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The difference between Tunisia and Egypt

Some people have compared the events in Tunisia with what is happening in Egypt; Ennahda, they say, was open-minded about working with other political groups, while the Muslim Brotherhood monopolised everything. This, it is claimed, led to the military coup.


There is no doubt that Ennahda’s management of the situation in Tunisia has been more sophisticated and intelligent, but what everyone should keep in mind is that the plotting is not over yet. The situation is still unstable; the elite only view Islamists as martyrs, detainees or remnants. Moreover, there are Arab regimes that do not want any Arab revolution to succeed, even if it isn’t led by the Islamists.

Perhaps the most important point that we can count in Ennahda’s favour in Tunisia is that it leaned towards conciliation with the other forces as much as possible, and formed a coalition government after the revolution. On the other hand, Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood took a path which I said was wrong from the beginning, and formed a technocratic government, which was not successful. Instead, this task should have been assigned to one of the opposition leaders, although it is ironic that the opposition in Tunisia asked subsequently for a technocratic government.

The moot point which the Muslim Brotherhood would not admit to, especially Mohamed Morsi, is that most of the measures taken in office were taken in order to satisfy and neutralise the army. The generals, meanwhile, were pulling the movement towards its premeditated downfall.

Hesham Qandil’s government was the army’s choice, as were most of its members. The Brotherhood’s presence in the government was more than just marginal, while the other political forces refused to participate because the plan to overthrow the government was already in place; the security forces had disclosed this to the others so that they would not cooperate with the Brotherhood and the government would fail, making it easier to overthrow.

No ruler in the world can succeed when the army, security agencies, media and judiciary are against them, unless he is a rebel like Hugo Chavez, who went to the central bank, broke the locks, seized the money and distributed it to the poor. He was able to gain their support, but such behaviour was not possible in Egypt.

Does this means that the road was blocked completely? I don’t believe so, and if it were true, then there was another path that would’ve ended the Brotherhood rule through a clearer coup with an overwhelming majority, even though they were serious about the transition from revolutionary legitimacy to constitutional democracy, neutralising the army gradually and establishing a civil state.

I have said from the beginning (this is not based on hindsight) that it is difficult to face the deep state with its judiciary, security and army, without public consensus. The priority should have been the formation of a revolutionary government with figures from most of the opposition forces and a limited Brotherhood presence. The government could then have tackled the deep state and its allies, the corrupt businessmen and remnants of the former regime.

Instead, the Brotherhood followed a reformist path, even though it needed to employ revolutionary tactics in order to complete the popular revolution. However, this does not negate the fact that there were elite groups who did not want the movement to succeed no matter what it did, due to their partisan, ideological or sectarian differences.

In Tunisia, the army was mostly neutral, as were the security forces, to some extent, and it is these two parties that can control the judiciary, which was used to face the revolution. However, in Egypt’s case, these parties were against the president and they influenced the media to carry out a demonisation campaign against Morsi. At the same time, the security and army forces gave the elite and political parties the message that the president was just part of a passing phase, and that instead of cooperating with him they should push him towards one mistake after another and leak information until his overthrow.

Most importantly, the difference between the Arab Spring experiences of Tunisia and Egypt is the traditional status and influence of the two countries. Egypt’s position created a much larger external conspiracy against it than that which appeared against Tunisia. Vast amounts of money were pumped into the counter-revolution and many plots were hatched in Egypt; it was less intense in Tunisia. Those who followed the matter witnessed the largest demonisation campaign in human history against Morsi, despite the relative success of his government, and we must be fully aware of this.

Another difference between the two is that Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood faced competition from another Islamist party over the issue of “Islamisation”, and the government was forced to accommodate its rivals, as dictated by Article 19 of the Constitution (which was soon abandoned). It was revealed later that the other party turned against the Brotherhood because it was faced with funding with strings attached which dictated that it must oppose the movement, the Arab Spring and Arab revolutions in general. Indeed, the other party wanted to end the Brotherhood’s rule more than anyone else, perhaps for partisan reasons, while nothing like this happened in Tunisia.

Even the issue of the Constitution was not a dilemma in Egypt, since 95 per cent of its articles had public approval, and the limited problematical articles could have been changed easily. It was a suggestion from the armed forces and security agencies which made people withdraw from the Constitutional Committee, not any perceived difficulty about altering the articles in question.

All of this is not meant to minimise the importance of Ennahda’s management of the Tunisian situation, but an attempt to do justice to the other party. I also wish to avoid being part of the demonisation campaign, which is the first of its kind in the extent of the dishonesty, fraud and fabrications it has employed.

This is a translation of the Arabic text published on Al Jazeera net on 29 January, 2014

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