Tamarod: Political force or revolutionary dream?

Mariam Rizk , Monday 30 Jun 2014

A year ago, Tamarod was at the forefront of Mohamed Morsi's ouster - but can the group, hit by internal divisions, remain relevant?

Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi stand on top of an electric tram column and wave Egyptian flags during a protest in front of El-Thadiya presidential palace in Cairo June 30, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)

A year after the start of the grassroots campaign that went viral nationwide, Tamarod finds itself deeply divided, with many of its members now backing the state.

The group says it's about to announce a political party, after it threw its weight behind President Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who won last month's vote by an overwhelming majority.

Tamarod, which means "rebel" in Arabic, first started as a signature-gathering campaign by a group of youths in the weeks leading up to 30 June 2013 to withdraw confidence from then-president Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood.

In no time, the campaign spread and gained trust and support from a sizable section of Egyptian society.

But after achieving its main goal – ousting Morsi – those who were once united are now severely at odds in what seems like a power struggle.

No retribution, only blood

The divisions started early on, when the leaders of the group supported the actions of the interim authorities and the armed forces which wrested power from Morsi.

The group's stance and approval of most of the events that took place after the ouster – including the violent dispersal of pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo that killed hundreds – made them lose many supporters.

Bassem Kenawy, a student and a member of liberal Constitution Party, said he was so enthusiastic about the idea behind Tamarod when it first started. He distributed copies of the group's signature forms to his friends and family.

"We thought Tamarod would represent the values of the 25 January revolution in civil governance, bread and freedom," Kenawy said. "But it went another way instead. We didn't find retribution for blood spilled in the 2011 revolt but even more blood."

Kenawy said he wished the group would remain committed to its initial cause of rebelling against repression and not become a political party.

But to analysts, the idea is too dreamy, like romanticising a political equation.

"You cannot just put a movement in the refrigerator and get it out whenever you want opposition," said Gamal Abdel-Gawad, a political analyst at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies. "Tamarod did its job and was consumed as an idea."

Tamarod also faces other accusations of being supported and led by the military intelligence to oust Morsi, claims that the group's spokesman says are flattering but not true.

"If this is our accusation, that we are supported by national institutions, then this is an honour," spokesman Mohamed Nabawy said. "The first communication between us and the armed forces was on 3 July [Morsi's ouster]," Mohamed Nabawy said.

'Split and divided'

After a series of small divisions that cut out many other members, the group's leaders eventually split.

In February, the group said it would support El-Sisi's run for the presidency, even though the defence minister hadn't yet declared his candidacy.

Three senior members – Hassan Shahin, Mohamed Abdel-Aziz and Khaled El-Kady – were later suspended for supporting El-Sisi's only other challenger, Nasserist politician Hamdeen Sabahi.

Mohamed Raie, now one of the group's heads, insists the incident wasn't a division. The three members had their membership "halted" because they "violated the majority's decision" by backing Sabahi, he said.

"We abide by the people’s choice, not the choices of certain individuals," Raie said. "Anyone who supported Sabahi did so in their personal capacities."

Abdel-Aziz, one of the three who was suspended, says Tamarod's problems began with the formation of alliances in the run up to 30 June, which he describes as being "split and divided", with too many factions and ideologies grouped together.

Another mistake, he says, was the protest law issued in November, which mandates length jail terms and heavy fines for demonstrators without a police permit. Many activists of the 25 January revolution are currently serving jail sentences or facing trials for breaking the law.

Abdel-Aziz says that the law has resulted in anyone with a different opinion being marked as a "traitor".

Since the divisions, other Tamarod members, including those outside of the capital, have since split into smaller movements – but have not realised the same street presence.

Political future?

In April, two months after the internal divisions, Tamarod announced it would form a political party after the presidential election.

Mahmoud Badr, a member of El-Sisi's presidential campaign and the current Tamarod head, spoke of the movement's support of the former general, describing him as the "leader of the 30 June coalition".

However, spokesman Nabawy suggested that the party will be less partisan, insisting it will bring people's demands from the street to inside parliament.

Egypt's parliamentary elections are scheduled to kick off in mid-July.

Nabawy said that coalitions will be formed for the elections and announced soon, as per El-Sisi's call "to continue our path through legal channels."

Meanwhile, Abdel -Aziz says he'll run for parliamentary elections as an independent.

But for Abdel-Gawad, the Al-Ahram analyst, the political activity of Tamarod's various characters doesn't necessarily mean that the movement has a political future. He says Tamaraod capitalised on the "last phase" of Egypt's revolutionary spirit, which he claims ended on 30 June 2013.

"Now the general spirit is not to rebel against authorities but rather to stabilize, to be incorporated in state institutions and to oppose – but not to revolt," Abdel-Gawad said.

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