See, I’d always assumed it was because of people not liking Mohammad Morsi personally, or sour grapes, or some sort of abstract ideal of a perfect, secular democracy that some in the Egyptian secular/liberal opposition carried on like they did. I thought that although it behaved disingenuously in first competing in (and claiming foul play in its loss) then boycotting, then demanding snap elections because it had gained some ground in opinion polls, that it was still, at its nebulous and competing heart, a movement formed around that essential kernel of revolutionary spirit and thirst for freedom so abundantly demonstrated during 18 days of uprising and then 18 months enduring the worst excesses of a brutal military dictatorship.
I was wrong.
After millions of people protested in Egypt yesterday – for and against Morsi, but overwhelmingly, must be said, against – the Supreme Council of Armed Forces today announced, in thinly veiled fashion, a 48hr ultimatum for Morsi – Egypt’s first democratically elected president – to step down, or else it would be exacting a military coup. (Even if SCAF doesn’t physically seize power, this is still a coup, given Morsi’s position as head of state and his sidelining in recent SCAF discussions; and, by waiting until the “opposition” took to the streets thereby ensuring all it has to do is refuse any Brotherhood olive branch and the 48hr deadline has been reached, is still an outrageous impingement of junta will on civilian politics). This is the same SCAF that oversaw the brutal clearing of Tahrir Square and the massacres of protestors at Mohammad Mahmoud and Maspero, that stuck up for security forces finger raping women protesters, that stamped on the chest of the blue bra girl, that allowed Port Said to happen on its watch, that imprisoned more than 12,000 civilians in military jails. This is the same SCAF that hundreds of thousands of people rallied against, the target of a million “yasqut, yasqut hokm l askar” chants. The SCAF that oversaw more than a year, basically, of tyrannous chaos while insisting it was only in the job temporarily.
I knew that some of the opposition had been openly calling for SCAF to take control, to fulfil some sort of warped, democratic-reset-through-authoritarian-force personal fantasy for a while. I knew that resentment for Morsi ran deep. But nothing can prepare you for the spectacle today: Of the so-called revolutionaries scrambling to justify the threat of a goddamn military coup.
Egypt is in a bad shape. I know that. Morsi is not what people had hoped he would be. That too. But when you have people cheering in their thousands – in Tahrir, online, outside the Presidential Palace – when a man named Al-Sisi stands up and basically mandates the forcible removal of the president – as unpopular and imperfect and even clueless as he may be – then you begin to realise something: The counter revolution, the one that has been masquerading as the revolution ever since it realised it couldn’t get organised quick enough to compete with a political party that has had eight good decades to prepare for a vote and to consolidate a support base large enough to win not one but four elections, is almost complete.
I don’t know why people like Mahmoud Salem and his Twitter followers so enjoy the prospect of a return to military power.
They will say it’s only because Morsi is doing such a bad job – as if the 30 years of state neglect and financial sandcastle building didn’t exist and it was the current president exclusively and unilaterally who ruined the economy and divided the nation – that they support a coup, and only then temporarily. (SCAF’s track record at “temporary” shouldn’t have earned it the benefit of the doubt here).
They’ll say Morsi has lost his mandate to govern because millions of people oppose him. They will say that they cannot wait for elections for such a body of discontent to manifest itself via the ballot box. (Some will even tell you that elections are overrated while swearing blind they want free and fair democracy).
They will say it’s because Morsi is another Mubarak. People who say this either so deeply despise the concept of an Islamist president that they are prepared to whitewash history and evilly make the analogue between Morsi and the man who locked him up and saw him tortured, or else they are stupid. The comparison is cruel, bigoted, hateful and obviously just plain wrong. It’s like the “well, Hitler was elected, too,” moronic irrelevance that comes from the mouths of those otherwise gagged by hate. (Some of these same people will tell you that if you’re white your opinion is invalid, although in fairness not everyone is bigoted and childishly simplistic).
They will say that it’s because the country doesn’t really support the Brotherhood, it’s just that it hijacked the revolution by doing boring, non-revolutionary things like appealing to the needs of communities on a level of local governance, of appealing to the deep religiosity of millions and millions of Egyptians that the secularists find so bafflingly, condescendingly backward. (They will also claim that many of those who vote for the Brotherhood do so because they are paid or stupid).
They will say that the balance of support really lies with the opposition, and they will tell you their version of events on all sorts of things, such as Morsi’s dismissal of the feloul prosecutor general in a “power grab” so dictatorial that it was revoked amid popular protests. They will say all of this and know that, mostly, the media will say it their way too.
They will tell you that the Brotherhood sullied its revolutionary credentials by agreeing to a timetable for a transition to democracy and then daring to do something such as actually positioning itself to win a vote. They will do this while glossing over the eight decades of oppression the Brotherhood endured.
They will even make fun of the thousands of Islamists who were imprisoned and tortured under Mubarak; those who had red hot pokers inserted in them by cruel spymasters, then they’ll say that the Brotherhood isn’t cut out for democracy anyway.
They will tell you, look, I don’t hate Islamists and I’m not jealous that they got voted in while we were still putting our pants on, but they’ve had 12 months and still there’s a robust political divide so I’m bored now with this government.
“Only the army can provide effective leadership in the coming days” – they will tell you things like this and mean it.
I’m often accused (not that this should be an accusation, but it is meant as one) of supporting the Brotherhood in general or Morsi in particular. For the record – I don’t think much of either. Both have made serious mistakes and misjudgements when it comes to listening to a broad spectrum of political voices. Chances to build consensus have been missed through carelessness and callousness. Of course opponents of Morsi have a right to mobilise whoever they want and stay on the streets for as long as they wish. I don’t believe the Brotherhood has a divine right to rule Egypt, but then again I don’t believe that it believes it does, either.
What I do believe is that a democratically elected administration – with all the displeasure and obviously widespread disapproval it produces – should be given a chance to carry out what it was mandated to do when it was voted in, en masse and repeatedly. I believe that no president could’ve dealt with the problems that Morsi has had to deal with, in the face of a non-cohesive, non-cooperative and at times downright obstructionist opposition, and certainly not in just 12 months. I also believe that while democracy is more than turning out to vote every x amount of years, neither is it just a case of how many people groups can mobilise (it’s both, and to deny or scoff at either is your error). And I believe if you tell an organisation with millions of ardent supporters, members of which have been imprisoned, tortured, terrorised, raped and killed over decades by oppressive state security, that, after enduring all these horrific wrongs, after the one time they are allowed to show their true strength in a legitimate, mass participation electoral process, that the result doesn’t matter and they’ll be leaving in 48 hours because you say so, then you deserve whatever backlash such a process provokes.
I also believe that if you really are serious about democracy, you kind of sit it out for a bit more than 12 measly months. I believe that if you gave two shits about the poor people who gave their lives for the revolution, who paid the ultimate sacrifice so that Egyptians could be free to choose their own leaders, you wouldn’t try to mitigate or explain away a return to military rule – you’d rage against it.
What I remember, moreover, is the people who were killed, tortured and terrorised under SCAF. I remember the blood and the injustice and the horrible, terrifying lack of accountability that comes with autocratic rule. I remember the police blinding people outside the Interior Ministry, when – forget birdshot and teargas - actual bullets were felling people. I remember seeing the grainy video, recorded on a cellphone of a Masri fan in Port Said, of an Ahly fan being physically beaten to death as the police stood and watched.
Now some people are carrying the police on their shoulders. I believe that is a betrayal.
I’ve learned a basic and terrifying truth today: That many would rather see a military junta rule with impunity and autocracy than see a democratic administarion govern with fecklessness and error. That many people who call themselves revolutionaries and advocates of democracy simply hate Islamism more than they love freedom. That people are fully prepared to welcome the army back to political life, with a cheer, two fingers up to those killed since 2011, and a good riddance to Egypt’s first experiment with democracy. You can keep your “revolution”.