In Egypt, a country that is terribly polarised and dangerously tense, facts get in the way.
Each side claims their own truths and denies the legitimacy of others, dismissing them as fanatics or sell-outs. The Egyptian parties are busy demonising each other and in the process are turning the dream of better governance into a nightmare of horror and violence.
Charges and counter-charges of foreign interference and unacceptable methods can go a certain distance even if money, religion, coercion and manipulation have indeed been used. The engine of change in both‘uprisings’ has been peoples’ dissatisfaction with the status quo regardless of whether their expectations were realistic or idealistic.
However, now as the parties turn on each other, we can expect more of the same, and perhaps worse, escalation of tension in the coming days and weeks, unless those who’ve been wrong and insist on being right, behave modestly and wisely.
Since January 25, 2011, when the barriers of fear were torn down and people were empowered to express themselves freely, expressions of pent-up hate and incitement, devoid of any scruples or ethics, have also found their way into the public arena in these uncertain times.
Nowadays, countless rumours, baseless innuendos and propaganda masquerade as news in and outside of Egypt. Almost all developments are being approached, framed and presented according to narrow political and ideological beliefs. That’s not to say that neutrality is realistic or even a necessary condition for clear-headed reflection. But objectivity in terms of presenting the verifiable facts regardless of their consequences, has also been absent from the present discourse in, and frequently about, Egypt.
The demonisation is perhaps the worst part of it all, considering that sooner or later Egyptians from all walks of life and of every generation will need to live in proximity, peace and harmony.
Each camp is retrenching within an imaginative sense of righteousness; each side, including the military, claiming to defend the revolution, always their revolution.
The Brotherhood’s failures
It’s a verifiable fact that the Muslim Brotherhood didn’t start the revolution, yet became an instrumental and powerful component of the popular uprising against the Mubarak regime.
The Brotherhood, like the other factions of the revolution, rushed toward elections without arriving at a consensus regarding the enshrinement of the revolution’s goals in the state and its constitution. This rendered every idea that could have united the groups as partners, a point of contention in their political battles for power.
And it’s also a fact that the older and better-organised Islamist groups went to win elections, fair and square, against a divided “opposition”. But they could have been able to take on the remnants of the old regime in the bureaucracy, security and the military or so-called “deep state” by adopting an inclusive approach towards the opposition to create a truly, unified national governance.
They did try to appease the military, such as in November 2011 when they showed uncanny indifference to the repression and violence inflicted on the street demonstrators around Tahrir Square and Mohamed Mahmoud Street at the hand of the security forces – which led to the deaths of 40 people, some of whom were shot in the eyes.
And they didn’t show the necessary political maturity, to say nothing of the revolutionary zeal, of supporting a truly inclusive political and constitutional process. Instead, they insisted on imposing a narrow vision on the new Egypt.
The opposition is more of the same
If the January 25 revolution was motivated by the rejection of the Mubarak regime and hopes for a better, free and more prosperous life, the June 30 uprising was driven by a rejection of “Brotherhood rule” and what is perceived as their attempt at hijacking the revolution and imposing their Islamist agenda.
Well, with one important verifiable distinction: the earlier President was a dictator who won ceremonial elections while the latter one did win a free election.
The opposition’s impatience with Morsi, while understandable considering all of the above mentioned factors, shouldn’t have led them into partnership with the generals, informal and temporary as it may be.Their popular movement was putting considerable pressure on the government, and if it had persisted and evolved into nationwide civil disobedience, it could have led to the fall of the government.
Instead, they chose the shorter and perhaps the more expedient way to unseat an elected president: by force. And they remain rather conspicuously quiet as (former) President Morsi remains in the military’s custody. It’s even stranger that they expect that the Muslim Brotherhood would accept the calls for talks and join a national reconciliation process while president Morsi remains under arrest.
The banality of force
The generals are not innocent in all of this. They look at political issues and see only security problems.
Yes, the Egyptian military proved that at the time of the January 25 uprising it belonged to the state – not the regime – when it sided with the people. The military made the right decision and was celebrated for it.
This time around, however, it sided with one party over another in a rather swift and eerie manner.
Warning against chaos might’ve been justifiable. That defense minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi urged for reconciliation only a week before threatening the president with a 48-hour ultimatum, after which the military moved in, doesn’t bode well for the future of democracy. The generals were correct to warn against a total breakdown. But defense minister Sisi doesn’t seem to see any irony in telling his officers in a speech that he, a general, was merely a go-between relaying “the peoples” will to an elected President.
While Sisi justifies the rush to interfere on the need to avoid instability and violence, his coup resulted in the very escalation they presumably hoped to avoid – with potentially more to come, alas.
Despite his insistence that he didn’t betray the president, it’s more likely that what appeared to be the hasty unseating of president Morsi, concealed a longer, more deliberate process of ridding the country of Islamist rule, a process that involved destabilising tactics like fuel shortages, etc.
The fact that the generals have not and perhaps do not want to directly take the reins of power doesn’t mean that they are not leading from behind. Indeed, Sisi’s latest speech on Wednesday, calling for nationwide rallies to allow greater military powers, affirms that he’s content to lead from and by the street.
Like all militaries in the world, the role of the Egyptian military is to defend the country and its sovereignty, not to promote democracy. As I emphasised in an earlier analysis, by its very pyramidic structure, a military is an authoritarian institution.
In Egypt, where the military commands vast networks of interests and special privileges, it’s not clear why it would restore the democratic process. The military is more likely to exploit the on-going chaos to maintain its power rather than speed up the restoration of democracy, unless, of course, it comes under great popular pressure.
It’s the responsibility of the country’s political parties that spearheaded the revolution to put their political differences aside to safeguard the revolution’s achievements and carry out its objectives. This requires political maturity and parties placing the revolution and the country’s interests above their own narrow party interests.
Easier said than done? Yes, perhaps. But there is no other way. Even if it takes years and many lives, Egyptians will still need to sit down and figure out their future together.
A new realism
The optimism about a transition to democracy has proved to be wishful thinking as Egyptians take the longer route towards achieving a common vision of the new Egypt – their second republic.
History might be on the side of those who oppose dictatorship and deposed a dictator in favour of “bread, freedom and social justice”. But while time is of the essence, the future is not tied to an egg timer.
I wrote in The Invisible Arab, that this revolution isn’t a sprint affair. It’s more like a marathon, or indeed, a relay.
“Every surge of democratisation over the last century,” wrote historian Sheri Berman in Foreign Affairs, “ […] has been followed by an undertow, accompanied by widespread questioning of the viability and even desirability of democratic governance in the areas in question.”
The lesson from two centuries of transformation since the French revolution is that dictatorships can be imposed and deposed in far shorter time than it takes to arrive at a constitutional democracy.
One can only hope that instead of repeating the mistakes of their predecessors who took too long to effect positive change, Egyptians learn from the lessons of history.
Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.