News analysis: A revolution in peril
The backbiting between the ruling military council and protesters is threatening to, and unbecoming of, the January Revolution and its aims, writes Galal Nassar
In what could be a turning point for the Egyptian revolution, an unprecedented crisis took place this week. The first sign of trouble came with Communiqué No 69, in which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) accused the 6 April Movement of treason, saying that its members were trained by foreigners and that it was sowing seeds of sedition, spreading rumours, and driving a wedge between the people and the army.
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Members of the military try to stop clashes between demonstrators in front of the Nour mosque in Abbasiya district, where the army blocked the road leading to the Defence Ministry, the headquarters of the SCAF
The SCAF pointed out that some of the 6 April Movement were trained in Serbia by Otpor, the student movement that brought down the Milosevic government. Otpor is said to have received funding from the CIA.
The communiqué in question was issued in reaction to a protest march organised by some of the Tahrir Square activists last Friday night. The protesters marched to the headquarters of the Central Zone in Abbasiya, then to the SCAF building in Kobri Al-Qobba. The march led to violent confrontations but no casualties.
On Saturday, the protesters organised another march to the Ministry of Defence, to declare their discontent with the "language of the communiqué" and reiterate the demands of the revolution. They called for an end to the trial of civilians before military courts and urged the immediate trial of members of the old regime and policemen involved in killing demonstrators. They also demanded a purge of the judiciary and the resignation of the prosecutor-general.
In the ensuing clashes between the demonstrators and what were said to be "hired thugs", 301 people were injured. Some of the neighbourhood inhabitants who witnessed the events said that they didn't approve of the assault on the army and didn't wish to see Abbasiya turn into another Tahrir Square.
The 6 April Movement responded to the accusations in a strongly worded statement, which was signed by other political groups participating in the ongoing sit-in in Tahrir Square. The statement, read out by 6 April member Amr Ali, blamed the SCAF for the current confrontation. "If you feel that people are turning against you, it is because of what you've done, so don't blame others," Ali said.
According to the 6 April Movement, the SCAF is trying to divide the opposition, especially those who believe in a secular state. "Those who think that by striking on the 6 April Movement the protesters in Tahrir Square would abandon their demands are mistaken, for the people are capable of protecting their demands."
Before the revolution, the 6 April Movement sought to bring down the regime, but now it seeks to implement the revolution's demands; namely, retribution, purge, and social justice, Ali said. He added that the 6 April Movement has never thought to turn the people against the army, but considered the army to be the protector of the revolution. The only criticism it had of the SCAF was about the way in which it ran the country.
Mohamed Adel, spokesman for the 6 April Movement, blamed Major General Hassan El-Roweini for acts of violence occurring during the protests. Denying El-Roweini's claims that the protesters were armed with Molotov cocktails, Adel said that SCAF's rhetoric recalled that of Mubarak.
Khaled Ali, director of the Egyptian Centre for Economic and Social Rights, voiced solidarity with the 6 April Movement. The movement was a key player in the action that brought down the old regime, and was also at the forefront of the 25 January demonstrations, he said.
Voicing full solidarity with the 6 April Movement, Karima Al-Hefnawi of the National Association for Change said: "Where does the SCAF stand on the Islamic currents that accuse the sit-in participants of sabotage and that are trying to divide the protesters?"
In a speech he delivered Saturday morning to mark the 59th anniversary of the 1952 Revolution, Field Marshal Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, general commander of the Armed Forces and SCAF chief, said: "Greetings of appreciation to the July Revolution and the Armed Forces that held its banner while the people offered support. The [1952 Revolution] anniversary coincides with the passage of six months since the 25 January Revolution, in which the people held the banner and the army offered support."
Tantawi praised the young revolutionaries of 25 January, saying that they were "a good plant" of the land of Egypt, "belonging to a great nation, adopting noble and lofty principles." He said that the army is committed to a modern, democratic and secular state, thus ending the controversy over the future shape of the country and whether it is to be a secular or an Islamic state.
In the recent confrontation between the SCAF and the 6 April Movement, several issues come to mind:
- The SCAF added to its record of errors as it struggled with misspoken statements, failed to listen to the pulse of the street, and was drawn into needless controversy. For example, the SCAF failed to confirm or deny news that Prime Minister Sharaf demanded the change of seven members of his former government but that the SCAF wouldn't allow him to do so. In Communiqué No 69, the SCAF accused the 6 April Movement of treason without supplying evidence, apart from the admission of 6 April members that they attended civil disobedience training in Serbia. Although the training was US-funded, many revolutionaries see nothing wrong in it.
- The SCAF erred when it picked on the 6 April Movement, not at all a battle befitting the country's army. In this country, the public expects army communiqués to speak of momentous changes and strategic decisions, not to stoop into accusations.
- The SCAF introduced an element of tension into the political scene when it put constitutional amendments to the vote, thus ensuring that the transitional period would be longer than necessary. Instead of holding parliamentary elections before writing the constitution and only then electing a president, the SCAF could have kept things simple. It would have taken six months to write a permanent constitution and get a president elected. This would have allowed the army to go back to its barracks, instead of sticking around and getting embroiled in all types of political manoeuvres.
- The members of the 6 April Movement, among other activists, were wrong to march to the Ministry of Defence and the Central Zone Command in Abbasiya. The march was of no benefit to the revolution, and it risked confrontation with unidentified groups, perhaps even hired thugs. The revolutionaries could have foreseen this risk, especially that they knew that other groups were protesting for stability in Roxy (adjoining Kobri Al-Qobba).
- The 6 April Movement was wrong to keep dodging accusations of foreign funding or claims of divisions among its leaders because of such funding. Programmes have been held in Serbia with finance from US security agencies. The aim of these programmes was to train people to bring down regimes through peaceful demonstrations. This is something that the movement should be willing to discuss in public.
- The 6 April Movement should have explained why it accepted the US offer with regard to such training. The US has pre-conceived ideas about Egypt and the future of development in this country, and it maintained close ties with the former regime. The biggest mistake on the part of the members of the 6 April Movement is that they did not realise that, trying to bring down a dictatorial regime through peaceful protests is completely legitimate, tactics taught in such programmes are not necessarily in Egypt's interest, but in the interest of those who fund such programmes. I have studied the strategies followed in such programmes, and I am therefore aware that the trainees are told that overthrowing the regime cannot take place unless all the country's institutions -- the security services, the media, the judiciary, and the economic institutions -- are brought down in the name of purging; that the way to maintain the revolution is to keep the streets in a state of frenzy and not to trust anyone running the transitional period. Through slogans, accusations and rumours, the aim is to bring down all the country's institutions and depose the entire regime and all government institutions, the army included. At which point, the state collapses and its political will is compromised by economic and security necessities. In this situation, chaos and divisions cannot be far behind.
- The revolutionaries, including the 6 April Movement, are mistaken to believe that peaceful protests alone brought down the Milosevic regime. Many other factors were involved, chiefly the collapse of the Soviet Union. In fact, the Serbian regime didn't fall until NATO intervened to stop the ethnic strife. It is not true that Otpor's protests brought the regime down. This is sheer propaganda and a distortion of reality. The whole aim of this effort was to get the opposition activists to demand foreign intervention, as happened in Serbia and Iraq. It is interesting that sectarian sedition often goes hand-in-hand with such tactics. No wonder the same organisations that encourage sectarian sedition are the ones that fund foreign institutions involved in such actions.
- All patriotic groups and parties, the media, and the Sharaf government erred when they failed to declare the names of groups that received Western and American funding to engage in democratic activities in Egypt. Such groups are becoming a threat to the security and the stability of the country and must be held accountable. There is a difference between those who believe in a patriotic agenda and those who act upon foreign interests and agendas.
- All the political groups and movements, from Tahrir Square in Cairo to Arbein Square in Suez and Saad Zaghloul Square in Alexandria, were mistaken to expect the SCAF to intervene in every detail of political life. Instead of supporting the government and helping it formulate a revolutionary programme, the activists preferred to pick up fights with the judiciary and the SCAF. Such institutions have broad-based support among the public, and picking up fights with them is not in the best interests of the revolution.
- The revolutionaries erred when they made a habit of gathering in public squares on Fridays. This method of pressure has lost its novelty and a lot of public support, and it sends the wrong message to tourists and investors at home and abroad. With each passing day, the image people used to have about the demonstrators is getting muddled, partly because the types of people who have taken to the square are not the same ones who staged the 25 January Revolution. Threats to bring navigation in the Suez Canal to a halt didn't help either. With the Islamists calling for a Friday of identity and others calling for a Friday of protest against the law for electing members of the People's Assembly, average people are getting confused.
- The revolutionaries have so far been unable to select a handful of leaders to negotiate with the government and the SCAF on their behalf. Why cannot the revolutionaries of Tahrir and other public squares elect five representatives to speak in their name?
- The revolutionaries were wrong to pretend that the SCAF is different from the army. We all know that the SCAF is the political authority we have for now. In armies, the chain of command is unassailable, and low ranking army officers feel insulted when their leaders are denigrated.
- The revolutionaries were wrong to call the SCAF an agent of the US just because the army receives an annual funding of $1.3 billion from the Americans. This money is spent on training, armaments, and other projects in an institutional manner and in keeping with standing agreements. Parallels must not be drawn with cases in which individuals, civil society organisations, or protest movements receive foreign funding.
What I am saying is that mistakes have been made all round. The only way forward, however, is to protect this revolution and rise above our personal vendettas. We must spurn any lingering opportunism, keep away from foreign funding, stay loyal to our goals, and stop talking about treason and such matters, especially in connection with the army.
The SCAF, with the revolutionary and constitutional legitimacy it now has, must take us to the shores of modern and democratic statehood. When this is done, we will thank the army and ask it to go back to its barracks.