On the evening of February 2nd, 2011, I found myself courageous enough to be directly engaged in a violent battle for the first time since the uprising that started a few days earlier. I remember making my way through the barricades and to the make-shift wall that separated the diverse group of revolutionaries from a homogenous crowd of thugs hired by Mubarak’s men. That day saw a lot of bloodshed, and I was catapulting rocks blindly and there’s no way to find out if I actually hit any of the targets, but what mattered is that, as a collective force, we managed to keep the thugs out of Tahrir.
I stepped out of the war zone for a minute and into the margins, at which point I recalled how heartbroken I was at the fact that groups of civilians were fighting each other for the sake of Mubarak’s regime, and I yelled “God damn Hosny Mubarak!”
Amidst all of the chaos, an older, bearded man got really upset and offended and uttered “Why? Why would you insult religion? How could you allow a crook like Mubarak make you do such a thing?”
I was taken back – I felt like I hurt my favorite uncle. So amidst all of the motolov cocktails and rocks, I went up to him, gave him a hug and apologized. It was funny, but it was a small reminder of how our differences only made us stronger working together against the regime. It was interesting times.
Even before June 30th, the crowds were taking the streets throughout Egypt to express their frustration with Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood. It become clearer in the build up to Sunday, that the support for the Tamarrod initiative was significant, and surely enough on the big day, the turnout was overwhelming. Cairo seemed more like festival city as every inch from Tahrir to the presidential palace was covered with Egyptians from all walks of life calling for Morsi to leave.
We’re all well aware of the events that followed, but what matters at this point is what this means for the ongoing revolution, and where we can go from here.
There’s no scientific method to reveal the demographics of the massive turnout on June 30th, so we can only speculate. Estimates vary, but it’s safe to assume that there were at least 7 million Egyptians who took the different squares throughout the republic – an unprecedented feat.
We were all well aware of the pro-army nature of the majority of the crowds before we took the streets. After all, #Jan25 has failed to provide an alternative, and for many, the army is the only back to lean on. Even if SCAF wasn’t the solution within itself, the assumption was that people saw the army as the path to ending the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip on power. There was hope that, had the revolutionaries been able to provide a party and candidate, then the eagerness to rely on the armed forces would’ve become unnecessary.
Having said that, few of those pro #Jan25 expected there to be chants supporting the police. Let alone for police officers to take part themselves. Let alone have police officers carried on people’s shoulders to lead the chants:
Lest we forget, Tuesday January 25th, 2011, was organically handpicked to mark the National Police Day. The clearest of enemies of every battle from day one were the men of the Ministry of Interior. Interestingly enough, last time there were mass protests at the presidential palace, in December, violence broke out and the police were protecting the Muslim Brotherhood as they pushed out the revolutionaries camped out in the immediate vicinity.
Not only were the rules prohibiting chants against the police forces, there was encouragement to praise them, as many were genuinely siding with the Interior.
And if we thought the unconditional love towards the police was a bit on the excessive end, then nothing could compare with heart-warming romance novel of the Armed Forces.
Why would that come as a surprise? Every single media outlet had launched a campaign to build up hatred towards the ‘terrorists’ and push loyalty towards the Egyptian army. The following is by a media personnel who is considered to be amongst the most revolutionary, on the only channel that was not openly against #Jan25:
Which is why we shouldn’t be surprised either with this:
It’s safe to assume that the majority were not in favor of #Jan25, were not upset with Morsi for continuing Mubarak’s policies, but in fact dislike change and are against the revolution which they see responsible for bringing the Muslim Brotherhood to power. Hence chants for the police and the army, as well as photos of SCAF and Abdel Nasser accompanied with messages threatening to send Morsi ‘back to (political) prison’.
Exit MB, enter SCAF
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces learned the first time around that it’s wiser to stay behind the scenes. Running factories, lands, companies, weapons and direct relations with the US and Israel is a reflection of power, but being under the spotlight is a measure of responsibility which has proven to be directly correlated with undesired blame.
Having said that, taking to the streets is never an easy decision for the military. But there’s plenty to suggest that the army’s intervention was not as spontaneous as they make it sound. The announcement of the 48-hour grace period for Morsi was already met with jubilant celebrations by #June30 protesters because it was clear there was nothing Morsi could do to save himself in two days.
The fact of the matter is, El Sisi stepped in within 24 hours of the protest, with barely any strikes taking place. Incomparable to February 11th which followed 18 days of protests, road blocks and clashes, and came as a result of 3-day spontaneous nation-wide strikes. And up until the ultimatum, the army’s helicopters were being cheered and saluted by both sides – both in the name of the revolution, which has in fact repeatedly called for an end to military rule as early as February 2011.
Following the ultimatum, Morsi was removed from his position, and along with over 300 members was arrested (and currently, over 600 Islamists are under arrest), five pro-Islamist TV stations were shut down, and every single TV channel hailed the army for saving the people from the ‘terrorists’. Such a rapid shift from 72 hours earlier, when many of the revolutionaries were hopeful of piling up pressure on Morsi at most, and then build on it over time.
While the jubilant celebrations throughout the entire republic are a true reflection of the joy and satisfaction of the general public, it’s important to pay attention to how the Muslim Brotherhood were exited from the political scene.
It’s quite a challenge to fight a large, underground group such as the Muslim Brotherhood, especially given how they’ve spent over 80 years between prison cells and torture facilities, while at the same time building a massive network of supporters. That is why it has been repeatedly argued that, while the revolutionary camp organized itself and presented an alternative for the public, it was important to let the Muslim Brotherhood rule, and expose their hypocrisy and inconsistencies.
As an opportunistic, reactionary movement, as soon as the Muslim Brotherhood got in the hot seats, the discourse used on their way to power was no longer suitable, and the back track is always costly within the organization itself. There are numerous examples to this, like their sudden silence with regards to the Palestinian issue and their ‘love affair’ with Israel, their cooperation with the Ministry of Interior and refusal to hold officers accountable for murder and torture over the years, as well as the of military trials and army personnel in civilian positions. The support for the continuation of oppression went as far as individually appointing Adel El Morsi, head of the military courts that overlooked the tribunal of over 12,000 civilians, in the upper house of parliament.
What 80 years of underground struggle have taught us is that you simply cannot end the support and influence of the Muslim Brotherhood via means of brutal oppression. The most effective way of breaking down the organization is by swaying away its support, and more specifically, its members. Once tens of thousands of members drop out of the organization, the leadership will find itself in a downward spiral into thin air. And to reach that point, there must be exposure to opposing ideas and, more importantly, revealing the double standards of the leadership that has demanded to be followed unquestionably.
Anyone who has had to endure dialogue with Muslim Brotherhood youth will attest to the difficulty of the task. Over the past year, rumors circulated of thousands of members jumping ship in protest of the leadership’s inconsistent stances, and it become visible that millions of supporters turned against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood. As far as the revolution was concerned, we were well on our way to prove to the masses who placed Morsi in office that the only notable distinction from his predecessor is the beard.
SCAF’s immediate response ended the prospect of the popular toppling of political Islam in the region. The arrests sent fear to all of the members and supporters who now find themselves cornered with no safe exit option. The shutdown of the TV channels pushed millions of Egyptian Islamists back to the cave of victimization where leadership responsibility is not on the menu.
Who can blame them? If you were a prominent Islamist who was slowly but surely turning your back on the Muslim Brotherhood, as soon as the crackdown takes place, you will be thinking about survival. Your choices would be: await an indefinite prison sentence carried out by Mubarak’s men and supported by millions in the streets, or fight to the very end.
If SCAF were remotely interested in democratic reform, they could’ve called for early elections while leaving Morsi in power. This would’ve meant that the Muslim Brotherhood would’ve not suffered an illegal crackdown, and they would’ve been immediately removed with elections and slowly but surely marginalized by the people and their followers.
Alternatively, SCAF could’ve stepped back for a few weeks while we liberated ourselves via protests and strikes throughout the entire country – similar to what happened during the 18 days. Either case, or both together, would’ve resulted in a completely different outcome.
Sadly, the entire Islamist segment within the Egyptian society is cornered into referring to extreme measures, such as violence, and it will be a while before we can successfully put political Islam to rest. It’ll be difficult to avoid violence while there are hundreds illegally detained, censorship threatening freedom of speech, and no apology with regards to the crackdown nor an invitation to become part of the political scene. SCAF and its supporters seem just as unwilling as the Muslim Brotherhood would’ve been had the roles been reversed.
#June30 vs #Jan25
The record-breaking turnout is proof that the majority of those protesting during the week of #June30 had never in fact partaken in the uprising that took off on January 25th, two years ago. And activists were optimistic that June 30th would be yet another milestone on the path to victory with the revolution.
Given the turn of events, however, the outcome was slightly different:
It’s important to take note of a few pointers. Success has been altered to be defined via the ‘unity’ of the army, police and Egyptian people together against the criminal terrorists: the Islamists. No more light will be shed on bread, freedom and social justice, for those are demands of a bygone era that saw a ‘fascist’ Islamist regime prove incompetent.
This in turn implies that, in order to build on the #June30 revolution’s success, we have to give unlimited support to the police and the armed forces as they work tirelessly to erase our recent history, and therefore return to the times prior to #Jan25 that did nothing but land the Islamists in power.
Incidentally, any reference to the #Jan25 uprising is in fact associated with the Muslim Brotherhood’s rise to power, and therefore counterrevolutionary. It’s gotten to the point whereby media outlets are collectively claiming that the police and the people have always enjoyed a harmonious relationship until the Islamists intervened and attempted to divide in order to conquer. This particular point, along with the praising of the Ministry of Interior, is absolutely contradictory to the principles of the revolution, and it’s not coincidental.
But if this is an attempt to hijack #Jan25 and replace it with the racist rhetoric introduced on #June30, then perhaps it is on the youth of the revolution to once again stand by the uprising and reject it? That could be, but it is now a much more difficult job, given that a certain noble peace prize winner was a partner in every step in the process.
Mohamed ElBaradei’s involvement is an intriguing one. Sisi would argue that ElBaradei has been selected to be a mediator because he enjoys popularity within a segment of society, and therefore will also represent their demands. But there’s little to suggest ElBaradei’s popularity is of any significance. Especially outside the upper middle class and upper class youth on twitter.
Whether it was intentional or not is irrelevant; the fact of the matter is that the #June30 military intervention and subsequent crackdown have been awarded the #Jan25 label. ElBaradei’s presence was not for those who support him, it’s for the millions of others who could’ve doubt that it is not an initial demand of the revolutionaries to lock up the Islamists in jail. He gave legitimacy to a process that’s now beyond question. Thanks to his presence and approval of the arrests and shutdown of TV stations, it has become somewhat of an uphill battle for the revolutionary youth to argue that #Jan25 goes way beyond the Islamists, and that throwing them behind bars and censoring their outlets is against its principles. Not to mention that, to remind the general public that the uprising started on Tuesday, January 25th as a declaration of war against the police, is going to be incredibly challenging. This particular point was never really an issue up until the past few weeks – exposing police brutality was one of the main gains of #Jan25 thus far.
And if the police have become heroic for the people as of late, then the army’s popularity has skyrocketed. After all, it’s the army that ‘liberated’ the Egyptian people, it’s SCAF that ‘responded’ to the people’s demands, and it’s Sisi that ‘saved’ Egypt from chaos and mayhem by the ‘terrorists’.
Interestingly, ElBaradei gave his blessings to the ‘exceptional measures’ taken by the police forces, even though he has always stood against the police as part of his call for democratic reform in Egypt. In an interview with the BBC days later, he explained that the military intervention was absolutely necessary to avoid bloodshed and chaos:
In the past two weeks alone, dozens have been killed throughout the country, and hundreds of thousands are blocking off roads in protest and looking to escalate further. With no safe exit option, was ElBaradei expecting the Islamists to stay at home? And if there was a threat of a civil war before, does cracking down on the Islamists encourage them to be peaceful and wait their turn in the upcoming elections? I find it hard to believe that an old, wise man of ElBaradei’s experience can appear so naive.
A revolution is a long series of ongoing battles won and lost.
To declare victory in #June30 is delusional. That is not to say that the revolution’s over, or that we have not made any gains during this popular wave. It’s important, however, to recognize that this battle was lead and won by the counterrevolution – even if, incidentally, some of the results were within our interests as proponents of change.
In order to get back on the revolutionary track, it is essential to recognize some of the losses endured, and work on taking #Jan25 forward.
For starters, there needs to be revolutionary propaganda reminding the public of police brutality, and how the Ministry of Interior repeatedly collaborated with Morsi against the revolutionaries (especially in December’s wave of clashes at the presidential palace). It’s very difficult to make any progress when people see the police officers as heroes.
Moreover, we need to prove that it is SCAF governing behind the scenes. This means that we need to reveal the insignificance of Adly Mansour and his appointed staff in relation to the military calling the shots. Success in this particular point can allow us to return to exposing the military’s atrocities and crimes – especially those recognized by Sisi himself – from the ‘virginity tests’ to the military trials, torture and murder. That would be an appropriate time to relaunch the grassroots ‘Kazeboon’ campaign exposing SCAF’s lies and hypocrisies.
More importantly, the Egyptian working class need to raise their levels of consciousness to make the connection between the shifts in the political spectrum that is not reflected in their constant economical struggle. The Federation of Independent Labor Unions came out with a shocking statement in which they promised to avoid going on strikes and will instead focus on working harder to build the new Egypt. This counterrevolutionary rhetoric is yet another example of the influence of the ruling elite on the workers at this point in time. It’s vital to spread agitation on shortening the ‘grace period’ in order to return to strikes and for the workers to continue their struggle to achieve social justice to all.
As for the Muslim Brotherhood, if we want to end political Islam once and for all, we have to allow them to re-enter the political scene, and focus on revealing the hypocrisy of their leadership, and their ever changing stances that reveal their obnoxious opportunism. But to reach that point, we must fight against the arrests and demand for all prisoners to be released immediately, and for censorship to be lifted. We also need to take a firm stance whenever the military kills dozens of their protesters.
In the meantime, organization is key. After all, a revolutionary candidate would’ve at least made it a lot more difficult for the army to appear as the default savior and sweetheart. And with time, the cost of failing to provide an alternative path is rising.
Finally, it is crucial to counter SCAF’s media portraying #June30 as a correction and replacement to #Jan25. There must be revolutionary propaganda exposing the strong similarities between Mubarak, Morsi and SCAF, as well as continuing the fight for bread, freedom and social justice.
During the 18 days it became evident that uniting the struggling masses against our oppressors is possible. But it was never within the interests of SCAF, Mubarak’s men or the opportunistic leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. And while they carry the arms, the economy, the media and sometimes even the word of God, we boast the numbers. We are the ones taking the streets and we are the ones running their factories. We are the voters and the voices. We are the ones on the revolutionary path. And it might seem like a long, hard fight, but we’re not giving up any time soon.
Interesting times, indeed.