Tahrir Crowds

Tahrir Crowds
Midan Tahrir, 1 Feb 2011

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Egypt: Revolution 2.0

It is easy to be misled by the media images of recent events in Egypt into thinking that violence is everywhere.  It is not--it is localized and its areas are predictable. People are not being killed daily. Egypt is not currently sinking into a "quagmire of violence."  It could happen, but that is not inevitable.

Unfortunately whenever I see or read a US media report, the story is almost completely about violence.  There has been comparatively little violence in the days leading up to 30 June and since.  Today there is music playing in Tahrir Square, and it's like one big street party.

Look for news on al-Jazeera International, al-Arabeyya English, read al-Ahram English Online, coverage in the Guardian or the daily news summary from POMED (Project on Middle East Democracy) for more diverse and informed views then for US mainstream media.

The 30 June events were most definitely a popular uprising.  The army then stepped in to prevent things into deteriorating into civil war and for reasons of its own.  I don't trust them to build democracy, nor respect human rights--they don't know how to do either.

But the governing coalition put into place isn't bad--it includes a lot of technocrats, from a broad spectrum of political groups.  It doesn't include the Islamicists, as they refuse to participate, not being very happy about being ousted.  The cabinet includes four economists, and I hope they implement change on the economy quickly, as its collapse would make blood run in the streets, as eating regularly has become more difficult for so many people since 2011. If you look at who they are, it is a really interesting mix of people who brings some good skills to governing. 

The Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters are taking their cause to the streets, insisting they are the "legitimate" government, and the current situation undermines democracy.  No need to go into all the problems of their administration, but they left human rights in Egypt worse off then before, and became increasingly more repressive, so their claims to be democratic are pretty hollow.

The secularists and liberals in Egypt blame the US for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood (MB).  They were blamed for supporting Mubarak's regime for 30 years before that.  Now the MB is blaming the US for supporting the military in ousting Morsi's government.  "Mama Amrika" is the favorite scapegoat for Egypt's problems, and has contributed to many of them, but can't be guilty of all of the above.  Egyptians love conspiracy theories and there have been enough bad US actions to made adding up the circumstantial evidence about US involvement look plausible.  But it isn't reasonable to suppose that the Arab Spring is a US sponsored event.

There is no question that US foreign policy has been problematic.  The US propped up Mubarak's 30-year rule with the same funding formula as it continued under Morsi's presidency: $1.3 billion in military assistance, the remainder of the 1.5 billion total in other forms of assistance, mostly delivered through the largest US AID program in the world.  Each time the question of cutting US funding comes up, it is renewed.  Even when Congress threatened to cut the funds last year, after the military arrested members of three large US and one German NGO, Kerry privately agreed to keep sending the funds just a week or two before the NGOs' verdict was decided.  Everyone knows the funds won't be cut, because it is the price of Egypt's peace with Israel, a deal struck with Anwar Sadat in the Camp David Accords. 

The US agenda in Egypt is stability--never mind who is running the country: Mubarak, the military, or the MB.  The US wants stability so its business deals with Egypt remain unthreatened, as well as the status quo, the cold peace with Israel is maintained.  Democracy is not the US agenda, even though it funding of democracy building efforts was part of the Egyptian military's motivation for going after the NGOs. 

At any rate, the debate rages about whether the army's actions on 3 July constitute a coup, primarily because by law, US funding depends on saying it was not a coup.  The MB are loudly shouting that it was.  The military insists it wasn't.  The people who took to the streets are insulted by the idea that it was a coup, given the overwhelming popular participation in the demonstrations to topple Morsi.

What's ahead?  That is difficult to say. General Al-Sisi has just called for the MB to leave the streets and asked for popular support "against terrorism," in other words, asked the people to go to Tahrir again this Friday and support the army's attacks on Morsi's supporters.  I think this is a dangerous move. 

The military is like the repairman with only one tool, a hammer--therefore he pounds everything to fix it. The military's tool is violence, and it is their main response to everything--they think they can restore order by using more violence and repression.  They do not understand that violence is a problem, not a solution. I think the forcible removaI of the MB demonstrators will take massive violence.  It will mean very bloody street battles, probably between the pro- and anti-Morsi peoples, with the army watching.  Then perhaps we will sink into the "quagmire of violence." The army will perhaps then clamp down, and pretend they had no alternative for the "sake of Egypt." 

The 30 June was Revolution 2.0, or Step Two, and there are many more steps to come, in order to achieve the goals of the 25 January Revolution of Bread, Social Justice, and Democracy.  There are many steps still needed, in part because the revolution has been mostly nonviolent, instead of including mass murder of old regime persons or a purge of counterrevolutionaries.  Egyptians don't want a violent revolution.  So there will likely be many more cycles of change to go through--very little has improved so far.

What remains a central problem is that the "deep state," is the military and the secret police.  They haven't gone anywhere, and they don't intend to. They also don't intend to give up power, and they don't "do democracy."  They prefer a low profile, because they don't want to run affairs of state.  They prefer figureheads to do that, whether a Mubarak or a Morsi, while they rest on their popular support and control the economy (they directly own 40% of it).  They quickly became very unpopular with the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) ran the country after Mubarak and before Morsi's election. The revolutionaries were in the streets again in large numbers, calling for the SCAF to step down.  They massacred activists on Mohamed Mahmoud Street (20 November 2011 and 2012) and at Maspero (9-10 October 2011).  The popular will, over time, will turn against the military again, if they stay in direct control of the country too long. 

So stay tuned--it isn't over, it's just another step in Egypt's struggle for democracy. The best thing Washington can do is shut up.  Its words are not believed and its actions are usually taken badly.
I'm Kathy Kamphoefner, just adding my "two cents worth."  I am US citizen living in Egypt since 2007, enjoying my "front row seat on history."  I live two blocks from Tahrir Square, so we listen well before we go out the door, to see what's happening in the streets.  Most days things are calm.  I did my doctoral research in Egypt from 1984-86, so I have followed events here a long time.  I lost my job with recent events, as I was teaching US university students and the US State Department ordered them evacuated.   I also direct a conflict resolution organization for refugees, Refugees United for Peaceful Solutions (RUPS), www.refugees4peace.org