Friday, 7 December 2012

Egyptian revolution still smoking

It’s doesn’t take expertise in Arab politics to see that the Egyptian upheaval of 2011 has not run out of steam by a long shot. Given the trauma, repression (including nearly 1000 deaths), and economic damage that occurred during the revolution against Hosni I’s pharaonic rule, Egyptians reasonably could be expected to want a break from street demonstrations and further disruption of their lives and livelihoods.

But clearly the promise of living in a real democracy where people have a fighting chance for a decent existence remains a palpable dream for millions of people in that country who are now watching aghast as the Islamist faction tries to hijack the revolution and turn itself into the new, single-party state. President Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood has shown a perverse determination to collect all meaningful powers into his own person and stiff the other factions and interest groups completely, both in the writing of the new constitution and the control of the main levers of state power. While the country has had a long tradition of autocratic rule, to say the least, it looks as though the populace is impressively unwilling to sit by and let this happen.

If the MB were to consolidate its power and hold all the reins, Egyptians probably could kiss goodbye any chance of enjoying a functioning democracy and economic opportunity for another half-century while the bearded poo-bahs sit around debating how long women’s hijabs should be. You’d think that after the successful uprising against Mubarak and the multiplicity of social actors involved in it, from secular liberals, union members, women, rank-and-file soldiers, and yes, Islamic organizations, that whoever ended up in charge would have realized he needed to build a coalition and preserve the revolutionary unity as long as possible. Trying to build a new society under such conditions and with so many competing interests is not a job for the fainthearted. But it’s been done often enough and well enough in human history that one could learn from those lessons. Morsi didn’t.

Instead, he quickly decapitated the armed forces, for better or for worse, and then thought he could stifle and crush anyone else in the way of his singular authority. It remains to be seen whether the nationwide suspension of judicial review, the packing of the constitutional convention with Islamist hard-liners AND the final straw of the rushed plebiscite to ratify it will succeed or backfire. So far, it looks like a severe overreach. With mass demonstrations growing in number and violent clashes breaking out, Morsi now needs the security forces to line up behind him. Let’s see if they do. It can’t be reassuring for him to have to flee from the presidential palace with a few hundred thousand of his own citizens baying for his beard out front.

Morsi also seems to have inherited Mubarak’s ideas on how to respond to mass discontent. His address to the nation last night was provocative and insulting, offering zero concessions, insisting on the bogus plebiscite, and trashing his critics as criminals and foreign agents. This is not merely boneheaded and gratuitous, it also suggests that Morsi and his group wallow in a sectarian view, consistent with their neurotic religious prejudices, that they themselves are the only true Egyptians.

While there are clearly dangers ahead, the vigorous popular reaction is, once again, inspiring. Morsi is losing key allies daily, and the longer the massive repudiation lasts, the weaker his position becomes. If Morsi is forced to back down on the constitutional vote, the Egyptian revolution will be looking healthier and stronger than ever.

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