legally arresting FJP and MB leaders, and also Wasat party officials and some other prominent Islamists occur simultaneously with civilian government calls for dialogue. I have no doubt the current government would not win an election.
The strategy behind these tactics is almost entirely publicly fleshed out. Sisi may run as president and would likely win. If Sisi detests the limelight (but then why wear the shades?), then someone like Shafiq’s doppelganger-son [probably Shafiq himself] will run. As for the international spotlight, it is possible the era of an outright theft of elections is over. But if division retains among popular forces over the structures of state, an independent reformist will have muted effect for similar reasons to Morsi. Reform is not always the pillar of economic growth, but is a catalyst of political and bureaucratic friction. Once the next swathe of popular political forces are discredited, there will be few institutions left in good standing. Without foresight, as the washer desperately quakes, removing stains of sweat and blood, so the cycle may repeat.