Page 1 of 2 SPEAKING FREELY Egypt: From counter revolution to civil war
By Monte Palmer
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The revolution that overthrew Egypt's military regime in January 2011 was an outburst of mass despair. It was not, however, a complete revolution. A complete revolution would have shattered the power centers of the old regime and replaced them with the leadership, cadres and ideology of the revolutionary movement.
The revolutionaries of despair could not complete their revolution because they possessed neither an organization capable of
seizing power, nor a coherent plan for the future other than vague slogans of democracy and equity. With the goal of toppling a despotic military dictatorship achieved, confusion reigned.
The only opposition movement that possessed an organization capable of seizing power was the Muslim Brotherhood. The Brotherhood, however, did not play a key role in the revolution of despair. Rather, it kibitzed from the sidelines while the revolutionaries and the old regime sorted things out. Once the dust had settled, they would make their move.
With the revolutionaries being unable to seize power and the Brotherhood biding its time, the military filled the vacuum. For all intents and purposes, the old regime was still in power. They intended to stay there. The question was not if, but how?
While incomplete, the 2011 revolution did change the course of Egyptian politics. The masses, once docile, had become a force to be feared. So powerful was the surge of emotions that toppled the Mubarak regime that the generals were forced to allow free elections, the first in 60 years.
The Muslim Brotherhood, buttressed by ultra extremist groups, swept the parliamentary elections with 70% of the popular vote. The presidential elections were more controversial resulting in a showdown between the Brotherhood and the reigning chief of the military. Both sides claimed victory, but as the military were counting the votes, it was within their power to seize the presidency. Fear of the masses dissuaded them from doing so.
As the Brotherhood now ruled, the military possessed two options for retaining a share of power. They could cut a deal with the Brotherhood to live and let live, or they could prepare the way for a comeback by sabotaging the Brotherhood's efforts to rule effectively.
At first, an arrangement between the Brotherhood and the military appeared to have been worked out. Mubarak and few senior generals were sacrificed to the revolution, and Abdul Fattah el-Sisi, a former director of military intelligence reputed to be friendly to the Brotherhood, was named Minister of Defense and head of the military. So cozy was the arrangement that the Brotherhood's government was soon accused of being no better than the Mubarak regime.
The generals, however, wanted a larger share of power. The Brotherhood refused, and the arrangement collapsed. The military, faced with an all or nothing situation, shifted to its backup strategy of overthrowing the Brotherhood's democratically elected government. The counter-revolution was under way.
The military's counter revolutionary strategy was simplicity itself. First, they would sabotage Brotherhood efforts to meet the demands of the masses for food, jobs, security and everything else that had fueled the overthrow of the old regime. This task accomplished, all the generals would allow mass anger to build to the bursting point, and then direct it against the Brotherhood. When chaos reigned, the military would step in to save the country and itself.
The first task of sabotaging the Brotherhood government was relatively easy, for the generals remained in control of the military, police, bureaucracy, judiciary, economy, and religious establishment. Food, fuel, electricity, and law and order suddenly vanished. It was less of a conspiracy than each branch of the old regime doing their thing to scuttle a common enemy.
The second task of focusing mass hysteria on the Brotherhood was also relatively easy. Having blamed the Brotherhood government for the reign of chaos, the generals launched a hate-fear campaign accusing the Brotherhood of attempting to transform Egypt into an Islamic caliphate. Secular-liberal groups led the charge with a smear campaign accusing the Brotherhood of stealing the revolution. Rioters careened through the streets demanding the Brotherhood's resignation. Counter demonstrations kept pace as warnings of civil war soared.
With fear and hate at a fever pitch, Sisi poured fuel on the flames by calling for true democracy and vowing not to spill a drop of sacred Egyptian blood. This was a strange position for a Mubarak general who had spilled considerable blood in attempting to crush the 2011 revolution.
Anti-Brotherhood protesters had been given the green light to storm the streets at will. Brotherhood supporters countered, albeit without police protection. Violence flared and culminated in the June 30th march of 30 million Egyptians pleading for Sisi to save them from civil war and Islamic tyranny. Egypt's new man on horseback had arrived.
The figure of 30 million protesters was described by the BBC as a carefully staged fantasy and even the Saudi press suggested that the figure might be as low as five or six million. Whatever the number, five million people shouting and screaming against the government was a formidable number. When embellished by the Egyptian media, it was more than enough to justify the next step in counter-revolutionary strategy, a coup.
Bowing to what he claimed was popular will, Sisi overthrew a popularly elected government that had reigned for only a year. Its leaders were arrested and an Egyptian media that had been free as it was irresponsible during the two previous years simply became irresponsible. Headlines screamed that the Brotherhood was a terrorist organization that had declared war on Egypt. Egypt's intellectuals rushed in to proclaim that the coup was not a coup because the military had simply bowed to the popular will as the first step in establishing a true democracy.
The next step in the counter-revolution was trickier. The Brotherhood had adopted a democratic strategy in order to prove to the world that it had nothing to fear from moderate Islamic rule in Egypt and beyond. As a result, Sisi was forced to create the illusion of democracy if the counter-revolution were to succeed. Following a path well trod by Arab dictators before him, Sisi proclaimed a road map to democracy and appointed a hand picked transitional government to guide the way to free elections and a revised constitution. The masses cheered. They had been rescued from Islamic rule and democracy was at hand.
The difference between the democratic strategy pursued by the Brotherhood and the illusion of democracy conjured up by the military was staggering. Brotherhood rule featured a free press, freedom of speech, a multitude of political parties, and unfettered demonstrations and protests. Rule by military fiat featured none of the above. Sisi's message was simple, "Trust me while I save you from the Brotherhood."
It was now the Brotherhood that threw the country into political and economic chaos by launching massive protests the length and breadth of Egypt. They had to be stopped or the military's counter-revolution was doomed.
Time was of the essence. When Brotherhood protesters approached the officer's club where they believed the deposed president was being held, the police and military opened fire killing 44 protesters. Sisi remained unrepentant and blamed the Brotherhood for the carnage. Pictures published by the Guardian proved otherwise. International condemnation rained on the head of Sisi. His blatant slaughter of innocent protesters was not leading to democracy, they claimed, but to a revived military dictatorship.
Stung by criticism from abroad and the doubts of his liberal supporters, Sisi called upon the mob to give him the power to crush violence and terrorism. It was not legal democracy that mattered, but the will of the people.
Thousands of youth screamed their support for Sisi, while an equal number of Brotherhood supporters called for a return of the elected government.
Violence exploded as the military and Sisi's recently revived secret police opened fire on the demonstrators. Estimates of the death toll ranged from 72 to 130. The figures of the wounded ranged in the thousands.
Sisi, far from expressing remorse, gave the Brotherhood 48 hours to join army sponsored reconciliation talks. The Brotherhood responded to Sisi's call for surrender with new demonstrations. The army could either kill them or return Egypt's elected president to office. Violence was minimal, but with the passing of the deadline, Sisi's puppet government announced that all future Brotherhood demonstrations would be crushed with maximum force.
Just when it appeared that Sisi's counter revolution had succeeded, the sands of Egyptian politics again began to shift.
Mohammed ElBaradi, Nobel laureate and former head of the International Atomic Energy Agency, openly criticized the army for excessive force. Baradi was the only man in the interim government with international legitimacy, and his criticism was devastating. Amra Musa, a former foreign minister and head of the Arab League, chided Sisi for not clearing his decisions with his self-appointed transitional government.
Tamarod, the organization that had fueled popular emotions against the Brotherhood by claiming 22 million (maybe 30 million) uncertified signatures denouncing Brotherhood rule, launched a new campaign demanding that a democratic constitution be drafted by independent experts rather than a hand picked committee of Sisi supporters.