All roads lead to Mubarak?

Rights & dissent

Looking up at Egypt

What was already lost 

“A coup or not a coup?” That, is NOT the question. Yet it is one that has consumed much of everyone’s attention and energy since Military Chief-of-Staff General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi read out the statement announcing the ouster of Mohamed Morsi, President of Egypt, on the evening of 3 July. But what appeared to be a classic “military coup” was backed up by much popular support. On June 30, millions of Egyptians took to the streets (yes, again) calling for the ousting of “the first democratically elected” president of post-revolution Egypt exactly, and only, one year after he was sworn in to office. Morsi of course, never failed to remind us, over … and over … that he was democratically elected, chosen by the people and president of all Egyptians, occasionally throwing in that “رئيس لكل المصريين”  to clear himself of any allegations that he was only there to serve the interests of his clan, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and their political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP). Legitimacy “شرعية” on the other hand, is a word he used in insane abundance. Morsi held on to his legitimacy until the very word itself was the ruin of him. Only someone with Morsi’s less than mediocre and comically awkward public speaking skills could manage to fit that word effortlessly into practically any sentence or context: “Give me some Pasta alla, legitimacy, Arrabiata”!

“A coup or not a coup?” That, is NOT the question.

Morsi and his fellow MB members, whom he had carefully placed in positions of power, continued to refer to that legitimacy long after it was lost on 21 November 2012, a date that only the Muslim Brotherhood seem to have forgotten, when Morsi issued a constitutional declaration announcing him King of All of Egypt, granting himself next-to-God-like powers. That legitimacy was dead when his supporters violently attacked thousands of Egyptians protesting against that declaration at the Itihadia presidential palace. It was lost when he spoke to the people following these clashes that left at least 10 dead, speaking of foreign fingers and conspiracies against, of course, legitimacy … and oh how sick we are of one ruler after the other blaming their screw-ups on foreign fingers. And of course, by the time a group of men representing no one but Islamic parties stayed up all night on 29 November 2012 like their lives depended on it, producing a constitution that’s not quite worth the lives of the hundreds of martyrs who died to rid the country of Mubarak’s regime, any crumbs left of that legitimacy were flushed down the toilet. So you can argue all you like and prove this was a military coup, but I would love to see you argue how, before the coup, this was a democracy.

Squeezing citruses

I hope that was thorough enough a disclaimer on how much I despise the brotherhood and their ex-president, whom I’ve hardly ever called my own. I did not choose this clan to run a country too vast and complex, or – to quote Morsi: spaghetti-like – for him or any one party to do it on their own, which they thought they could. I have never condoned their policies and decisions nor have I forgiven the way they chose to ignore the growing nation-wide sentiments against them. Why then do I need a disclaimer? Because as much as I despise Morsi and his clan for marginalising everyone who has taken part in the revolution that made possible their wide-reaching power and calling everyone who opposed them a “foreign agent”, a “traitor” or the ever-versatile word “Feloul” (remnants of Mubarak’s regime), I have equally despised those who have made it their daily business to blame everyone who either voted for Morsi, or at least did not vote for Ahmed Shafik, the last of Mubarak’s Prime Ministers who was forced by the Supreme Council of the Military Forces (SCAF) to resign on 3 March 2011. To put that into perspective, say a few months from now we start fresh presidential elections, and Hesham Kandil, Prime Minister under Morsi’s rule, runs for the presidency: now, who in their right mind would vote for a PM who has witnessed and overseen the crimes and failings of the regime we just overthrew, right? Wrong. Apparently many in their right minds not only voted for Shafik, but criticised everyone who didn’t. “عاصري اللمون” , Lemon Squeezers, became the term used to describe those who participated in the nightmare that is Morsi by directly voting for him, not out of any particular fondness but because the alternative would have been taking us back to Mubarak’s era. Little did we know that all roads lead to Mubarak.

None of the killers of hundreds of Egyptians were brought to justice and no serious investigations were ever held.

Enters the army

I resented this particular group of Egyptians, inaccurately called Feloul – or “حزب الكنبة”, the Sofa Party (those who watched the first and subsequent waves of the revolution from the comfort of their sofas), for repeatedly challenging my political or ideological choices. Having witnessed the brutality of the police and the army since the beginning of the revolution in January 2011, I have taken a strong stance against them. How could one not do so? Did this whole thing not start first and foremost to end police brutality and impunity? At least I still remember it did. Despite this, after the initial excitement was over, many were quick to either forget or to justify the crimes of the police and the military council during its months in power, and no one seemed to notice or bother about the fact that nothing about the whole transition screamed “democracy” or that the military council in unison with the MB were driving us into a corner. The voices of the MB echoed that of SCAF: “Yes to the 19 March 2011 referendum”, “Parliamentary elections will be held on time”, “مفيش خرطوش” , “there was no firing at protesters”, “الانتخابات اولا” “Presidential elections will be held before the constitution is drafted”, “ايه الي وداهم هناك”. None of the killers of hundreds of Egyptians were brought to justice and no serious investigations were ever held. Now, against that background, to suggest that the Lemon Squeezers are singlehandedly responsible for getting the scary Islamists into power? Give me a break.

And yet I never lost my cool during all of this. If I have learnt anything from this revolution it’s that nothing is ever the end of it. So while people screamed and panicked about the eminent danger of the scary Islamists, I sincerely (and wrongly) believed the Islamists could not possibly be as scary as some movie makers have dedicated their careers to making us believe they were. So I decided to wait this phase of the revolution out, and watched skeptically as the 30 June wave took off.

Everyone was now ready to believe that it was never the police, it was never the army, hell, it wasn’t even Mubarak!

In the streets again

There are many parallels to be drawn between 25 January 2011 and 30 June 2013, yet in my heart it feels like there are none. When people took to the street in 2011, no one knew what was coming; we had not been promised anything by the Army, nor had we anticipated its involvement. The possibility of forcing Mubarak to step down was a distant dream, fuelled by the then recent developments in Tunis, yet crippled by the notion of “الدولة العميقة”, the deep state that cannot be toppled. This time however, millions went down with in response to an explicit a promise made by General Sisi: “Show us your numbers, and you shall be rewarded”.

How else can we explain the press conference held by General Hussein Kamal, head of former Intelligence Chief Omar Suleiman’s office (his first appearance since he appeared standing behind Suleiman as he read out Mubarak’s resignation to the people on 11 February 2011), who up until this point was known only as  الراجل الي ورا عمر سليمان (the man behind Omar Suleiman), perhaps one of the most popular figures to make his way into Egyptian humour. During the conference, he confirmed that the army would not stand against the protests of 30 June that were planned and mobilised by the “Rebel” Campaign, which has managed to get more than 20 million signatures calling for Morsi to step down. The numbers that filled the street that day were way more than in 2011. But more importantly, the Police – formerly the number one enemy of the revolution, who we’d only seen quell our protests, torture our detainees and who let us suffer a lack of security caused by their withdrawal from the streets for months – tweeted about “protecting the people”. Wait … what? That’s not the job of the police … or at least in Egypt it isn’t. The messages were clear and everything was falling into place. Everyone was now ready to believe that it was never the police, it was never the army, hell, it wasn’t even Mubarak!

Whose revolution again?

A timely court ruling was issued a week before the 30th saying that indeed, the prison break-ins of 2011 were carried out by Hamas, Hezbollah and local militants to free Morsi and other Islamist leaders. The Islamists, who were now desperate as they realised their time was over, have started acts of terrorism against residents in Cairo and other cities that only confirmed that they, the Islamists, where the “Foreign fingers”. I by no means want to undermine the power of those who made 30 June happen, but there are many angles to the truth and the one so vehemently projected by the media, by the military, by the police and so popularly believed by the majority of the people, wipes out all the others.

The message was so clear that many of the millions who went down grew restless only hours after the massive nation-wide protests started: “هو مش حيرحل بقى؟”  (why isn’t he leaving yet?). That of course was also due to a part of our recent history, which people have not forgotten: how the power of the people is enough to force Presidents to resign (It was the revolution of 25 January that gave birth to this conviction, thank you very much). No one was disappointed by the turn of events that led to Sisi’s statement on 3 July. No one but Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, that is. I was not ecstatic, although I tried to fake it when people sent me congratulations texts and my family called me almost in tears. I lost ownership of this revolution a while back and have accepted that new actors are carrying on, and old actors, ones who have not yet paid their dues. I resented the ease of it, the way this new wave of the revolution seemed to smoothly wash away the old one. But more importantly, I was burdened by the news. This is not going down easy.

I lost ownership of this revolution a while back and have accepted that new actors are carrying on, and old actors, ones who have not yet paid their dues.

Enter the trenches

For the two days following that “thing”, which may or may not have been a coup, I camped out at home trying to find some decent unbiased media coverage of the consequences of the statement. Adly Mansour, former head of the Supreme Constitutional Court was sworn in as the country’s new interim president despite the MB’s pleas to the world to stop the “coup”. By the evening of 5 July, clashes had erupted between pro- and anti-Morsi protestors all across the country and people were falling dead, churches were burnt down by Islamists in some parts of Egypt, and protesters in Tahrir were violently attacked by Morsi supporters sensitised by a speech given by Muhammad Badie, the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, calling on the organisation to defend legitimacy with their lives. Meanwhile, most Egyptian news channels, independent or otherwise, were enthusiastically urging people who had gone home after the celebration to go back to the streets: “Claim you squares!”. My heart sank at the thought of the impending bloodshed, especially with many still in celebration mode. At that point I remembered a scene from Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King, when Denethor, Stewart of Gondor, stricken by grief over the loss of his son and thinking that the Kingdom has been lost to the enemy, screams at his men in desperation “Abandon your posts! Flee! Flee for your lives!” I couldn’t bear the thought of more young people dying in battles created by their elders. It was a scenario we had seen before, and this will not be the first time young people are encouraged to go die for our freedom while politicians, and activists, cheer them on.

I woke up on June 8 to news of what the Islamists called “a massacre by the military forces” and what almost everyone else saw as a necessary stop to actual acts of terrorism and clear threats for even more. The massacre, which resulted in the death of almost 50 people on both sides, took place in front of the Republican Guard military compound where Morsi supporters have staged a sit-in since his ouster. Rumour has it that he is being held inside the building. Meanwhile, anyone who tries to as much as whisper “excessive use of force by the military” is squashed by criticism on the grounds of moral superiority or even treason. If this is not a civil war, I don’t know what is. A war in which you are forced to choose sides, even if you’re still suffering the wounds caused by those you sided with.

The police kept on doing business as usual: arbitrary arrests, torturing and killing citizens in custody.

Imposing what may be imposed

I stand by my claim that some serious crimes were committed by the police and the military council against our revolution, and perhaps if any of these crimes were independently investigated and perpetrators brought to justice, we wouldn’t have reached this end. But that gives no right to the now ousted Islamic party to cry “violations” or “coup”. Morsi and his Party have made it obvious since the very beginning that nothing is to be changed, not even aesthetically. Their first moves, as seems to be a tradition with anyone with legislative and executive powers in Egypt, were designed to quell any opposition or dissent: drafting laws restricting the work of civil society, the right to protest and freedom of speech. All calls to re-structure the police institution were ignored. The police kept on doing business as usual: arbitrary arrests, torturing and killing citizens in custody. Any public demands to put the Military under any kind of scrutiny were rejected and military trials of civilians were affirmed in the constitution. Incitement to hatred and violence by Islamic media figures thrived and horrifying sectarian crimes against Christians and Shias went unpunished.

You climbed on the bodies of those killed by Mubarak’s security apparatuses to get into power and placed your bets on shifting their loyalty, too stupid to see they’d be the first to turn against you. The “greatest constitution humanity as ever known” did not turn out to be so great after all, huh?

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