By Yousef K.B.
On January 25th 2011 an unprecedented mass movement in the making for some time in Egypt, erupted in Tahrir Square. Within 18 memorable days this protest movement removed Hosni Mubarak, the long time dictator of Egypt from office. But it was not the people in Tahrir Square that replaced Mubarak. On February 11,2011 the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), aka the Egyptian military, took over the reign of power. The military attempted to demobilize the protests by threatening protestors of economic calamity if they didn’t go back to work, by breaking up strikes, beating protestors, and imprisoning a countless number – all while professing to be the “guardian of the nation.”
Mubarak was ousted from power and taken to court to symbolically show the end of an era, but the state that governed under Mubarak was still in place. It is doubtful that the Egyptian military wanted to rule Egypt publicly, because the Egyptian population would not have accepted that. But the military wanted to control the outcome of the political process to ensure its position both politically and economically remains intact.
What exactly are the interests of the Egyptian military? The Egyptian military has the same objectives as the US state generally. This shouldn’t come as a surprise because the US is one of the Egyptian military’s biggest benefactors, contributing over one billion dollars just this past year. Moreover top Egyptian military officers are trained in the US and are well networked with the US military. Both the Egyptian military and the US want stability to ensure that their interests are maintained. For the Egyptian military this includes institutional autonomy, keeping their economic privileges intact, and having a greater say in national security policies. For the US it is overall stability to ensure that none of its geopolitical red lines especially as it relates to Israel are crossed. Moreover the US wants to ensure that free market policies and regional integration into global capitalism is unhindered. It might come as a surprise but Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood were not a threat to the interests of either the Egyptian military or the US.
In addition to the military there is also a matrix of old Mubarak era elites who want to retain their positions despite Mubarak’s removal. They include the judiciary, top-level bureaucrats, the different parts of the security apparatus including the intelligence and the police. Heba Saleh calls this grouping of political forces the “deep state,” the real forces behind Mubarak, the social base that needs to be transformed if the protest movement that started in January 25th is to achieve revolutionary change.
Parliamentary elections were held November and December 2011, and presidential elections held in May and June 2012. The Muslim Brotherhood was able to score a major victory in the parliamentary elections. However two days before the runoff presidential elections, Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court (the ones who were given power now) dissolved the parliament and also cleared the way for Ahmed Shafik to remain in the election, decisions that the military stood beside. Shafik a former military officer and prime minister under Mubarak was the candidate of the “deep state.” Nevertheless Mohammad Morsi was able to get enough of the opposition to come together around his candidacy and won with a slim majority over Shafik.
Mohammad Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, themselves victims of brutal crackdowns by the military over the past decades, did not want to antagonize the military. Perhaps they were hoping they could deal with the military apart from the rest of the old elite forces.
How do you confront an entrenched “deep state” without looking like you’re consolidating power in your own hands? Mohammad Morsi indeed found himself in a difficult situation upon taking power. To root out the old elite forces he had to replace them, transform their positions, or reduce the power they held, all of which can seem like he’s increasing his own power. This is where Morsi and the Brotherhood made two crucial mistakes. The first was that they read their victories as political mandates that absolved them of the need to include other forces in the opposition. These were significant forces reflected in the strong showing in the first round of the presidential elections by Hamdeen Sabahi and Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh who received 20.72 and 17.47 of the votes (Morsi and Shafik received 24.78 and 23.66 percent). Sabahi and Aboul Fotouh represented a wide spectrum of political actors in the opposition including leftists, liberals, Islamists, youth movements, and others. (It is important to note that Islamists were both supportive of the Brotherhood and against it; a critical point that those propagating a religious-secular conflict overlook). These groups began to feel increasingly excluded by every action that Morsi and the Brotherhood took, such as pushing through a constitution without their input. By June 30th these forces had congealed into the anti-Morsi opposition.
The second crucial mistake of Morsi and the Brotherhood is that they did not take on the military or the police. The constitution pushed through by the Brotherhood did not bring the military under civilian control leaving it with institutional autonomy. The military budget was not subject to civilian oversight, appointments within the Ministry of Defense remained a military matter, and military tribunals continued. The military and the police came out of this process unscathed with the military arguably gaining power. The unwillingness of Morsi to move against the military eroded his revolutionary credentials. His moves to replace bureaucrats and challenge the judiciary started to be perceived as a “Brotherhoodization policy” of consolidating power within the Brotherhood, rather than genuine political transformation. This further alienated the opposition.
The International Monetary Fund (IMF) and transnational investors posed external problems for Morsi. The Egyptian state had depleted most of its foreign reserves. Different sectors of the economy such as tourism and manufacturing had suffered from an overall economic slowdown. Morsi and the Brotherhood, who themselves have important links and support in the business community did not have a different economic agenda for Egypt outside of the same old neo-liberal and free market path it has been taking. They went to the IMF seeking $4.5 billion, which was conditioned on cuts to public spending, cuts to subsidies, and the usual privatization and deregulation schemes, the IMF has become notorious for. Despite Morsi’s compliance with the IMF terms, the loan was not forthcoming, being dangled like a carrot over a cliff. This in addition to the flight of investor money, pressure from creditors, and being downgraded by credit agencies created a worsening economic crisis. This was an inevitable crisis that any contemporary revolution in the age of neo-liberalism will face. It requires a revolutionary leadership with innovative ideas that with the backing of the population are able to bring forward transformative economic and political reforms. Unfortunately for Morsi, he was not revolutionary in his policies and quickly loosing favor amongst the wide swath of the Egyptian population.
June 30: Revolt or Coup?
The Tamarod (rebel in Arabic) campaign was a grassroots campaign that started to collect signatures on April 28, 2013 calling for the ouster of Mohammad Morsi and for early elections. Tamarod was made up of the January 25 protest movement that felt excluded by the Brotherhood. They called for a protest on June 30 to demand early elections. The increasing strength of Tamarod (by June 29 it boasted 22 million signatures) attracted the elites of the “deep state.” Members of the old elite including their former presidential candidate Shafik endorsed the movement and positioned themselves with their old foes–members of the January 25 protest movement. With the civilian faction of the “deep state” allied with the Tamarod, its other faction, the military was able to paint itself as a neutral arbiter and “guardian of the nation” and gave Morsi an ultimatum. On July 3rd the Military acted on its threats and overthrew Morsi, putting him under arrest on trumped up charges. They subsequently have issued arrest warrants for top Brotherhood leaders and activists. Overnight the Muslim Brotherhood went from a governing party to one led by alleged criminals.
Despite the nefarious calculations of the military and the old elites, they cannot be seen as the entire story of June 30. That day saw the coming out of millions of people in peaceful protests. Protests of a large segment of Egyptian society that understood “democracy” as a process and a way of life and not as an act that starts and finishes at the ballot box. Tamarod at its essence was an effort to prevent ritual electoral practices from demobilizing the population and handing over the levers of power to elites. It was an attempt to create a counter-weight in the streets to political wrangling behind closed doors in the offices of the executive, the parliament, the military, and the judiciary. These mobilizations at their best are the only way revolutionary forces can ensure that the political and economic demands of January 25th are actualized beyond mere symbolisms. The campaign in fact announced that June 30 is the completion of the work left undone on February 11 2011, when the military took over.
The critical problem facing Tamarod and the humanity standing in Tahrir is if they have the organizational ability to withstand the military and the old elites’ attempt to co-opt their movement. Can they remain mobilized to impose their will on the military and the old elites in the behind the scenes political process ahead? Can they make sure that the military is not able to repeat what it did two years ago in 2011? Can they prevent the military and the old elites from exacting revenge on the Brotherhood and repressing their leadership as they have done in the past days? Unless they are able to do that, what we are witnessing today is simply a brilliant coup-de-tat by Mubarak era elites including the military.