July 29, 2011

Egyptian Revolution Nears Third Phase

The avalanche of U.S. reports shining a negative light on the Arab Spring commit one fundamental error. In announcing that oppressive governments have outmaneuvered protesters - now growing “tired” or “dejected” - the process of a revolution is confused with a coup. Although revolution marks a “turn around” from the previous system and sometimes bursts in a flash, historic uprisings are normally protracted struggles, whether American, French, Cuban or Vietnamese.

Except the need for instant gratification knows no limit in America: why aren’t the revolutions over by now?

NPR, for instance, is one of many U.S. sources “reporting” that “the protesters have returned” to Tahrir Square. While many of the protesters that filled the square in February restored a brief sense of normality to their lives after toppling Hosni Mubarak, a hardened core of activists never left the streets. Life remains hard in Egypt, partly because the revolution has arrested the country and partly because the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has little desire to govern. Spurring the general populace to action, waves of Egyptians have periodically jointed those who guard the square for the past three months, each time refusing to bend to the SCAF’s political maneuverings.

After completing phase one of the revolution (remove Mubarak), protesters consider themselves stuck in the second phase of replacing the SCAF and organizing more representative electoral laws. Once justice is delivered to Mubarak and a democratic structure overthrows the SCAF, they believe the revolution’s third phase can begin by genuinely looking towards Egypt’s future. Egyptians have suffered too much and for too long to give up their dreams after six months or a year.

Back in America pessimism continues to obstruct the view towards Egypt. Either the revolutionaries are no revolutionaries at all, or they had no plan and therefore shouldn’t have revolted against oppression. Many Americans support the Christian minority first, attack Islam in general and brand Egyptians as terrorists, then proceed to ring the alarm over the Muslim Brotherhood. They usually believe that Washington shouldn’t have thrown a U.S. ally “under the bus.” Most of these viewpoints stem from maintaining Israeli-Saudi dominance in the region, and couldn’t care less about the average Egyptian’s fate.

Legitimate concerns do exist in Egypt, including the Brotherhood's intentions and Christian representation, but protesters shouldn’t be penalized because their revolution is “hard.” With Mubarak’s hunger status fueling new tensions around his August 3rd trial, many protesters expect a final showdown with the military if his trial is delayed or postponed indefinitely. Former interior minister Habib al Adli, also implicated in the deaths of 800+ Egyptians, has already seen his trial delayed by a week. Some protesters feel no urge to rush, believing a show trial is detrimental to Egypt’s future conception of justice.

The majority opinion, though, wishes to see Mubarak, his sons and cronies made into an example of tyranny’s end, to prevent a repeat offense. They eagerly await the cage match in Cairo.

As a result the SCAF has moved closer to the Brotherhood in an attempt to encircle the revolution, both of which are now in open opposition to each other. Eroding its goodwill from refusing to fire on protesters, the military has marshaled its own loyalists and plain clothes henchmen while referring to the protesters as “thugs,” prompting a “thug off” in the media. Egyptians accuse the SCAF of failing to represent their struggle, and of guarding its own advantage by shielding Mubarak’s regime from prosecution. Last week Army council General Mamdouh Shahin ruled against international monitoring of the impending November election, arguing that Egypt “doesn’t accept guardianship from any country.”

In overcompensating for these transgressions and other political disputes, the SCAF has tried far too hard to convince protesters of its sincerity. Addressing the U.S. Institute of Peace, Major General Mohamed Said al-Assar promised that “we are not dictators” and “are not the continuation of the last regime.” Many protesters fervently disagree, and are organizing new demonstrations to let the generals know that their time is almost up.

This schism has led the SCAF to inch closer to the Brotherhood as it seeks to manipulate the political environment. The Brotherhood kept away from popular rallies to prove their numbers until exploding onto the scene today, "hijacking" a Friday of unity and prompting a harsh rebuke from the youth coalitions. General al-Assar would tell his audience at the U.S. Institute, “Day by day, the Brotherhood are changing and are getting on a more moderate track. They have the willingness to share in the political life... they are sharing in good ways.”

The Brotherhood has responded somewhat positively to the SCAF’s electoral reform; a near-term election favor Egypt’s most organized political bloc. However the group also pushed back against a mixed-electoral system of individual representatives and joint-party lists, which would allow two parties to pool their votes and run on one list. Ahram Online reports that the Brotherhood and liberal Wafd party both seek a system based entirely on the party-list; Army council General Mamdouh Shahin recently deemed this position as “unconstitutional.”

Rather than aligning interests, the SCAF and MB are using each other to further their separate interests. They are more likely to diverge than form a mutual relationship, and the Brotherhood could help bring down the SCAF in the end. At this point the popular revolution would need to form a new sectarian party to outweigh the Brotherhood, and for Egypt to begin functioning as a developed pluralist system.

While Egypt remains a fluid mix of political interests, its revolution is gradually moving forward. Energy hasn’t dissipated, relatively speaking, and a break during Ramadan will set up a fresh wave for September. Once Mubarak faces justice (or escapes) and the SCAF is supplanted, the revolution can begin to prove its merit with a peaceful election and by directing all eyes towards the future. The heaviest lifting begins when the dust of Mubarak's regime finally settles.

Revolutionaries are supposed to evolve and overcome, and Egyptians, Tunisians, Libyans, Syrians, Jordanians, Bahrainis, Yemenis and all those standing up to authoritarianism have persevered through the fire. They should be commended for inspiring the Arab Spring and everything that flows from it, instead of being marginalized, discounted or demonized.

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