Helwan University History Professor Sherif Younis authored the remarkable book on the Nasserite era entitled The Call of the People, which presents a critical reading of Nasserism and the Nasserite era of Egypt. In his exclusive interview with Ahram Online, Younis reflects on the similarities and differences between the "calls to the people" by Nasser in the '50s and today's General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, who deposed elected Islamist president Mohamed Morsi on 3 July with the backing of opposition and key religious figures after massive protests that kicked off on 30 June calling for Morsi's ouster. Younis also analyses the nature of the coalition that led the 30 June mass protests as well as the ensuing violence as the political tug-of-war took to the streets.
Sherif Younis has also written several other books, including Nidaa Al-Shaab (The Call of the People), Massarat Al-Thawra (Paths of the Revolution) and Sayed Kotb wa Al-Osolya Al-Islamiya (Sayed Kotb and Islamic Fundamentalism).
Ahram Online: As a historian how do you see the controversy over the 30 June protests: Is it a new revolution or a new wave of the January 25 Revolution?
Sherif Younis: This controversy is similar to the one on whether it was 'revolution' or 'military coup.' I think that this an attempt to put legal definitions to describe the events and take advantage of the political outcomes of this labelling.
The dispute over the definition is an expression of the ongoing conflict on the ground more than a dispute over a technical or legal definition. If it's a coup it's illegitimate and the Muslim Brotherhood has legitimacy. Defining what happens [during the course] in a revolution gives the legitimacy to Morsi's ouster.
I believe that 30 June is an extension of the ongoing revolution since 25 January 2011 and is the outcome of mass political opposition to Brotherhood rule. It consists of a coalition between state institutions, pro-Mubarak factions, as well as democratic revolutionary forces. I call this 30 June coalition. This coalition isn't homogenous: old regime remnants tend to see 30 June as a new revolution in order to win more territories in the new political arena, unlike the democratic forces that see it as a continuation of the revolution against dictatorship.
AO: In 1952 the military intervened in politics, removing King Farouq and "called the people" to support its movement. After 61 years it intervened again and called on the people to support and delegate it. Are we looking at a different "call to the people"?
SY: The differences are crucial but the similarities are important. In 1952 there were these silent masses of people, who the military asked to stay safe and calm at home, while they handle things. Today, people are very effective in the political scene and in a status of cooperation with the military.
We're witnessing a post-Nasserist era, there's no existence of this idea of changing the people and talking on behalf of them. The people are speaking for themselves. However, in both cases the political realm is being led from outside its domain; there’s a very important player, which is state institutions, security and military institutions, playing an independent role and sometimes the main role in the mobility and movement of the political realm.
AO: Do you think El-Sisi is turning into another Nasser?
SY: There's no doubt he's the strong man in the political process right now and the heavy weight tipping the balance for the 30 June coalition, stabilising order between the security apparatus and the democratic forces, as well as commander of the army, the biggest organised force in the whole process.
I don’t think El-Sisi is going to be a repetition of Nasser, except if the current civil interim government collapses, where he must intervene with his sole and independent will to save the situation, but I think that most parties now are keen to avoid this scenario.
AO: You say the Brotherhood was never able to adapt this player – the state institutions – into their new political regime. It almost "spat them out." Was this why the Brotherhood struggled to Brotherhoodise the state’s institutions?
SY: These state institutions are inherited from 1952 state that Nasser established, and it’s built upon a very different doctrine from the Brotherhood's. Brotherhodisation failed and confrontation was inventible. The Brotherhood is a sectarian organisation that locks itself within its own moral and behaviour codes - almost a ghetto - driven by its own interests, rendering it difficult to ally with anyone. They tried to establish a parallel state apparatus since they couldn’t be part of the state nor its head.
State bureaucracy watched them with great apprehension. Their Islamic project, that included an alliance with Hamas for example, seemed more disastrous for the military and the security apparatus on the ideological levels and on the ground, as it simply heads in the opposite direction of their theory of national security.
AO: The Brotherhood's fall dealt a strong blow to Political Islam in the region, but is it possible to say that the Political Islam project is over?
SY: What happened is a really strong shift in the Muslim Brotherhood history: it's the first time they face such wide popular hostility, or at least we can say the year they spent in power allowed seeds of this hatred to explode. They're nearly isolated and that's a strong lash to the whole project of Political Islam and raises doubts about the possibility of implementing such a project.
For more than 40 years they imposed on people their religious views and worked hard to control personal behaviours. What led the people to take to the streets on 30 June wasn’t the oil crisis or economic troubles, it’s far beyond that.
Nevertheless, the Islamic current isn't just the Muslim Brotherhood; there's what I call the Social Islam that works in the field of social services and this sector will continue to exist, though it is badly affected by the Brotherhood's fall. In fact, they're very angry at the Brotherhood because they feel they’re paying the price for something they didn't do.
Eventually the new reality will force Islamic trends to undergo a long process of revising their beliefs, but it's particularly difficult for the Brotherhood, since the organisation is collapsing, but it will happen sooner or later.
AO: To what extent can we describe Egypt as "on the verge of civil war"?
SY: I use this term in a metaphorical manner. There are neither armies battling, nor trenches, but there are too many characteristics of civil war that can be seen in Egypt now, like the division where people are lining up into two opposing camps with almost no one in the middle.
The civil war, or in other words, the deep polarisation of society, started when Morsi issued the constitutional declaration that gave him sweeping powers in November 2012. But the balance of power is not outweighing Morsi's camp and this status will remain for a long time.
AO: Can the Brotherhood now denounce violence?
SY: There's no way to end violence in the streets; the Brotherhood were expected to enter into negotiations and end this ongoing violence, but it seems that this is not possible or acceptable for the Brotherhood because the failure of the organisation is what is at stake. They don't have the luxury of denouncing violence now; they have no other option. They're taking the Syrian scenario as a plan, but the balance of power in Syria is way too different from Egypt.
AO: Do you expect a surge of violence similar to the '90s in Algeria?
SY: We don’t have the same tribal element in our society and the popularity of the Islamists varies between Egypt and Algeria. The Algerian army cancelled the electoral process after the first round, when Islamists proved to gain growing popularity and their credit was high, unlike in the Egyptian case, where the Islamists already won the elections and stayed in power for a year and raised unprecedented anger against them. The Islamic trend in Egypt is falling down against wide popular hostility, unlike Algeria in 1991.
AO: Do you expect a long political process?
SY: Yes, the transitional political process is going to be long and the violence is likely to continue for a while - maybe years. These years will be tense, but they won't be years of paralysis. I believe the transitional period will end with some kind of a compromise between the revolutionary camp and the counter-revolution’s camp, as it is plain now that the revolution couldn't win the battle and a deal should be made to take the country out of this crisis.
The Brotherhood were supposed to be the "broker" of this deal, but they didn't. Now the broker of the deal is General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi.