Egypt: Nothing was inevitable

Ibrahim El-Houdaiby , Friday 13 Sep 2013

Events since the January 25 Revolution, including the Brotherhood's ouster and the revival of the outlines of the Mubarak regime, were not inevitable but the result of choices and mistakes made

Some believe, or pretend, current developments that seem to abort the revolution were inevitable and unavoidable, and thus exploring the reasons for the present situation and highlighting mistakes is a waste of time. But I believe this is incorrect because it confuses the intent to abort the revolution (which undoubtedly is the goal of some parties since the first day) with the ability to do so. It was a very weak trend at first, but has gained strength because of mistakes, not caused by miscalculation but no doubt by the arrogance, greed and intransigence of the Muslim Brotherhood primarily, and others.

Evidence that this ability did not exist is the fact that Mubarak was forced to step down, and that the winner of the 2012 presidential race was not the candidate from his regime.

Besides, the public did not oppose the Muslim Brotherhood or sought their failure from day one. Yes, some did, but, for example, the first call for a million-man march against Morsi in August 2012 by Mohamed Abu Hamed had little resonance, with no more than 1,500 people showing up. The influence of the media is not reason enough either (although problems do exist), because the media existed before the revolution, during anti-Mubarak protests, and during presidential elections, and its impact amounted to nothing.

The main difference in conditions before and after the revolution is that after the revolution Islamists had their own media platforms that were not available before.

The danger of claiming the present state was inevitable is that it primarily provides cover for leaders and groups that have brought us to where we are, not only protecting them from accountability but also rallying the people around them in the assumption that this was their best effort but they faced insurmountable challenges.

This is also a precarious issue because it blocks rational thinking about how to end the crisis and recover the revolution.

The following are a few decisions that had other choices been made the outcome would have been different.

1. The decision by the Muslim Brotherhood to nominate a candidate in the presidential race: any president from outside the group would have made them an opposition force that — because of group interests — would steer towards purging and reforming state institutions. Any resident at the presidential palace not relying on a group to prop him up would have had to address this issue.

Meanwhile, the possibility of building a broad coalition to restructure these institutions would have been much greater if the Muslim Brotherhood were not in power (discussing the reasons here is off-topic, but it is certain that cooperation opportunities between Abul-Fotouh, Khaled Ali, ElBaradei, and even Hamdeen Sabbahi would have been greater if any of them were in power).

Then, there would have been a possibility of pushing for a restructuring based on a broad national base, which would be more difficult to resist than pressure by the Muslim Brotherhood (assuming it happened — it did not at all, in my opinion. The Muslim Brotherhood rose to power because they wanted to inherit the Mubarak state with a few changes in mechanisms).

The Muslim Brotherhood appointed the first Cabinet with many ministers who were Mubarak’s men because the president did not want to make concessions to his political opponents so they could participate in purging and reforming state agencies. He chose to share power with those already in power, including the military and remnants of the former regime, and also because of the limited abilities of the Cabinet members he brought in.

All of this made him gradually lose the support of revolutionary forces. No popular support could have stood up to the interest networks in state agencies that sought to thwart him (even before his election, I and more knowledgeable writers than myself often wrote that the president would face challenges in electricity, services, national security and social peace that would be instigated by those who wanted to restore former conditions. The only way to overcome these challenges was to build a popular alliance based on genuine concessions by Morsi that realise the gravity of these challenges. The only way was to rely on general grassroots support, not the Muslim Brotherhood group’s base).

I said Morsi did not need allies to reach the presidential palace, but did after he got there. But he took a different route; he chose to leave everyone at the door and went into the palace by himself, with his tribe and clan. Non-Brotherhood advisers frequently reported they were no more than window dressing, and were never asked their opinion or listened to. Only the voices of Muslim Brotherhood advisers were heard.

2. The constitutional declaration: Morsi declared himself ruler with limitless powers under the pretext of protecting the revolution. This declaration overlooked more important issues on purging and restructuring state institutions, especially security agencies; adopting a serious plan for transitional justice; reviewing wage structures; and addressing social demands (many sectors went on — or threatened to — strike at the time, such as physicians who did not want to burden the government with more resources for them, but urged it to reconsider wage structures and a well-defined agreed upon plan to raise the budget for the medical sector. Also, security at hospitals, so physicians are not subject to assaults that they suffered for more than one year. Morsi decided to ignore them).

The declaration ignored all of these issues and Morsi made his decisions immune to legal oversight; he deposed the prosecutor general (albeit most revolutionary forces had urged for his removal), and gave himself sole power to choose his replacement (instead of designating the Supreme Judicial Council to do so).

This declaration caused Egyptians to kill each other for the first time, transforming rejection of the Muslim Brotherhood into hatred. It also allowed the return of remnants to the scene — which some in the opposition tried to resist, such as Khaled Ali and Abul-Fotouh who refused to join the National Salvation Front because it included regime remnants.

At the time, the Muslim Brotherhood chose to demonise everyone and treated them all as remnants who were fighting Sharia (do not forget the protest of Sharia and legitimacy). Thus, they contributed to the strong comeback of remnant popularity on the street, after the Muslim Brotherhood had restored them to power and to the Cabinet earlier.

3. After the first call by army chief El-Sisi for national dialogue in December, many rejected this invitation as interference by the army in political affairs. Many contacted the presidency urging the president to chair a serious dialogue to block military intervention, but the president continued his superficial dialogue. He talked to his supporters and marginal parties, competing with his opponents to win points. He continued to ignore the anger on the street, which was autonomous of the political leadership (Port Said, for example).

In dealing with El-Sisi, Morsi apparently chose to employ the logic of the group’s “individual call.” “Well-informed” Muslim Brotherhood members I spoke to at the time about the dangers of a military comeback said everything was under control, that Morsi and El-Sisi now have family ties, exchange visits, and the wise president can see what we cannot — knows what we cannot — and is managing the situation very shrewdly, etc.

4. In December, the fact-finding mission into all crimes committed until Morsi came to power finished its report. It included evidence on Maspero, the Cabinet clashes and Mohamed Mahmoud Street, but Morsi kept the report on his desk and did not publish it or send relevant sections as requested by the courts (such as in the case of Cabinet clashes).

Meanwhile, the constitution strengthened the military institution, which the rulers chose to appease instead of championing the weak, and remained silent as military tribunals for civilians continued.

Had a serious independent commission been formed for transitional justice (although there were genuine proposals submitted to the presidency on this matter, where non-Muslim Brotherhood advisers such as Seif Abdel-Fattah and Samir Morcos sought action. I don’t know why they failed and never saw the light), conditions that led to 30 June and beyond would have been different.

None of this was inevitable, and I will again list some choices made that could perhaps reveal how developments escalated. Please note, here I am only writing about another option that would have resulted in a different outcome.

1. The highly provocative conference on Syria, which angered the National Defence Council since a decision was taken that encroached on the council’s duties (as outlined by the "best constitution humanity has ever known") without consulting the council. It also upset security agencies that were concerned about the fallout of sending civilians to Syria to train in carrying arms and the art of war, thereafter returning to Egypt.

Many were also irritated by the fact that Egypt followed the lead of the US when taking a position on Syria. Egypt’s official religious institution, meanwhile, saw the president surrounding himself with figures who are far from Al-Azhar’s doctrine. At the same time, the opposition was furious when the president sat and listened to a preacher cursing them and others, without intervening.

2. The secret meeting to discuss the Renaissance Dam speaks for itself. After this incident, how can any rational person believe the Muslim Brotherhood is capable of managing any national security issue? These matters not only impacted decisions by the street, but also state institutions where civil servants (who are not “corruptors” or “conspirators”) lost faith in working with this political leadership.

3. Refusing to dismiss Hisham Qandil’s government despite demands by everyone — including his own Freedom and Justice Party; and not demanding the resignation of the prosecutor general (claims that the president was above interfering in judicial matters were ridiculous, because earlier he had asked Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud to resign, which set a precedent). No reasons were given for this intransigence.

Even after 30 June, the assumption that developments since then until today were inevitable ignores the existence of conflicting agendas within the opposition (which has now risen to power), between security agencies whose ideology is repression; Gulf-backed parties that want to crush the Muslim Brotherhood; political forces that only wanted to remove them from power; and a military with an innate complex position. Muslim Brotherhood choices and escalation, based on a lack of clear vision, always played into the hands of those who want all-out confrontation and complete elimination.

4. After 30 June, Morsi did not call for a referendum. Had he done so, he would have prevented “military intervention." Instead, he prioritised his group that crumbles in self-criticism when it fails with the masses and unites under threat; he chose to be ousted at the hands of the army 3 July, not by the masses on 30 June. He chose to cancel out the entire scene of the masses from the picture and consciousness (there were even comical statements about using Photoshop), in order to maintain the coherence of the group.

5. On 3 July, Saad Al-Katatni was invited to a meeting attended by El-Sisi, the grand sheikh of Al-Azhar, ElBaradei and Pope Tawadros, but he did not attend. I am not saying he should have, but that his absence was an escalation based on a lack of vision, which came at a very high price and achieved nothing. On the contrary, it upped the ante even further because it confronted the legitimacy of a military state.

The Muslim Brotherhood neither chose a well-thought out escalation to achieve some of its goals, nor did it accept the status quo and cut its losses by accepting the offers made in the days following 3 July. These included statements by the army describing the Muslim Brotherhood as a national faction, and promises they will not be excluded, along with requests by the government to include Muslim Brotherhood Cabinet members.

All this confirms that our current course was not inevitable but a result of the choices and positions adopted by key actors.

After that, the Muslim Brotherhood chose to play the most treacherous card, by claiming the army was divided (for the first two weeks we heard endless rumours about splits in the Second and Third armies, etc). The military, like the Muslim Brotherhood, was also a group that needed to demonise the other in order to maintain its unity, and so it did.

This pleased some media figures and members of state institutions, which paved the way to horrendous crimes against protestors (which in my mind are inexcusable and their perpetrators must be brought to justice).

And thus, each side came to demonise the other.

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