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Tamarod: From rebellious youth to political actors

Egypt's young revolutionary face of June 30 is reinventing itself in order to maintain its privileged position on the political scene

Mariam Rizk , Tuesday 5 Nov 2013
Tamarod (Photo: Official Facebook Page)

Tamarod was the word in Egypt three months ago; everyone was enthusiastic about it, and anyone could have been a campaigner or volunteer. You could find street campaigners while waiting in traffic or shopping in the city’s markets. Colleagues at work and family members touted the photocopied forms, calling on Islamist president Mohamed Morsi to step down.

Now that the aim of the campaign has been fulfilled - Morsi was ousted by the military in July following the mass protests that Tamarod spearheaded - the youth group is reinventing itself in order to maintain its privileged position on the political scene.

The word Tamarod, Arabic for rebellion, essentially means to not settle for the least and to speak out against oppression and dictatorship. In the current moment, many are accusing Tamarod of blindly supporting Egypt's new authorities. The young revolutionary face of June 30 has been a strong supporter of the interim-government's roadmap for the transitional period.

Mohammed Abdel Aziz and Mahmoud Badr, two of the group founders, are representatives in the 50-member committee assigned to amend the constitution. The group has also repeatedly spoken in favour of the presidential candidacy of Military Chief Abdel-Fattah El-Sissy.

Tamarod, as a revolutionary idea, was supported by almost all political forces opposing the Muslim Brotherhood's strategy.

“The Brotherhood's failure pushed the media to talk about Tamarod and parties to open their offices for them. That's why they became popular,” suggested Alfred Raouf, founding member of the Dostour party, one of the groups who opened their offices for the processing of Tamarod forms.

Over time, Tamarod's young activists have become players in their own right on the political scene. The group recently announced it would run in the upcoming parliamentary elections.

The group’s leaders maintain it is no longer a question of what they don't want (the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood), but rather a question of what they do want to achieve in the future.

“As a political movement, we want to achieve the goals of June 30 and Jan 25 revolts… One of the main ways of doing so is to join parliamentary elections and reach positions that will enable Tamarod to influence legislation that represents revolutionary goals,” Mohammed Abdel Aziz, one of the group’s founders told Ahram Online.

Some political currents have criticised Tamarod for tolerating the military's return to politics and breaches to human rights in the name of security.

“Human rights are not their priority, but they didn’t promise they would be,” Gamal Abdel Gawad, political analyst at the Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic studies, explained.

Critics refer to Tamarod’s approval of the forceful dispersal of two main pro-Morsi sit-ins by security forces, which left hundreds dead.

“Disbanding the Rabaa sit-in was a revolutionary demand, because it was not a peaceful but an armed camp... What occurred in Rabaa is the least that could happen to an armed camp,” Abdel Aziz said.

Tamarod campaign forms, on which the group claim to have gathered around 22 million signatures, highlighted one central demand: “No confidence to Morsi,” and early presidential elections. The list of demands that followed were collated after days of mass protests and the refusal by the Morsi-government to compromise.

The initial and subsequent ultimatums given by Military Chief Abdel-Fatah El-Sissi for all political powers to reach an agreement, took the protests to a whole new level.

“Military intervention was not in the list of demands they [Tamarod] gathered signatures for; they shouldn't have fooled people,” Wael Abbas, a political activist and blogger said.

Internal Conflict

Tamarod is not only facing external criticism, it is also contested from within. In the last two months, collective resignations were submitted by leaders and members of the group in the southern provinces of Sohag and Beni-Suef, for the marginalising of offices outside Cairo and “the shameful political positions adopted by the movement's central office, without the consultation of coordinators in the governorates,” claimed Tamarod Sohag's online page.

Abdel Aziz refused to comment on the resignations, but confirmed that “decisions are made through the central committee of the movement and the political office,” based in Cairo.

A founding member, who left the campaign before June 30, said decisions in the central committee were taken with no real consensus between members.

Ghada Mohammed Naguib criticised Tamarod's political stances, including the group's silence over military trials for civilians and the forceful dispersal of the sit-ins. “Principals are indivisible,” she said.

The group is having to defend their positions, not only to political currents that supported them, but also to the rest of their members and the wider Egyptian public.

"Tamarod became a movement competing for power. This is a breach of the covenant between us and the people," Moheb Doss, one of the group's founders told Ahram Online, "I do not consider myself splitting from Tamarod, as the majority of the campaign's founders are in consensus over taking another route," he added.

Doss highlighted internal conflicts that took place even before Morsi's ouster, but said he thought the "majority of the members in opposition to various positions remained quiet until we had dealt with the main threat [Muslim Brotherhood rule]."

Abdel Aziz acknowledges the shift from "being an oppositional campaign to end Morsi's rule, to becoming a political movement with a certain point of view." However, he says the transition did not gain the support of all members of the group.

"They [Tamarod leaders] considered our disagreement to be a personal conflict," Doss explained.

The Tamarod campaign appealed to the average apolitical Egyptian citizen, as the only commitment was to sign a paper to voice their objection against Morsi. Developing a new movement with the same name, and almost identical key figures, was not helpful in making a clear distinction between the two.

“The idea of rebellion against the Brotherhood regime is different from the goals of the Tamarod movement now,” Raouf said.

Abdel Gawad suggests Tamarod is the practical, pragmatic wing of January 25 currents.

“After a certain period of unrest and big dreams, it [Tamarod] decided to choose between what's available and what's possible,” Abdel Gawad said, “but there is no doubt that the movement eased the return of the military to politics,” he added.

“Support for the military is popular on the street. If Tamarod wants to continue as politically active, their choice to align themselves with the military will gain them favour. Political elites will be angry, but in politics you have to choose,” he concluded.

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