Celebrating a Disaster in Egypt

You’d think we'd won the World Cup: cars honking, loud celebratory music, people carrying flags. There are also flags hanging from the military helicopters flying at low altitude above Egypt's main cities.

The joke's on us, though. This isn't a cup, it's a coup. A military coup against a failed president, but a coup nonetheless. This is no time for celebration.

The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces -- the SCAF, remember them? -- has issued a 48-hour ultimatum to “everyone” to “bear the burden of these historic circumstances." If "the demands of the people aren’t met," the army will announce a “roadmap” for Egypt's further political development. The implementation of this roadmap will, of course, be overseen by the army itself. There's even an app counting down the hours till Morsy's time "expires." 

Just read that one more time and let it sink in.

By omitting any reference to Morsy in the communiqué (the president is merely another part of that nameless “everyone," one of multiple parties to the conflict rather than the government of the country), the SCAF has effectively handed Morsy's scalp to protesters, putting the responsibility for resolving the existing deadlock squarely on his shoulders while emboldening the protesters by recognizing their demands and pledging to respond to them.

The youth group behind the petition drive that led to the June 30 protests quickly clambered [in Ar.] onto the SCAF's lap, saluting the army's declaration and calling the army "the house of Egyptian nationalism."

The Muslim Brotherhood's first reaction was to send text messages to its supporters asking them to stage protests in a few locations in Cairo. The Islamists are planning a multitude of marches tomorrow. Some of them almost certainly clash with the anti-Morsy protesters. Around  2 am, the president's office issued a panicked and sheepish press release -- which it posted on Facebook, no less -- arguing that “democratic mechanisms are the only safe way to manage our differing viewpoints." It also claimed that the president is continuing to conduct a “generalized national reconciliation process," and whined that the statement issued by the SCAF “was not shared with the president for consideration beforehand," adding that “the president's office sees that some sentences in it have meanings that could confuse the complicated national scene."

The army issues an ultimatum for a coup. The president's office complains in a communiqué in the middle of the night that the SCAF doesn’t take Morsy seriously, while on the ground the Muslim Brotherhood sends its people to occupy the square across from Cairo University as some of its senior leaders issue threats to anyone who threatens the president’s “legitimacy."

How did we get here? And how is it that Egypt seems to systematically choose the worst possible option whenever it finds itself at a crossroads?

Today was the second day of nationwide protests that marked the first anniversary of Morsy’s presidency. Millions of people, armed with red cards, revived the protest chants of the 18 days of 2011, most notably Erhal -- "Leave."  The protests started with an air of carnival (families with their kids, popcorn vendors, and the tricolor hats you’d more often see among football fans rather than on the street), but they quickly devolved into violence in many parts of the country. In some cases the culprits were faceless shooters aiming at the crowd; in others there were clashes between anti- and pro-Morsy protestors. At least six were killed as they protested (violently, it must be said) at the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters on Moqattam Hill in Cairo. Over 46 cases of "mob sexual harassment" (the worst version of what you imagine it means) were reported by the Operation Anti-Sexual Harassment volunteer group. Renowned human rights activist Ramy Raoof reported that “the intensity and number of sexual assaults that took place in Tahrir was beyond our expectations and our ability to respond. This is much worse than January 2013."

"Leave!" might have been their main slogan, but the people who took to the streets yesterday to demand the end of Muslim Brotherhood rule had clearly spent little time pondering what would happen once this regime is removed. There is at least some excuse for this, though: no one really expected Morsy to simply give up and go away. Most of the protestors were actually aiming to obtain some sort of concessions from the government -- perhaps constitutional reform or even (the wildest dream of all) an early presidential election. Unfortunately, however, they spoiled their negotiating position by failing to articulate what precisely what it was they wanted.

The sad truth is that there was much naiveté on the part of protesters -- and here I include myself. The assumption of rationality on the part of the opponent is simply unjustified. Yet most of the anti-Morsy protesters I spoke with told me that their main reason for taking to the street involve blackouts and gasoline shortages. Very few mentioned Morsy's dubious constitutional decree that put him above the law, the disastrous laws drafted by an unrepresentative lower chamber of the parliament, or even the Brotherhood-tailored constitution.

In its one year of rule, the Muslim Brotherhood has squandered much of the public sympathy it had garnered over 80 years of existence and 60 years of military persecution. The same people who took to the streets in January 2011, protesting the police violence that often targeted the Brotherhood, were out today to celebrate the Islamists' demise.

But now the clock is being reset to 2011, and Egyptians are faced with the ridiculous choice between a military junta or a theocracy-flavored-dictatorship. It isn’t a choice we should have to make: Egypt deserves better. But we have failed to develop the better alternative.

For the moment the SCAF’s coup -- for that's exactly what it is, albeit a bloodless one -- may be welcomed by a segment of Egyptians on the street as a knee-jerk reaction to the Muslim Brotherhood's terrifying mismanagement of the state. But if the army does take over, under the guise of "overseeing the roadmap" mentioned in their communiqué, it won't be long until the people who were today chanting "the army and people are one hand” will be reminded that this is the same army that, just a few months ago, was responsible for the Maspero massacre, that unleashed angry mobs against the peaceful protesters who objected to its rule, that conducted virginity tests on Egyptian women, and that subjected 12,000 civilians to military trials.

This is no day for celebration. I have no sympathy whatsoever for the Muslim Brotherhood; I was out there yesterday, too, protesting their disastrous rule. But we have to remind ourselves that the enemy of my enemy is not my friend. The army communiqué speaks doom, not salvation.

The 48 hours set by the SCAF’s delayed-action coup is a very long time. Much can still happen. But it’s unlikely that the final outcome will be worth celebrating.

Mohamed El Dahshan is the Egypt blogger for Transitions. Read the rest of his posts here.



Democracy Lab Weekly Brief, July 01, 2013

Anna Nemtsova recounts her quest for an encounter with the elusive Edward Snowden.

Vivek Wadhwa explains why affordable tablet computers are set to transform India's grassroots.

Tsveta Petrova argues that the new democracies of Central and Eastern Europe bring important experience to the promotion of democracy elsewhere in the world.

Dwight Bashir reminds protesting Egyptians why democracy can't survive without religious freedom.

Juan Nagel reports on the long-awaited release of persecuted Venezuelan judge María Lourdes Afiuni -- and explains why it's a hollow victory at best.

Daniel Lansberg-Rodriguez takes a look at the constitutional controversy involving a 2011 prison break when now-President Mohammed Morsy escaped from jail.

Mohamed El Dahshan joins internet activists in Tunisia for a commemorative recreation of the old system of government surveillance.

Mohamed Eljarh wonders whether Libya's new president is really the man to unify the country.

And Christian Caryl predicts that the Arab Spring's refugee crisis will have a major impact on the region's ethnic demographics.

And now for this week's recommended reads:

The Hurriyet Daily News reports that the streets of Turkey, as shown in the photo above, are filled not only with protesters, but with participants in Istanbul's 11th annual gay pride march.

As demonstrators in Egypt demand the resignation of President Mohammed Morsy, Shadi Hamid, writing in The Atlantic, questions the wisdom of such a move. Ellis Goldberg assesses Morsy's political legacy for Nisralnasr. And Adel Iskandar analyzes the Tamarod opposition movement in his piece for Jadaliyya.

The International Crisis Group argues in a new report that the Syrian conflict is morphing into a full-blown sectarian struggle. In a dispatch for the Financial Times, Michael Peel explains how Iran, Russia, and China are keeping Syria's economy afloat.

In The Daily Beast, David Keyes explains why it's in the interest of the United States to help two Saudi Arabian women's-rights activists imprisoned for their work. Gauri van Gulik asserts that newly published World Health Organization data comprise a call to action in the fight against domestic violence.

In a new report, the International Center for Transitional Justice explores Peru's delays in compensating victims of the country's 20-year civil conflict.

Shibani Mahtani, writing for The Wall Street Journal, reports that Burma has banned the recent TIME magazine issue titled "The Face of Buddhist Terror."

Writing for NOW, Hussein Ibish predicts that "savage and bestial" Sunni-Shiite tension will lead to anarchy in the Middle East.

In The National, Alice Fordham reports on progress in Tunisia as the country's long-overdue constitution nears ratification.

In his piece for World Politics Review, Stefan Wolff examines South Sudan's slow development two years after independence.