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ElBaradei is welcoming the counter-revolution

January 27, 2014 at 3:34 pm

The revolution wasn’t an event, it’s a process.

For some this is Egypt’s post-revolutionary mantra, to be whispered in the middle of the night with clenched fists and gritted teeth, easing the disappointment of what came next. Others – like Tamarod (“rebel”) campaigners – are still working tirelessly in the hope of something better.

Starting on Friday, Egyptians from across the country’s growing, black hole divide are trying to protect the revolution. It’s just that the word means something different depending who you speak to.

On Thursday, Dostour Party founder and National Salvation Front (NSF) figurehead, Mohamed ElBaradei, told London’s pan-Arab Al-Hayat newspaper, that it was high time the opposition welcomed the “merging [of] former members of the old National Democratic Party (NDP), which ruled during the reign of Hosni Mubarak.”

His comments were echoed by former presidential hopeful Hamdeen Sabahi who said that the opposition should “forget the past” and “cooperate with any faction” to overthrow President Mohamed Morsi.

The timing of these statements is crucial. Today, Friday, Egyptian Islamists are launching a 10-day period of action, rallying around Morsi in the run up to Tamarod’s June 30 D-Day. The Salafi Front are planning a “million-man march” while the opposition counts its anti-government petitions, supposedly now past the 15-million mark. Pressure is mounting.

ElBaradei told Al-Hayat that reconciliation should mean more than sitting down to have his photograph taken with Morsi – he’s not wrong there – but at the same time opposition politics should also mean more than just destructive, autopilot contrarianism.

ElBaradei wants to welcome back the felool (regime remnants), a word that still carries an undeniable gravitas in Egypt. According to the NSF leader, “It means the followers of an old regime, whose leaders were isolated from political life by the new constitution.” He pointed out that there are three million members “who have to be integrated with us in order to move together”.

The opposition can talk about forgetting the past but they’re playing a risky game. The NDP’s burnt-out headquarters on Tahrir Square serve as a hollow reminder that the regime is not a thing of the past. While politicians, architects and developers argue tit-for-tat over what should be done with the building – itself a ragged metaphor for the revolution – the enduring symbol of Mubarak-era power still stands.

While interest in the snail’s pace trial of Hosni Mubarak (another appeal against his release has been delayed until October 20) wanes by the day, there is still a lagging sense that those in positions of power in the media and judiciary are not with the revolution. Symbolic defeats, like the (temporary) release of the two mukhabarat alleged to have be responsible for the death of Khaled Said, have burdened Egypt with a kind of self-defeating iconoclasm.

All the while, the regime’s legacy lives on.

There are those who see President Morsi as the inheritor of the revolution and the man who will ultimately fulfil its goals. Others regard his policies as a continuation of the Mubarak era.

However, Morsi increasingly looks prone to make badly-judged decisions when under threat, not unlike his predecessor. On Monday he appointed 17 new governors – seven of them affiliated to the Muslim Brotherhood, another from Jama’a al-Islamiya which is allegedly linked to the horrific 1997 terror attack in Luxor – in a move so unpopular that it has kicked off a wave of anti-government protests across Egypt that will only feed into the general “June 30 mood” and raise the likelihood of violence. Tension is the prevailing mood right now.

Either way, the president and his supporters are not going to take this lying down.

In his defence, ElBaradei might be trying to create a pidgin democratic front to out-vote the Muslim Brotherhood if the Tamarod campaign’s demand for early presidential elections is met. However, that outcome almost certainly depends on sustained violence on the streets of Cairo and cities across Egypt. That’s something that ElBaradei has never supported but has arguably made possible through a series of do-or-die positions including boycotting national reconciliation talks with Morsi on the second anniversary of the revolution in January; and it wouldn’t be ElBaradei on the barricades.

The official opposition’s desperation to see the end of the Muslim Brotherhood, one year after Morsi took power, has led ElBaradei and others to ally with the former regime in a cynical political opportunism that many will recognise from the NSF’s messy, ineffectual leadership style. It won’t fly.

After dictators fall, a revolution doesn’t just become a process, it’s a living thing, an idea; more easily appropriated and bent into and out of shape. This is why the Muslim Brotherhood and Jama’a al-Islamiya could meet on Wednesday to discuss June 30 and ways “to face up to the counter-revolution”. If they were referring to Tamarod’s leaderless, grass-roots activism, Egypt’s Islamist status quo have followed countless post-revolutionary societies dutifully and recast January 25 itself as counter-revolutionary. ElBaradei is helping them do just that.

The one thing the majority of Egyptians agree on is that a step backwards is one in the wrong direction. Kill that and what’s left?

The author is a Cairo-based contributor to the Middle East Monitor

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.