Saturday,22 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1204, (3-9 July 2014)
Saturday,22 September, 2018
Issue 1204, (3-9 July 2014)

Ahram Weekly

A tumultuous year

Egyptians have been marking the first anniversary of the 30 June Revolution after a tumultuous year, writes Gamal Essam El-Din

Al-Ahram Weekly

On 30 June, 2013, Sayed Ali, a seller of books in downtown Cairo, felt jubilation at watching thousands of people flocking to the nearby Tahrir Square, chanting for the downfall of Islamist president Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood regime.

Although Ali was swept with joy when Morsi was finally ousted from office three days later, he feared that there could be a violent backlash from the Muslim Brotherhood, trying its best to push the country into a Syrian-style civil war.

One year later, when Egyptians marked the first anniversary of the 30 June Revolution this week, Ali sees the country not only far from any scenario of a civil war, but also looking far more stable and secure. Even when a series of explosions near the Al-Ittihadiya Presidential Palace marred the celebrations on Monday, the majority of people still saw them as the exception rather than the rule.

According to Ali and millions of other ordinary Egyptians, “we are ready to suffer more explosions, but we will never tolerate living one day more under the extremist regime of the Muslim Brotherhood.”

The removal of Morsi, however, came at a price. Thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters gathered in massive sit-ins in Cairo and Giza, vowing to regain what they called “the legitimacy of a freely elected president” and “eliminate the 30 June military coup which usurped power.”

The army, alongside the police, intervened. On 14 August, 2013, the Brotherhood sit-ins were crushed by force, leaving around 600 dead and thousands injured. Hundreds of leading Brotherhood officials and activists have also been detained and referred for trial, with some estimating that between 17,000 and 20,000 have been put in prison since August 2013.

Other Brotherhood stalwarts and sympathisers have opted to flee the country, choosing Qatar, Turkey and Britain as the three favourite destinations.

Meanwhile, a violent Islamist insurgency led by the so-called Ansar Beit Al-Maqdis group, erupted in the Sinai Peninsula. The group, widely believed to be allied with the Muslim Brotherhood and its Gaza offshoot Hamas, mounted a series of bloody attacks against army and police installations in several Egyptian cities, leaving hundreds dead and several buildings demolished.

Worse, when the school season opened in September 2013, the campuses of several Egyptian universities turned into violent battlegrounds between the police and hundreds of pro-Brotherhood students.

Aside from a year of unrest, the country also paid a heavy political price for the removal of the Brotherhood from power. Although most non-Islamist political forces approved of removing Morsi from office, some of them voiced fierce criticisms of the forced dispersal of the Brotherhood sit-ins, warning that rejecting reconciliation with the group could push the country into civil war.

Mohamed Al-Baradei, a high-profile ex-UN diplomat who founded the Dostour Party and who was chosen by the National Salvation Front (NSF) that helped lead the opposition to Morsi to be part of the interim government and was assigned by interim president Adli Mansour as vice-president for international affairs, resigned, arguing that “I cannot bear the responsibility for one drop of blood.”

A negative western reaction to events also complicated matters. The United States, Egypt’s long-time strategic ally, decided to suspend US$1.3 billion in annual military assistance. The Obama administration, spurred by a western media hostile to the post-Morsi interim authorities in Egypt, went further in stipulating that for US assistance to resume the military-backed government would have to espouse “inclusive democracy and respect human rights.”

With preparations for parliamentary elections set to begin before 18 July this year, Egypt still looks divided. This is nowhere clearer than in the splitting of political forces into staunchly rival camps on several issues, including the presidential elections held in May and the laws issued to regulate protests and the parliamentary elections.

Traditional forces, including old-guard political parties like the liberal Al-Wafd, the leftist National Unionist Progressive Party (Tagammu) and the Arab Nasserist Party, decided to rally behind presidential candidate Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, the ex-army chief who swept the presidential polls by a historic margin of 23 million votes.  

Remnants of ousted former president Hosni Mubarak’s defunct National Democratic Party (NDP) also joined forces in announcing their support for Al-Sisi. These forces, united by a deep abhorrence of the Islamist ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood, viewed Al-Sisi as a patriotic saviour who could heal the country’s deep political wounds and regain stability and security.

These forces also took the West, especially the US Obama administration, to task for conspiring against Egypt and other Arab countries by helping the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist factions gain power, sowing the seeds of internal divisions and disrupting national security, as has been the case in Iraq, Syria, Yemen and Libya, in favour of Israel.

The young political parties, which came into being after former president Mubarak was overthrown in the 25 January Revolution, took a different position, opting to favour Hamdeen Sabahi, a 59-year-old leftist icon and Al-Sisi’s only rival in the presidential polls.

Political parties and revolutionary movements dominated by young people, such as the Constitution Party, the Justice Party, the Revolutionary Socialists and the Popular Egyptian Current Movement, declared their support for Sabahi.

The Tamarod (Rebel) Movement, which masterminded the ouster of Morsi, has also been politically divided. A number of its high-profile leaders who participated in drafting Egypt’s new constitution decided to take Sabahi’s side, while the movement’s founder, Mahmoud Badr, decided to ally with Al-Sisi.

The Islamist forces were no exception to the political divisions. The ultraconservative Salafist Al-Nour Party, which had allied with the Muslim Brotherhood under the Morsi regime, opted to support the post-30 June political roadmap. Chairman of the Al-Nour Party Younis Makhyoun said that the party “categorically supported” Al-Sisi.

The passage of controversial laws in recent months has also left political forces divided. The Sabahi camp has portrayed a new protest law as a setback for the 25 January and 30 June Revolutions, blaming it for the arrest and sentencing of several young political activists like Ahmed Maher of the 6 April Movement and blogger Alaa Abdel-Fattah to long periods in jail.

Other forces or the pro-Al-Sisi camp see the protest law as a necessary step that has helped the country become more stable and secure.

Aside from the Al-Sisi and Sabahi factions, a third camp has emerged led by the 6 April Youth Movement that called for a boycott of the presidential vote. The movement described the vote as a “”farce,” arguing that it did not want Egypt to fall either under military rule or the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood.

The pro-Sabahi and boycott camps still have suspicions that Al-Sisi, now in power, could take Egypt back to Mubarak-style authoritarian rule manipulated by the army and police. They also expect that under Al-Sisi the coming parliament will be dominated by NDP stalwarts and business tycoons.

Political analysts agree that the political divisions, coupled with bloody confrontations with Islamist militants in Sinai and elsewhere, are just a few of the challenges facing Al-Sisi.  Salah Eissa, a historian and editor of the weekly Al-Qahira newspaper, said that Egypt had paid a heavy price for the removal of Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood regime.

“But it is worth it to get rid of a religious tyrant whose fanatical group wanted to hijack the country for its own political interests and extremist ideology,” Eissa said.

Eissa said that given the new realities in the Middle East, notably the possibility of Iraq falling into the hands of the militant Sunni Islamist group ISIS, the Al-Qaeda-affiliated Islamic State of Iraq and Syria, or Libya languishing in civil war, Egypt had been wise to move early to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies.

Mohamed Al-Said Idris, an Al-Ahram political analyst, agreed that Egypt might have paid a heavy price for the removal of Morsi. “There were downs, but the ups were also there, at the top of which was the ability of the army and police to bring the country back to stability, smoothly implement the first two stages of the post-30 June political roadmap (the writing of the new constitution and the election of a new president), and elicit wide international recognition of the new regime and the political status quo in Egypt,” he said.

According to Al-Said, Al-Sisi had inherited a very bad legacy: a severely divided nation, a defiant Islamist insurgency, an unruly population, and a badly battered economy.

“Al-Sisi is required to face two daunting challenges: restoring stability, in terms of wiping out the Muslim Brotherhood, and reinvigorating the economy. I think things have greatly improved in the last few months in terms of security, but Al-Sisi has to build on this by creating a united front against the Muslim Brotherhood and fighting the last pockets of terrorism in Sinai and elsewhere.”

Al-Said agreed that Al-Sisi had done a good job in his first month in power. “The man brought Egypt back to Africa when he attended the African Summit in Equatorial Guinea last month, tackled Ethiopia’s Renaissance Dam in a summit meeting with its prime minister, and opened channels with Algeria and Sudan, trying to form a united front against terrorism and security threats endangering the country’s borders with Libya and Sudan,” Al-Said said.

He added that by adopting moderate positions, Al-Sisi had been able to improve relations with the United States. “The recent visit of US secretary of state John Kerry to Cairo showed a kind of eagerness on the part of America to develop a new pragmatic approach towards Egypt, putting security cooperation with Cairo above any other considerations,” he said.  

Al-Said, however, believed that the economy was Al-Sisi’s greatest challenge. “Al-Sisi’s long experience as an army general, his good relations with the oil-rich Arab Gulf countries, and his moderate political views may have made him much better placed than local politicians to bring the country back to stability, but these are by no means enough to get the country out of its economic crisis.”

Mohamed Anwar Al-Sadat, Chairman of the liberal Reform and Development Party, agreed, urging Al-Sisi to be more frank about the country’s economic challenges. “I hoped that Al-Sisi would mark the first anniversary of the 30 June Revolution by delivering an open-minded speech in which he would review the country’s economic woes quite frankly — especially on the chronic deficits in the state budget and the energy crisis — and the strategies needed by both the government and the people to confront them,” Al-Sadat said.

In political terms, Al-Sadat believes that Al-Sisi must move to rally all forces behind him in one front. “This requires reviewing the three laws on protests and parliamentary elections, and the possibility of releasing young political activists who have been convicted of violating the protest laws and developing good terms with the revolutionary youth movements that are highly sceptical of army generals,” he said.

He added that such moves “are necessary to build the solid national front necessary to wipe out the Muslim Brotherhood, move the country forward, and ensure the final success of the 30 June Revolution in the long run.”

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