Respected comrades in the April 6th Movement (which initiated the 2011 revolution that toppled Mubarak) and their Tamarod allies, who together created the cohesion of its disparate forces, now celebrate the army takeover and subsequent repression of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). Insisting that it isn’t a coup, that the army is “with the People” and that army chief Sisi now bears the mantle of Gamal Abdul Nasser, they repeat and add credibility to the military regime’s dismissal of all those in and around the MB as “terrorists” who deserve anything that’s coming to them.
In doing so, they avoid accounting for their own failure in the wake of Mubarak to form a strong political party to represent the ethos of Tahrir and to put forward a credible candidate to carry its politics from the streets and on into parliament and the presidency. Leaving a complete vacuum where Social Justice should have been, the only candidate standing against the old regime (the Feloul) was the Brotherhood’s Morsi.
On the flip side, many writers and activists have rightly insisted that an army coup is an army coup. But some go further and justify Morsi and the MB as embodiments of democracy, denying their violence and constitutional hijacking of what had been a broad movement embracing secular, liberal, Muslim and Christian masses and a working class reflecting much the same plurality.
But it really is not necessary to be limited by these two choices, any more than it was inevitable that the wider Egyptian electorate had to choose between a Feloul candidate and the Brotherhood.
Moreover, the Tamarod’s happy acquiescence in the coup means that never for generations to come will we see again the unity of Tahrir, and that they have not only handed the stage and all its works to the army, but written themselves out of the arena and off the agenda except as cheerleaders for the army — as long as it needs them. If the current situation is an outcome of their failure in the elections, they are now sowing the seeds of future difficulty and failure along the same lines.
To make things worse, both sides of this division are polishing up and bending reality so that few of the voices that reach us can now be trusted: neither the obeisance to the army with its demonisation of Morsi and his followers; nor the protestations of innocence and democracy we’re hearing from the Muslim Brotherhood.
It was a great relief (if horrifying) to read the vivid and self-evidently true diary of a week in Cairo by Ahdaf Soueif.
She relates how the army’s work in breaking up the pro-Morsi sit-ins left hundreds dead, with “giant, refrigerated meat trucks parked in the narrow road to hold the corpses the morgue could not accommodate”. Another 38 people packed into a police trailer died of suffocation.
As for the MB’s contribution, “Forty-two churches have been torched, and so have many other buildings: the beautiful 19th-century villa that housed the Giza governorate office on the Pyramids road, the Franciscan girls’ school in Beni Sweif south of Cairo, the library of veteran journalist Mohamed Heikal on the Qanater road, and more. … Brotherhood spokesmen denied responsibility for the fires, but the local people everywhere say that it was groups of Brothers who attacked the buildings and set them alight.”
Was that just an angry reaction by the MB to the coup? Read on for the violence before the coup, carried out under the wing of the brief and bloody “democratic” Morsi regime: “Bands of trained Muslim Brotherhood militias and supporters took on protestors and killed them. In the Ettehadeyya protests in December 2012, the Brotherhood set up an instant torture centre inside the wall of the presidential palace. The interior ministry carried on kidnapping and torturing and killing – and the targets of the Brotherhood and the police were predominantly revolutionary activists and protestors: Mohamed Gaber (“Jika”), Mohamed el‑Guindi, Mohamed el-Shafei, Al-Husseini Abu Deif – and others. But also non-political, sectarian and vigilante killings started to happen: where the efforts of Mubarak, the interior ministry and SCAF [the army] to turn people against each other had failed, the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule and discourse were succeeding.”
She speculates on why the army did not, in response to the popular rising against Morsi, simply hold a referendum on early presidential elections: “that would still have protected the country from the unraveling, and it would have preserved the idea of democracy. Nobody I speak to knows why that was not the course taken.” But from her account it seems that the army is carrying out a pre-formed plan for long-term direct rule, presenting themselves as “trustees of the people’s will” consolidated by ‘Orwellian’ media orchestration. And an unexpected bonus for them, which may have confirmed the decision to proceed with this plan, has been the supine and trusting welcome from the 2011 revolutionaries.
To those who are siding with either Sisi or Morsi, she insists on the need for the revolution to retain its own vision: “Everywhere the binary that the revolution so roundly rejects is being restated: the police state or the Islamists. We continue to reject it. I’ve always written that the police state is the enemy. Now I know that the Brotherhood, too, is the enemy. … The revolution – the revolution of 25 January 2011 that we all fell in love with – needs to not get caught in the war between its two enemies. The police state and the Brotherhood are both hierarchical, patriarchal, militarised, centralist, dogmatic, conformist, exclusionary organisations. Both are built on obedience. Both hate critical thinking and debate. ”
The revolution of 2011, and its attempted re-run in June this year, has not been crushed. But the mental confusion, the adoption of either Sisi or Morsi and the dishonesty and double-think that has entailed, has done major damage to that revolution. It will need a long hard look at itself before it can walk out again and regain its optimism and unity.
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