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Egypt's anti-Morsi 'Rebel' campaign: An inside look

Founders of Egypt's 'Rebel' signature drive against President Morsi provide inside look at campaign's rationale and ultimate objectives

Osman El Sharnoubi, Wednesday 29 May 2013
Man and his family stops in Cairo's downtown streets to sign 'Rebel' petition (Photo: Mai Shaheen)

Founders of Egypt’s 'Rebel' campaign, a newly established movement that aims to withdraw confidence from President Mohamed Morsi by collecting citizens' signatures, spoke at an open forum on Tuesday to discuss the campaign, which has recently gone viral online and on the streets.

'Rebel' campaigners hope to collect 15 million signatures and hold a mass sit-in on 30 June – marking the end of Morsi's first year as president – to call for snap presidential elections and force Morsi out of office.

They appear confident that voters will not choose a Muslim Brotherhood candidate – or one associated with the former regime – this time around, but rather one representing Egypt's 2011 revolution.

Lawyer Mohamed Abdel-Aziz, who opened the discussion, which was hosted by the Revolutionary Socialists at the Centre for Socialist Studies in Giza, talked about the reasons behind the campaign's launch. 

If Morsi looks into a mirror

Abdel-Aziz believes that the Muslim Brotherhood, the group from which Morsi hails, along with his government, are perpetuating what Egyptians revolted against when they ousted Hosni Mubarak in 2011, necessitating a continuation of the revolution and Morsi's overthrow.

“Mubarak was a dictator and now Morsi is trying to be one, and failing at it,” Abdel-Aziz said. He pointed in particular to the famous incident in which the president declared a curfew in the cities of the Suez Canal and was met with nightly protests at which demonstrators organised football matches in front of the provincial governor’s office.

Mubarak was partial to businessmen and the rich and Morsi is following in his footsteps, said Abdel-Aziz, comparing prominent Mubarak-era businessman/politician Ahmed Ezz to Muslim Brotherhood deputy head Khairat El-Shater, often considered the brains behind the Brotherhood.

Mubarak squandered Egypt's national independence by serving US and Israeli policy in the region, Abdel-Aziz continued, and Morsi is steadfastly following Washington's instructions and has failed to break Mubarak’s friendly relations with Israel.

“Morsi is selling the same merchandise that Mubarak sold, only, in his term, there’s an Islamic label on it,” said Abdel-Aziz. He added that, were Morsi to shave his beard and look into a mirror, he would “see Mubarak staring back at him.”

This is why Abdel-Aziz rejects the polarisation of Egyptian politics into Islamist vs. civil or secular. He maintains that Egyptians should be against Morsi not because he's an Islamist but due to his politics, which are the same as those of the former regime.

“Our problem with Morsi is that he strayed from the goals set out in Tahrir Square,” Abdel-Aziz went on, referring to Cairo's premier protest venue in which hundreds of thousands congregated in early 2011 to demand Mubarak's ouster.

“We are rebelling to achieve national independence, freedom and social justice,” said Hassan Shaheen, one of the campaign's founders, asserting that the current government had strayed well away from these goals.

Taking revolution to the streets

One of the main obstacles in the way of the revolution is that it failed to reach the mass of Egyptians, the poor and marginalised who have the most interest in the revolution’s success, ‘Rebel’ campaigners believe.

“‘Rebel’ forms are now available with street vendors, at bakeries, at grocery stores and at kiosks,” said Shaheen, adding that, instead of people hearing about protests and demonstrations via the media, they now represent their own popular media, inviting each other to revolt in their homes and workplaces and the streets.

The rationale behind ‘Rebel’ is to move the revolution from the squares in which demonstrations are held to society at large, said Abdel-Aziz.

Abdel-Aziz highlighted what he views as a general inclination by a large number of Egyptians for stability instead of the instability associated with revolution. He recalls Mubarak’s second speech during the 2011 uprising, when he won the sympathy of large swathes of the public.

Despite this, the revolutionary momentum remained intact and ultimately led to Mubarak's ouster, he says. Abdel-Aziz asserts that the ‘Rebel’ campaign can counteract the seeming contradiction between a revolution – and the inevitable sacrifices associated with it – and a society plagued with economic burdens that force it to seek 'stability.'

“Now, small electricians' shops carry signs reading ‘Rebel forms available,’ while kiosk owners ask patrons to sign the form,” he said. Examples like these, Abdel-Aziz says, show that the average citizen is proactive in revolting against the government – something that official opposition groups have failed at so far.

‘Rebel’ and the opposition

While the founders of ‘Rebel’ are critical of the way Egypt's political opposition has operated thus far, they nonetheless see themselves as part and parcel of it.

“We are part of the opposition; we don’t separate what we do from the struggles of other opposition movements and parties,” said Mahmoud Badr, one of the campaign founders who attended the forum.

Badr maintains that his disagreement with how the opposition has dealt with the Morsi administration has not created a barrier between them.

While he criticised how the National Salvation Front (NSF) – Egypt’s most comprehensive opposition umbrella group – had dealt with the current government, he noted how other opposition groups had recognised the ‘Rebel’ campaign's potential and opened their headquarters for the collection of signatures.

“‘Rebel’ was established to bridge the gap between the Egyptian street and the political opposition,” Shaheen said – a longstanding failure on the part of the opposition that the campaign's founders felt they needed to address.

Commenting on whether the movement would be affected by the opposition’s perceived rigidness, Badr called on Egyptians to hold 'Rebel' campaigners responsible if they confined themselves to the offices of Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabbahi – both NSF figureheads – and fail to campaign in the streets of Egypt.

30 June

Campaign founders insist that their decision to call for snap presidential elections at June's planned mass demonstration was realistic.

“We knew that in order to reach people we must present a clear-cut demand that appeals to them. We ultimately decided that calling for early presidential elections was the best way to go,” Abdel-Aziz said.

He went on to explain that other ways by which a revolution can rule, such as forming a 'revolutionary council' that overtakes power in a radical way, aren’t accepted by most Egyptians.

The group of founders decided that a peaceful and democratic form of protest was what would be accepted by the average Egyptian, and represent the best way to “rooting the revolution” in Egyptian society.

Campaigners hope that a mass demonstration and ensuing sit-in will start at the presidential palace on 30 June with the support of the large number of people who had signed the ‘Rebel’ petition.

“If two or three million people gather, they would have the support of the other 12 million who signed the petition but remain at home,” said Badr. 

As for speculation as to the campaign's legality, Badr doesn’t seem very concerned. The crux of the matter, he says, “is that people come down to support the millions of voices against Morsi.”

“What does it matter if it’s legal or not if the current regime tramples the law time and again,” he said, asking whether Morsi’s controversial constitutional declaration in November – which had shielded him from judicial oversight – was legal.

If the ruler doesn’t abide by the law, said Badr, it is the custom of revolution to impose its own.

“After 30 June [which campaign founders repeatedly refer to as 'the beginning of the end' of Morsi’s rule], we will impose revolutionary law,” he concluded.

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