July 22, 2014

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  • Is Egypt approaching revolution redux?

    Graffiti on Mohamed Mahmoud Street just off Cairo's iconic Tahrir Square in memory of the martyrs of the January revolution.

    BY AMRO HASSAN Cairo – Hassan Abdel Salam quietly sweeps the floor outside his humble hardware shop at the infamous Mohamed Mahmoud Street overlooking Tahrir Square. The 68-year-old has been around for over 50 years, but like many of his neighbors, he has never witnessed anything more exciting, hopeful, frightening and threatening than the events of the past 30 months.

    The walls behind his tiny store are decorated with graffiti images of those who died there and elsewhere across the nation. He takes a profound look at some of their faces as he expresses overwhelming anxiety over what the near future holds for Egypt.

    “The whole country is on the verge of collapse. Not a single aspect of life has improved since [President Mohamed] Morsi took over,” he says with a deep sigh. “We need a president who can move this country forward but such conversion won’t be easy. Things are going to get ugly before they get any better and more people will die in the process.”

    Abdel Salam sharply recalls when the tainted coexistence between seculars and the Muslim Brotherhood abruptly came to an end in November 2011, when the Islamist group abandoned anti-SCAF and anti-police demonstrations that saw over 40 protesters dead. Mohamed Mahmoud’s bloody week of violence ignited a severe process of polarization that is fast-approaching a petrifying climax ahead of the proposed protests aiming at overthrowing Morsi through calls for early elections on June 30.

    “I’ve seen many young people die in this area before my own eyes. I believe the same scenes will occur on June 30 but maybe that is the price that should be paid after so many political and financial misfits committed by the President.”

    According to Abdel Salam and many others hopeful of ousting Morsi, the Brotherhood leader could be ousted the same way his predecessor was abruptly removed: millions of protesters sitting in across the nation, mainly around the presidential palace; anticipated clashes between pro-Morsi and liberal protesters take place; and after a few hundred lives are wasted, the army will interfere by urging if not forcing Morsi to cede power and save the country from a potential civil war. As non-Islamists see it, only then will the course of the revolution continue.

    Same Target, Different Circumstances

    The build up to June 30 has much in common with January 2011. General dismay against Morsi and the Brotherhood is at its peak, Egyptians are polarized and intimidated by the prospect of an ‘Islamized’ Egypt and independent media’s vigorous mobilization against the president has reached millions of households.

    Yet while the 2011 protests succeeded in ending Mubarak’s reign, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces’ takeover of authority in following period has, to a large extent, resulted in the current situation. Hence many see that the idea of an army leadership willing to entrench democracy in a “post-Morsi” scenario should be taken with a grain of salt.

    But why would the army oust an elected president who came to power through an army-choreographed transition process?

    Contrary to Mubarak, Morsi’s presidency came through free and fair elections. Mubarak had thousands, or as some might argue, millions of loyal benefactors, who did their best to consolidate his regime until its last breath. Some of the so-called remnants may still be deploying counter-revolutionary plots from behind closed doors, but unlike Islamists backing Morsi, none of Mubarak’s sympathizers was ever ready to take his fight for the man to the streets.

    “What liberals don’t understand is that for millions of Islamists, protecting Morsi’s presidency is a religious duty that is way beyond abstract politics. We are talking about a population of Islamists that is willing to kill and die for such a cause,” one Brotherhood loyalist says.

    “Islamists won’t sit at home and watch Morsi ousted by the army or anyone else. Do liberals really think that it will be a matter of few hundred deaths from both sides before the violence is over? This can turn into an all out civil war, where life-long friends with opposing ideologies will carry weapons against each other.”

    Over the past week, activists and opposition figures have been discussing how a post-Morsi transitional period should be governed; a move intended to avoid the previous scenario when a fractured opposition failed to maintain enough cohesion to fulfill the main goals of the revolution.

    Led by Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahi, agreed on thorny issues like national security, the economy and the Nile Basin conflict, which were the focus of discussion of a strategy for running a six-month transition before early presidential elections. But how exactly Morsi (and his supporters) will be “removed” was not even remotely tackled.

    Reality Check

    Anything is possible in this 7000-year-old nation. Those who can’t wait to see Morsi and the Brotherhood out of the presidential palace, however, must realize that it will never come as easy as when Mubarak was ousted. The entire political context  is different and forcing an elected president out of office can open the doors of hell for many future anti-democratic mutinies.

    Blood may be shed and while many optimistic and resilient activists are hopeful of change, they underestimate the large number of Islamists in Egypt whose puritanical ideology leads them to believe that killing “secularists” at a time of “religious” confrontation is a ticket to heaven.

    The role of the army, has been ambivalent and will never guarantee a transition to civilian democratic rule, especially if the means to that end is to topple an elected president.

    Back at Mohamed Mahmoud Street, Abdel Salam pulls down the shop doors to head home for lunch and a siesta. He believes that ousting Morsi and the Brotherhood is an uphill to climb, but his faith in Egyptians’ ability to overcome “injustice” is profound.

    “Only God knows how it will happen or end, but Egyptians are really struggling, their revolution has been hijacked and they will do whatever it takes to win it back,” he says.

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