I was looking at my Twitter news feed on Saturday night, March 9th, and found that a group concerned with Egyptian affairs re-tweeted a post by an Egyptian journalist with a national approach. Regardless of what this means today, this journalist is publically opposed to President Mohammad Morsi. The tweet has a link to a video that the journalist says shows security forces killing one of the “protestors” in the Kornish el Nile area in central Cairo. This short message, with its content and video, sums up the factors of the crisis suffered by Egypt, and the truth of what is happening in Egypt today.
Are there protestors in the streets of Egypt? Maybe, but if they are there, they are so few that they have had no impact; neither on Egyptian political life, nor on Egypt’s struggle to establish a free, democratic and just state. Moreover, they have had no impact on the equation that exists between the regime and the resistance which is considered one of the pillars of a democratic system. What the National Salvation Front, the resistance, likes to call protestors, have turned into groups of stick and white arms holders running after the traffic police. They recently made their way into the heart of the city and Square, considered the city’s vital artery, to raid one of the main hotels and when the hotel staff went after them, they vandalize the hotel’s front and lit a bottle of gas. This has been mirrored by protestors setting fire to the Egyptian Football Federation which holds the country’s most valuable historical sports memorabilia, and destroying a gym near the police station; by protesters who tried for a whole week to storm the Security Directorate building in Port Said, set fire to one of its floors, and opened fire on the soldiers and police officers surrounding it; protestors severing the railway tracks and blocking the way between Cairo and Alexandria, and the two cities of Banha and El-Mahalla; protestors who tried to attack the Ministry of Interior’s headquarters in the capital; protestors who blocked the waterway between Port Said and Port Fuad on both sides of the Suez Canal and threatened to stop navigation in the canal. As for Tahrir Square, the icon of the Egyptian revolution where “protestors” have been demonstrating for months, this has turned into a command centre for some protestors, drug dealers, and fugitives.
Egypt witnessed a great revolution in January/February 2011. For 18 days, Egyptians made a historic and unprecedented political expression, elevating the will of the people over the will of a state of violence and corruption, and were able to overthrow a regime that shot down the country’s strategic capabilities and resources, and hindered their ability for advancement and creativity. For 18 days, the Egyptians did not knock down even one lamppost on any of their streets upon which millions of Egyptians stood, nor did they try to raid any public establishments. Their target was the regime, not the facilities of their country. Even after the fall of the regime, and despite the fact that Egypt has seen a number of violent outbursts between protesters and security forces over the policies of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces who ruled the country during the year and a half before the presidential election, the violence was limited and confined to moments of contact between the parties. What Egypt has witnessed since the end of November of last year, is an entirely different development; a development closer to the weakening of the revolutionary wave, or its deterioration into reckless violence, vandalism and the blocking of routes.
There is certainly a need to distinguish between the different types of violence being perpetrated in Egypt. Violence stemming from the conflicted anger of the families of those accused of last year’s Port Said stadium massacre, and the families and friends of the victims; violence stemming from the actions of the security officers from the Ministry of Interior, which all the sides of the Egyptian political arena know still requires reform and a comprehensive re-structure; social and economic violence that got out of hand; and violence of a political nature, driven by desperate convictions, impatience, or by specific goals and interests. This is true, however behind this outburst of violence and all its manifestations, as well as the attempts to sink the country into chaos and drag it into an economic and financial abyss, there is a political environment of polarization and the desire to channel this polarization. This environment that encourages, and perhaps even urges and provides protection and legitimacy to this violence; an environment of hatred, doubt, rumours, and lies. How this relates to a democratic system and the struggle to protect and benefit the people and revolution is difficult to understand. However, there is no doubt that both the opposition and the presidency are responsible for this environment, and the nature and degree of each side’s responsibility differ.
Mohamed Morsi had no concrete opposition in the beginning, not during the presidential elections nor in the first two months of his presidency. The electoral arena was crowded with competitors fighting over the president’s seat in the months before Morsi officially announced his candidacy, and in the case of Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Amr Moussa, this was for over a year. The main opponents did not take Morsi seriously, as he was the last to come to the playing field and his campaign barely lasted 4 weeks. However, the first round was in his favour, and he went up against Ahmed Shafik in the second round with the support of groups from the revolutionary and Islamic political trend, as well as other public forces. During the first two months of his presidency, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces still held joint power with Morsi and viewed him as an interim president or a president with limited powers. However, one of the figures that currently lead the National Salvation Front did not support Morsi in the second round, not because of his desire for Shafik to win, but perhaps because he felt that the presidency should not be given to a candidate from the Muslim Brotherhood. When Morsi ended the power struggle on August 11th, they were not only surprised by the president’s courage and firmness, but they also began to revise their calculations for the future of his presidency. Morsi now had an opposition and became a target; not only for those with ambitions to become the president, but also for those who, from the beginning, imagined the revolution to be an affair for a particular sector within politics. It was believed that the Islamists were nothing but a host that has done its job and needed to make way for those involved in the revolution and the state – the Islamists continued to be viewed in the same way they had been in the Mubarak years.
The opposition reached an important turning point after the announcement of the constitution on November 22nd; a controversial announcement which needed to be opposed as in any free democratic system. However, the opportunity provided by the announcement, which coincided with the establishment of the Salvation Front, was severely wasted. In a single moment, personal ambitions, fear of the Islamists, loyalty to the former regime, a sense of guardianship over the people, the state, the revolution and modernism, and hostility by regional forces towards the Islamists joined forces to delegitimize the elected president and began its path to overthrow him. In the early days of the announcement of the constitution, there was violence, chaos and destruction, but there were also protesters and demonstrators who honestly believed in their right to oppose the president and his announcement. However, a week or two later, either because the president withdrew the problematic material in the announcement; because most Egyptians realized the president’s real purpose was to accelerate the transition; or because increasing numbers of demonstrators began to realise the opposition leaders’ goals behind the protest movement, but the majority of the protesters left and the streets fell hostage to hundreds of promoters of violence, absolute chaos, and sabotage, as well as groups of outlaws and guerrillas.
The objective of overthrowing the president was present since the beginning of the protest movement against the constitutional declaration, and in order to achieve this goal, all political and non-political sanctities were violated. Once the protest movement dissolved, all that remained was the violence, chaos and violations to achieve that goal. A number of protesters were encouraged to storm the presidential palace, and their attempts were openly praised by senior opponents. Moreover, the president became a target by taking responsibility for a judiciary that is not under his authority, an economy he inherited in a state of unprecedented shambles, a security that made every effort to undermine him, and even the murder of an Egyptian Christian in Libya that was, rightly or wrongly, accused of missionary activities. What escalated the crisis was that the opposition wanted blood, whereas the president tried with all his authority and influence to prevent bloodshed.
The President also holds responsibility. He is responsible for choosing the most drawn-out policy with the least tendency of ending. It was apparent from the beginning that the president had a limited number of options. These were firstly to arm the police and order that security matters be controlled regardless of the cost; secondly to respond to all the opposition’s demands, legitimate or not, realistic or not, and invite it to share his authority, regardless of its weight on the streets, and share his responsibility of facing the crisis, regardless of its legitimacy; and thirdly, to take measures to contain the crisis as best as he could, and count on time and the Egyptian people’s awareness of what was really happening and avoid any suppressive measures. Morsi chose the third option, the option of time and patience, and avoided even calling on the Islamic trend to use its power in the streets. However, this option has its consequences, both economic and political. The president’s supporters say that his policy is achieving vital and concrete successes, and that the intensity of the crisis, violence and destruction accompanying it is declining. This may be true, but if this option does not put an end to the violence, lawlessness and chaos, as the president, Morsi is in the position of authority and must reconsider his options.
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.