Friday,15 December, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1253, ( 2 - 8 July 2015)
Friday,15 December, 2017
Issue 1253, ( 2 - 8 July 2015)

Ahram Weekly

‘When things go wrong’

Wahid Abdel-Meguid, former spokesman of the National Salvation Front, tells Dina Ezzat that democratic forces must shoulder some of the blame for the political developments that followed the 30 June uprising against Mohamed Morsi

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Two years ago crowds took to the streets to protest against the rule of Mohamed Morsi. The demonstrators included revolutionary forces who accused Morsi of trampling the goals of the 25 January Revolution, reactionaries uncomfortable with an end to the military’s monopoly of the top executive post, members of the business community who had failed to strike a deal with the Muslim Brotherhood to protect their positions, and groups in thrall to a security establishment keen to exact revenge for the erosion in their position that followed Hosni Mubarak’s fall.

The National Salvation Front (NSF) took the lead in mobilising protests to demand early presidential elections Two years after the event the NSF’s then spokesman, Wahid Abdel-Meguid, acknowledges that of the disparate anti-Morsi coalition it is the groups which championed democracy that have the least to celebrate.

Not that Abdel-Meguid is surprised. “This is a typical scenario for the way things happen after unplanned revolutions,” he told Al-Ahram Weekly.

Abdel-Meguid compares the fate of the democratic calls raised by the 25 January Revolution to the way the French Revolution played out. A series of protests coalesced into a revolution but at a point when revolutionary forces had no clear vision of what would happen the day after the dictator was ousted. Meanwhile, forces opposed to the revolution had developed a clear plan of how to cut their losses and reverse the revolutionary tide.

“There are ups and downs in any process of democratisation. It usually takes years for democracy to win out. We are still in a process that is unfolding.”

How it unfolds will be determined, in part at least, by the fluctuating balance of power between contesting parties.

“We have already seen, with the Muslim Brotherhood, how one of the forces that took part in the 25 January Revolution tried to impose its will over the other forces, creating side conflicts that complicated the main battle between pro and the anti-revolutionary forces.”

But, says Abdel-Meguid, “a revolution is able to sustain political defeat, or a series of defeats, and still end up winning because of the strength of the desire to change society that revolution represents”. 

Rulers stand on the wrong side of history when they attempt to stand above the political battle. “In a revolutionary context impartiality has little impact. The battle on the ground will continue to unfold”.

Abdel-Meguid dismisses accusations the NSF was used as a tool by the security to establishment to mobilise people to remove a democratically elected president in order to hasten the return of authoritarianism as “blatantly unfair”.

 “It’s absolutely not true,” he says. “To claim the NSF was a security body façade, employed to dump Morsi at any price, is nonsense.”

It was the “stubbornness of the Muslim Brotherhood” that prompted democratic forces, both revolutionary and reformist, to seek an exit from “the democratic impasse caused by the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to force their hegemony, first over the constitution drafting commission, and which reached a climax in constitutional declaration that Morsi issued” placing his decisions beyond legal appeal.

“The NSF was born in reaction to Morsi’s constitutional declaration.”

Nor, says Abdel-Meguid, did the NSF provide an umbrella for adversaries of the 25 January Revolutionary.

“NSF members were people who had been associated with the 25 January Revolution from the beginning. The only exception was Amr Moussa, whom I would never have lumped in with the Mubarak regime, though some in the NSF did.”  

Abdel-Meguid does not deny that some members of the NSF were in contact with representatives of the so-called deep state. He insists, however, that the only instructions the Front followed were those issued by its board.

The business community had little, if any, say in NSF policy.

“Let us not forget,” says Abdel-Meguid, “leading business figures were trying to build in-roads with the ruling regime to secure their position rather than engage in opposition activity.”

It is also untrue, says Abdel-Meguid, that the NSF condoned the activities of the Tamarod movement while being fully aware while of its association with security bodies.

“Tamarod was not a child of the security establishment. It was the initiative of a group of young people who had supported the 25 January Revolution. That some members of the group then deviated from a progressive path does not discredit the entire movement.”

The NSF, claims Abdel-Meguid, was instrumental in lobbying for a no vote in the referendum on the constitution drafted under the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood. Though it lost that battle, he says, it was successful in encouraging the public to oppose the dictatorial inclinations that came to the fore during Morsi’s last six months in office.

The NSF stumbled, says its onetime spokesman, by becoming embroiled in an internal power struggle between Amr Moussa and Mohamed Al-Baradei rather than cementing and expanding its constituency.

“Had the NSF concentrated on enlarging its constituency of pro-democracy forces the better its chances would have been to shape the post-Morsi political dispensation.”

Abdel-Meguid questions the “honestly illogical” decision to make Al-Baradei the NSF’s sole representative in political negotiations.

“I think that was one of the worst things that happened. It really harmed the ability of democratic forces to influence the way things were done once Morsi had gone.”

“Al-Baradei is a truly genuine man whose commitment to democracy is unquestioned. Unfortunately these are not necessarily the qualities that will deliver a political deal. The NSF needed someone with political acumen — something Al-Baradei lacks — as its representative.”

But why did the NSF think it needed to appoint someone to represent them in political talks?

“We did not have assurances set in stone, as some seek to argue, that that army would intervene once demonstrations took to the streets. We could not be sure what would happen, or when. Given the uncertainty we felt we had to have someone who could speak on behalf of the NSF.”

“Al-Baradei objected to working with Amr Moussa, though Moussa would probably have secured the NSF a greater share of credit, in the mind of the public, for the ouster of Morsi.”

Abdel-Meguid does not criticise the army for removing Morsi. He argues that it was up to the Muslim Brotherhood to avert this scenario by agreeing to the public’s demand for early presidential elections.

“Had Morsi agreed to this demand before the 30 June demonstrations he would have been in a position to stand and possibly be re-elected,” says Abdel-Meguid.

Nor does he take exception to the 3 July Roadmap which “had been discussed by the NSF before 30 June”. What Abdel-Meguid does resent is the subsequent marginalisaiton of democratic forces “from the decision-making process”.

“And I blame Al-Baradei for this, not least because he failed to object to the seating plan for announcement of Morsi’s removal on 3 July. He accepted to be stuck at the end of the podium even though it was his presence that gave legitimacy to the ouster as a political choice of the masses.”

“Without Al-Baradei’s presence the 3 July would have been impossible to qualify as anything other than a coup. Yet because of his limited political acumen he agreed to be shunted to the side.”

Abdel-Meguid also objects to Al-Baradei’s “unilateral decision to agree to form a government and then, when the Salafi’s vetoed on his nomination as prime minister, his decision to accept the post of vice-president.” 

There was a consensus within the NSF that members should not participate in the immediate post-Morsi government, claims Abdel-Meguid.

“The view was that we should not place ourselves in a position where the public would blame the NSF for any government failings at what was a very volatile moment. Within the front there was a widespread belief the period of transition was best used by democratic forces panning their next move.” 

“Unfortunately Al-Baradei pushed the NSF into an awkward situation at a time when we knew reactionary forces would use any mistake by the government to discredit those calling for democracy.”

With Hazem El-Beblawi as prime minister Egypt had reached the stage where a weak government was taking orders from the security apparatus rather than being the seat of decision-making.

“When things went wrong, as they were bound to do in such a confused situation, it was the democratic forces that were discredited while Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi was directly addressing the public, asking them to authorise a war on terror in a pronouncement that effectively marginalised the political process at a time when an NSF nominee was prime minister.”

Thus was the stage set for the systematic erosion of the political credit the NSF had built during “its confrontation with the authoritarian choices of the Muslim Brotherhood”.

“The very last straw was when Al-Baradei unilaterally decided to resign following the dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins on 14 August.”

Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed during the violent dispersals.

“I don’t accept the argument about him being a Nobel Peace Prize laureate who could not be party to a regime that condoned such massive violations,” says Abdel-Meguid. Al-Baradei did not agree to be vice president following the ouster of Morsi “in his capacity as a Nobel laureate but as the representative of the NSF. Yet he did not consult the NSF over his abrupt decision to take off. He left in a way that made it easy for anti-democratic forces to discredit the pro-democracy camp and characterise it as incapable of living up to the challenges”.

“Al-Baradei agreed to play politics but he wanted to do this while keeping his hands manicured. He wants things to happen in his own way, not the way they are. Yet when you agree to play politics you play politics the way it is played.”

By the time of Al-Baradei’s departure any chance of the NSF regaining the initiative had been eliminated by a negative media campaign orchestrated by the security establishment which was back to its old ways of doing things.

Today, says Abdel-Meguid, “the democratic camp has been discredited, the public is apprehensive and the security apparatus has embraced aggression” as its modus operandi.

It will take a long time for democratic forces to regain the strength they dissipated in internal disputes and regain public confidence. In the meantime, says Abdel-Meguid, they must continue to try and encourage Al-Sisi to shift away from a security mentality and towards a more democratic approach.

“I think there is a real possibility, despite everything we have witnessed in the last two years. I know, through direct contact, that the president is aware there can be no return to the pre-25 January status quo. If history teaches us anything it is that once there is a revolution against a regime it is impossible to fully recreate that regime.” 

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