Democracy is more than protest: Egypt, Tamarod and Mohammad Morsi
Posted on June 29, 2013
Tomorrow a movement against the president of Egypt, Mohammad Morsi, which claims to have garnered 22 million signatures on a petition calling on him to leave power, will take to Egypt’s streets in a protest bid to force the issue. There has been much talk of Egypt’s “second revolution” among partisans of the Tamarod (“rebel” in English) movement and its supporters plan, quite simply, a coup on power.
President Morsi has been criticised for his bellicose rhetoric ahead of June 30, of being the figurehead of an inept and sinister Islamist administration which has uniquely mishandled Egypt’s myriad problems and apparently left its people in a worse state than under the 30 year dictatorial reign of Hosni Mubarak.
This is not a post to defend Morsi. The burden of defence doesn’t, after all, fall on a democratically elected president. He has earned his fair share of criticism, with a sprawling government seemingly picked and dismissed upon the whim of the Muslim Brotherhood-backed Freedom and Justice Party, with a ramping up of lawsuits against freedom of speech and hundreds of alleged cases of torture and physical violence against civilians by a state security apparatus purportedly under his shadow of influence. But, to repeat, Morsi was elected president. He may have been elected begrudgingly by a large portion of the population (Morsi was the only viable candidate to affront the leadership challenge of one Ahmed Shafik, the felool figurehead), and there may have been some legitimate gripes about localised voting unfairness. (Although it is telling that the only serious legal challenge to the results of 2012′s presidential elections was mounted by, guess who, Ahmed Shafik). But elected he was.
Twelve months ago, Morsi took to the stage in Tahrir Square and vowed to see the aims of Egypt’s 2011 revolution through to the end. He made some interesting decisions, the most controversial of which was to forcibly remove Abdel Maguid Mahmoud, a man appointed prosecutor general for life by Mubarak, which was interpreted by critics as some sort of power grab; the extraordinary adoption of unaccountable legislative power was temporary and was revoked as soon as the felool PG left in typically unedifying fashion.
In the first 12 months of Morsi’s reign, there have been over 9,400 protests, several of which have turned violent and occasionally deadly. Now, while it might be tempting to suggest that if opposition groups are holding 28 protests a day they aren’t really giving the guy a chance, this really highlights to me the origins and motivations of the Tamarod lot. Morsi’s been slammed for not placating the opposition, when it’s pretty clear to anyone with anything like a degree of impartiality that the Tamarod movement and its affiliates (NSF/ElBaradei/felool) would not listen to anything Morsi said, no matter what (this phenomenon can be observed here; Morsi’s full speech, in case you’d like to read it rather than merely ridicule it, is here.)
There is even a sizeable section of the “opposition” (that’s in quotation marks because oppositions generally compete against majorities in elections; more on that later) openly calling for a return to military rule. This is scandalous. I lived in Egypt during some of the worst excesses of the SCAF era. Do the people who support the return of the military really know what they are asking for? If so, they are not revolutionaries; they are reactionaries. What they seek is regression. They forget the battles at Mohammad Mahmoud, the martyrs of Maspero and the dead at Port Said and ensuing clashes. They are betraying every single person who died in the name of revolution under the watch of a military junta.
I’m not talking about people who just want SCAF back and fear Islamism as a theory, those who fear religious politics as a reaction not based on any previous experience. They espouse the same fascist ethos politically that was exacted on protesters in security terms during SCAF’s tenure. I mean the people who marched and fought against Mubarak, who shouted “down with SCAF” until they were sunburnt and hoarse and now hate the fact that things didn’t progress how they imagined so much they’d rather have a junta than a democracy.
And let’s not prevaricate here: This is what Tamarod is calling for. They want snap elections (again, more to come) and Morsi to leave. But they know full well that SCAF will need to come in to fill the gaps. They know that. Either they have forgotten what unfolded the last time SCAF filled the gap after a regime fell, or, worse, they haven’t and quietly liked it because, hey, at least SCAF was secular.
Tamarod claims that since Morsi is so unpopular (and he is historically unpopular) he must leave immediately. ElBaradei and the National Salvation Front (regrettably, the closest thing Egypt has to a functioning opposition) is now calling for elections. I don’t know if we remember, but ElBaradei hasn’t exactly jumped at the chance of competing against the Brotherhood in elections, at either a parliamentary, constitutional, or Shura Council level in the past. Make no mistake, ElBaradei wants a vote now because he believes he has the support to challenge the Brotherhood. The NSF has boycotted in the past because, however disingenuous, they ain’t totally stupid and could see that support for the Ikhwan was nationally insurmountable. Morsi’s support is languishing but so is, say, David Cameron’s. In fact, Morsi, is more popular than Cameron. Does the opposition in the UK therefore demand a coup and a snap vote? It doesn’t.
This is fairly well established, people; if you hate the guy in power then get your house in order and vote him out at the next election. I’m afraid I know of no democratic system on earth where you can demand elections (when you’re not in government) just because you happen to be currently ahead in the polls.
It’s as if Morsi is uniquely and solely responsible for the shit hole Egypt finds itself in, as if ElBaradei or Hamdeen or anyone else possesses a magic wand to vanish away Egypt’s deficit, instantly refill its foreign currency reserves, solve the gas shortage and get everyone cushy, well-paid full-time work. Morsi was ridiculed on Wednesday when he suggested that he’d inherited a whole world of debt and detritus from 30 years of Mubarak cronyism and graft. But he’s right! Morsi may have done a piss poor job (may). But show me seriously a candidate that could’ve done demonstrably better, faced with an obstinate opposition that repeatedly refuses to negotiate and find middle ground (the FJP does the same, I know) and I’ll show you gently to the nearest psychiatrist.
If Tamarod, as it says, has 22 million signatures against Morsi (it doesn’t; I know this because I know the very basic truth that you can’t get 7 million signatures in four days)…wait. Start again. If Tamarod has supporters in the double figure millions (which it might, though they’ve offered precisely zero proof of this) then why does it insist only on demonstrating? Protests are all well and good (when peaceful, far from a given here) but why not, I dunno, prepare to contest an election?! Why not put all that graft and dedication and organisation into building a serious, robust support base upon which to fight the Brotherhood at the polls? This is democracy, after all. That’s how it works.
And yes, there are many people who are desperate to relive those halcyon days of Tahrir, where the symbolism of freedom, openness, fairness, equality were so intoxicating (speaking first hand here) but at some point, surely, eventually, Egypt has to do democracy. Democracy is not demanding the removal of an elected leader by force 25 percent into their mandated term. It’s about winning elections and maintaining legitimacy through support and consistency. I’m not saying Morsi has the right to do whatever he wishes. But sure as the world is round, those demanding his downfall have yet to prove they have such a mandate, either. And they’ve refused repeated chances to try.
The Brotherhood, it seems, is on full scale alert and needlessly engaging in tit for tat propaganda ahead of the big day tomorrow – although several Ikhwan bases have been torched in the last 24 hrs, somewhat undermining Tamarod’s holier-than-thou non-violent mantra. It’s indulging in fiery rhetoric when all it really needs to do is keep calm and remind the people it was voted in, in the form of the FJP and Morsi – unlike SCAF, unlike Mubarak, unlike ElBaradei and co. But, to borrow an idea from the venerable Sarah Carr, and for the sake of argument, let’s but the boot on the other foot. Let’s pretend that ElBaradei had been voted in – not without his minor controversies – to the presidency and the NSF had dominated not one, but two parliamentary votes. What would its supporters do and say if a sustained campaign was mounted by Islamists to forcibly oust ElBaradei – through street mass, not voting – after a year in power? Would they take it lying down? Should they? What do we think, here, really?
It is right that people protest if they feel that the promises made by a government are going unfulfilled But that’s a relfection of group opinion, not a legal recourse against any such government. It’s a show of discontent, not a practicable way of doing anything immediate about it.
Ultimately, if we are throwing around accusations of legitimacy deficit, I’ll say this to those aching for a return of SCAF and a snap election: There is only so many times you can march down to the square, demand the fall of a regime (this will be the third different regime many have rallied against, the difference being this one was elected) and fail to offer an alternative.