What I talk about when I talk about 30 June

Youssef Rakha , Sunday 30 Jun 2013

Youssef Rakha explores some of the issues informing the highly anticipated 30 June anti-government protests

Nearly a week ago, some little known Kuwaiti newspaper reported that President Mohamed Morsi had negotiated, it wasn't clear with whom, "a safe exit deal" for himself and 50 leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood — in anticipation of 30 June.

It was obvious misinformation but it was tempting to believe, partly because it suggested the very implausible prospect of the Brotherhood leaving power peacefully, lending credence to the idea that 30 June will be "the end of the Brotherhood" anyhow.

The news item was published in the wake of the failed attempt by a group of Islamists to forcibly end the ongoing occupation by writers and artists of the Minister of Culture's office in Zamalek, Cairo, in protest of the newly appointed, pro-Brotherhood minister arbitrarily sacking high-profile ministry officials within a week of taking office, in preparation for what was seen as "the Brotherhoodification of Egyptian culture" (as if Egyptian culture, whatever on earth that is, has always lived permanently and exclusively in the highest office of this corrupt and ineffectual arm of the police state: the ministry).

When it survived the Islamist attack, leaving one well-known Brotherhood activist wounded, "the intellectuals' protest" was declared "the dress rehearsal" for 30 June. And with secular and middle-class types dominating the opposition scene and the people in power having absolutely no claim to the moral high ground, the atmosphere leading up to 30 June has been compared to that leading up to 25 January, 2011.

Reportedly over 20 million people have signed the 'Rebel' petition calling for Morsi to step down to make way for early presidential elections and, together with the protests, this new stab at peaceful regime change will be brought to bear on 30 June.

Will the Brotherhood and the many Islamist factions that have found their voice and taken up space in the media and the power structure thanks to the Brotherhood's rise to power simply give up their newly acquired gains in response to an 18-day sit-in? Will there be as relatively little violence as there was in 2011? And what will be the role of the army (whose leaders have been replaced), which facilitated the 25 January revolution — only to manage, disastrously, the ensuing transitional period, practically handing over power on a platter to the Muslim Brotherhood (to the cheering of misguided activists keen on ending "military rule")?

It is telling and perhaps reassuring that no one has referred to the protests planned for the first anniversary of the Brotherhood president taking office as "a revolution" — even though there arguably is more to talk about with this than any other relevant word, talking about 30 June.


There is, for example, the endless if often purely theoretical debate on whether or not the fuloul (or "remnants") of Mubarak's regime should be embraced as allies in otherwise unequivocally "revolutionary" opposition to the Brotherhood.

Though very popular among professional demonstrators and Islamophiliac academics — which two categories produce the bulk of the discourse of revolution — this line of thinking not only contributes, willy nilly, to the coarse polarisation of society into Islamist-revolutionary and "civil"-fuloul camps. It also all but purposely confuses the views of "the man on the street" with the "revolutionary position", a spurious amalgam of interpretations of "bread, freedom, dignity and social justice".

By stressing capitalism and "conservatism" as the source of discontent with the Brotherhood, the "civil" opposition continues to shoot itself in the foot, whether through reaffirming its divorce from a majority far more like the capitalist, conservative fuloul than either Islamists or demonstrators or by pointing up the void left by the fall of Mubarak, which (apart from fuloul, in practice) only Islamists have been able "legitimately" (i.e., democratically) to fill.

The fuloulophobic discourse turns a blind eye to far more serious issues posed by "leftist" as much as Islamist rule: even greater incompetence and tribally minded bureaucracy than under Mubarak, inadequacy born of both technical inexperience and lack of interest in the administration of a nation state (as opposed to abstractions like "the people", "identity" or "honour"), and of course the perennial propensity for totalitarianism.

Fuloulophobia fails to acknowledge that it was the margin of freedom born of being part of the world order (which world order is nominally opposed by political Islam) that made it possible not only to stage a largely peaceful Internet-mediated uprising calling for greater integration with the contemporary world but, crucially, for the dinosaur patriarch to actually step down within 18 days of protesters first occupying Tahrir Square. It fails to see lack of bread and especially lack of dignity as consequences of social and psychological conditions that produced the Mubarak regime at least as much as they were produced by it.

And that is why, every time it tries to fill the political void, fuloulophobia merely cedes ground to the slogan mongers and political underdogs of the Mubarak era — the only agents of "the old consciousness" who could justly be called fuloul — the loudest, most ruthless and best organised among whom are the Brotherhood.


There is also the question of what the fall of Mubarak has actually implied for society. This would have been a better gauge of the efficacy of "revolution" and the direction revolution should take had it been empirically sought out rather than merely presumed.

At the psychosocial level many were upset to see the order under which they had spent their whole lives, however unjust and ugly, so suddenly disrupted; contrary to what is assumed, most were sorry if not to see Mubarak go then to be politically stranded — abandoned to the wiles of generals and mullahs, as it were — in the absence of any credible vision for the future emanating from such representatives of the new age as the oppositional politicians who were later to form the National Salvation Front.

To condemn and attempt to exclude all such a-revolutionary people as "counterrevolutionary" was arguably the gravest error of the 25 January theorists, the one notion that emptied regime change of social import and enshrined the lie that the Islamists are worthy beneficiaries of the sacrifices made by more or less secular protesters.
Until the rise to power of President Morsi, changes in the power structure were minimal and cosmetic, intended to appease demonstrators rather than achieve genuine reforms. And here too the 25 January discourse has tended to regress to the traditional polarity of reform and revolution, an utterly meaningless distinction considering the de-centralised, rights-oriented, peaceful and democratic nature of the uprising.

The 25 January discourse thus fails to see that it is on effective and sustainable reforms in the institutional scaffolding of the state that the future of the revolution depends, not on anti- or supra-state summary justice or "radical" measures — least of all by corrupt if not murderous agents of theocracy. And it fails to concede that only fuloul — by its own definition: competent and down-to-earth liberals with experience, as opposed to incompetent, Islamism-riddled idealists and ideologues — are capable of carrying out such reforms.


There is, then, the fact that political change cannot possibly depend on ideological purity in the absence of an ideology, and that all that has been introduced in lieu of an ideology of revolution and in its name, apart from the ideology of political Islam, is a form of protestophelia or demonstration fetish — one that was as evident in the intellectuals' protest as it no doubt will be on 30 June.

Millions were clearly relieved to see the end of the military-based regime instituted by Gamal Abdel-Nasser in 1952 and to see plans for Gamal Mubarak to succeed his father as president of the so called republic cut short.

But, at the level of political theory, the majority of those millions, when they were not Islamist or "leftist" (i.e., in effect, in the service of Islamists), were perfectly happy with the Mubarak regime, objecting not to such de-facto necessities as liberal economics, peace with Israel and the effort to contain Islamist terrorism but to systematic human rights abuses, rife cronyism and deadly incompetence.

The idea was to remove the remnants not of neoliberalism (of which the Brotherhood are even more eager practitioners than the Mubarak regime anyway) but of the police state, centralised government, bureaucratic dysfunction, financial corruption and the pecking order of personal and family loyalties governing administration at the expense of efficiency and merit.

In essence, then, the revolution was less about any major shift in political horizons than about serious reforms (which reforms are so costly to so many people they will take far more than slogans, abstract conscience and "popular protest" to put into effect gradually over many years).

Still, it would certainly place the country in a better position to confront the challenge of reform for the Brotherhood to leave power, if only by shifting the emphasis away from questions like whether or not Muslims should say "Merry Christmas" to Copts on Christmas Day and whether or not women should be allowed to mix with men in public back to questions of competence, efficiency and universal rights.

Yet who apart from fuloul of one kind or another could possibly live up to that challenge, assuming that 30 June will really be the end of the Brotherhood? And what does it mean, in this context, to question the right of fuloul to be part of the protest or do the Brotherhood's work for it by suggesting that the Rebel campaign is part of the counterrevolution? But these are questions no one has had the mental or moral wherewithal to ask with any degree of seriousness, while almost everyone has had the nerve to use the word "reformist" as an insult (because 25 January is the 21st century's greatest revival of armed radical Trotskyism)…

All of which is of course not even to begin to ask who in his right mind can expect the Brotherhood to leave power willingly before setting in motion catastrophic machineries of disruption and distraction — a process by now already well underway — except perhaps a muck-stirring Kuwaiti rag?

Indeed in a rally-like conference at the Cairo Stadium on Sunday, President Morsi deployed the by-now patently pathetic tactics of Mubarak to cover his back. He tried to divert attention away from home by invoking external issues of interest be they the Ethiopian Nile dam which undermines Egypt’s water supply or the Syrian conflict (why cut relations with Bashar Al Assad’s regime now?) He expressed love for "all his people" and commitment to their "glorious revolution", suggesting that 30 June is nothing but a conspiracy to stage a counterrevolution. He traded in the sacrifices of Egyptians and the blood of Syrians, and his audience — much like Bashar’s — were clearly trained to demonstrate strength in numbers and absolute devotion.

So much for the safe-exit scenario.


Morsi has since appointed a former Gamaa Islamiya terrorist governor of Luxor, the foremost tourist destination in the country, in a widely decried move that placed an Brotherhood member or a member of an allied organisation at the helm of every single governorate. The minister of culture should have been the least of our concerns after all.
But it is well to remember that the genie is out of the bottle. Neither the National Salvation Front nor "the people of Egypt" sans effective (i.e., fuloul) representation are any match for desperately power hungry and police state-oriented quasi-theocrats in power with a broad support base of Salafis, Jihadis and fundamentalists who have huge chips on their shoulders and little if any sense of either human rights or patrimony.

Despite such moronic flashes in the revolutionary pan as the anarchist movement, Black Bloc etc., Islamists are by and large far readier than any "revolutionary" not only to practise violence against fellow citizens but also to align themselves with the apparently fuloul-dominated "deep state", whatever that is; hence the sense that, without some kind of miracle comparable to "the miracle of 25 January" — and miracles apparently do happen in Middle East politics — not a great deal besides "the people’s anger"  and the consequent clashes with Islamists can be expected of 30 June.

Were the army to interfere, for example — and this is the demonically inspired Way Out dominating far too many Egyptian minds at present — to what end would that be? Even when the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces was Mubarak's man, the army did nothing to prevent the "democratic" monopolisation of power by the Brotherhood; why on earth expect it to act against the Brotherhood under a leader appointed personally by Morsi? And were the army to impose a more amenable agenda by force, how would that be an improvement on the pre- or indeed the post-25 January status quo? How would it prevent the eruption of violence? More to the point, whatever the fuloul might be up to in terms of aborting the revolution, whether with military or foreign aid or not, what they have in mind could not possibly be worse for the man on the street than the Brotherhood in power. So if it is fuloul and not "revolutionaries" who come up with a way to be rid of the Brotherhood on 30 June, good for fuloul. The question that remains is what might be the meaning of the revolution and its discourse?

Whether or not 30 June turns out to be as decisive as is being made out, the fact remains that 25 January is over and we are considerably farther from the kind of institutional and social change we need than we were under Mubarak. And whatever we talk about when we talk about 30 June, if it is to mean anything at all, this is something for which the revolution must eventually answer.

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