Friday,21 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)
Friday,21 September, 2018
Issue 1203, (26 June - 2 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

Another people

The politics of “the street” is not what the Egyptian people want today, writes Abdel-Moneim Said

Al-Ahram Weekly

The world turns quickly. In the course of the fluctuation of the times, regimes, eras and revolutions, there was never a time without someone to protest the Egyptian people, described in previous times as “great” and “ingenious”. Amazingly, the criticism arrives after an intense interlude of praising the will of “the people”, a term that carries a lot of determination and force but that is ambiguous and lacks the legal and constitutional precision of the provision that the “people (the citizens of Egypt) are the source of authority”. In all events, the lofty descriptions and praise are all tossed out of the nearest window when it emerges that this people have another opinion, or that they do not see eye to eye with a certain group, segment or class of society.

I learned this first hand from some of the participants in the Hosni Mubarak regime who were taken by surprise by the 25 January Revolution and stood agape at the masses calling for him to leave. How could this happen to a man who had protected the country and its security, built cities and factories, reclaimed thousands of acres of land, and achieved economic growth and a rise in the country’s national reserves, they wondered. There had to be something wrong with the people that took to the streets by the hundreds and thousands, indeed millions, in order to overthrow one era and usher in another.

President Mubarak stepped down and soon appeared behind bars. He no longer had “the people” behind him, apart from that group that hoisted the banner, “We’re sorry, Mr President.”

Not long afterwards I asked a friend of mine who was close to the government in the period that followed the first revolution about his experience in power. He answered that he had not known that the Egyptian people were so “ungrateful”. At the time groups of protestors were parading through the streets of our major cities shouting “Liars” and “Down with military rule”. He was amazed and baffled. Those in power at the time had spared Egypt the fate of Libya, Syria, Iraq and other countries around us. How could the people now deny this and turn against their saviours?

I had no direct experience with the Muslim Brotherhood movement when it was in power. But there was that one occasion when I was contacted by an intermediary on behalf of a person close to then-president Mohamed Morsi. The date was 19 June 2013. He wanted to know how I assessed the situation at the time and the scenario I expected for the impending events on 30 June 2013. Some time before that I had written an article for Al-Masry Al-Youm entitled “The Day of Judgement”. It had been ridiculed by some Muslim Brotherhood commentators so I did not hesitate to be totally frank. I said that the millions in the Tamarod (Rebel) Movement were a reality and that they would march on 30 June because the Muslim Brotherhood rule was no longer acceptable. My interlocutor then asked my opinion about a solution. I said that the “golden solution” would be for the president to agree to the demands of Tamarod and hold new presidential elections. The man scoffed at my suggestion. He said that the people would never let the Muslim Brotherhood down because they were a religious people.

I do not know what Muslim Brotherhood leaders were saying in various corridors and jail cells after they fell or after they left Rabaa Al-Adawiya. But I can imagine it. They undoubtedly said words to the effect that the problem was not with them — the Muslim Brotherhood — but with the Egyptian people who were not sufficiently true believers (according to the Brotherhood definition of this of course).

Nowadays, you are unlikely to have an opportunity to speak with anyone from the youth who took part in the January Revolution without hearing two things. The first is that the Egyptian people have a chronic moral and political problem. The second is that, as long as this is the case, the only choice is to move abroad to countries that know how to value revolutionary youth who sacrificed so much in terms of their lives, limbs and eyes. The youth of the revolution had never imagined a time when “the people” would not rally around them to bring down the “protest law”, to protest certain constitutional articles, to oppose “military rule” and to keep the revolution alive until it reaches its goals, which are hard to define but noble nevertheless.

What happened after 30 June was amazing and anguishing to all those who had taken part in the struggle in Tahrir Square, Maspero, Al-Ittihadiya, Mohamed Mahmoud and Qasr Al-Aini streets, and in front of the Cabinet Office and the Shura Council that would eventually be scrapped. Of course, it would have never occurred to these youth that the people might feel shocked that the youth would take to Mohamed Mahmoud Street with such alarming persistence in order to attack the Ministry of Interior. They had not asked themselves whether the people could sustain years of continual loss to the national income, perpetual fragility in national security, and constant fear and instability. In brief, the youth wanted a blank cheque of ongoing support in exchange for “the revolution”, their “innocence” and their sacrifices of status, education and wealth abroad in order to stay in Egypt where the people understand little or all they understand is dictatorship and rule by a “king rooster” who knows how to keep the chicken coup in line. Meanwhile, what the youth never considered was their own fragmentation into hundreds of groups and organisations that were tailored to specific individuals and that were in unwritten agreement not to produce a single practical idea until eventually the innocence was dented when the squares became storehouses of Molotov cocktails and violent sexual harassment.

Thus the world turned in Egypt. At all times the Egyptian people were divided as is the case with other peoples at crucial turning points in history. At first they wanted change. They were impressed with the flags and colours in Tahrir Square. But there was simultaneously some gnawing doubt. What if we emerged from a disaster only to plunge into another? When it came time for the 19 March 2011 referendum on some constitutional amendments, 41 per cent of the people went to the polls in what was described as the wedding ceremony for democracy. This would repeat itself time and again. The turnout for the Shura Council elections was only eight per cent, for the People’s Assembly it did not exceed 50 per cent and it was not much higher for the runoff between Mohamed Morsi and Ahmed Shafik. Turn out for the last presidential elections was not much above 47 per cent. The so-called “couch party” was there all the while, waiting for someone to champion it and offer some convincing evidence of a drive to move away from that state of insecurity that was rife with chaos.

The situation has not changed significantly in essence since then. But there is now a not insignificant degree of optimism and a readiness to wait until things change for the better. This is fed by a reasonable level of confidence in the approach outlined by the new president and in the form of government presented in the 2014 Constitution. In short, Egypt and the Egyptian people have a historic opportunity for their country to shift from hardship, paralysis and fear to a brighter future.

“The people” never gave anyone a blank cheque. They could not make any exception for the youth because those youths no longer trusted the people and threatened to leave and join the eight million other Egyptians who had already left at previous times in history. What the people know is that those who work and build for the sake of the people and their own sake are the ones who must search for the way out of backwardness, poverty and weakness. However, this will not happen without building the political centre in a country that is plagued by intense splintering and infighting.

The Muslim Brotherhood would never have achieved the gains they had made were it not for the weakness and fragmentation of the civil political centre inclusive of its left and right extensions. The youth, with all their vitality, knowledge and energy, were unable to translate any of these assets into anything but demonstrations, sit-ins, anger and mockery at the past and present, and at Mubarak and Mohamed Al-Baradei. They never empowered a coalition, created a party or had a front to back them. In short, they never succeeded in elections (to which testify the fates of the Awareness and Justice, the Egypt of Freedom and other parties).

The politics of “the street” is not what the Egyptian people want today. Those who insist that Egypt will live or die on the basis of the protest law (on which I have registered serious criticisms and continue to maintain that it should be reviewed by the next parliament) should, perhaps, search for another “people”, one that is prepared to dedicate itself full-time to demonstrations, sit-ins, strikes, anger and hatred.

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