On frustration, anger, hope and 30 June

Bassem Sabry , Tuesday 18 Jun 2013

Whatever happens on 30 June – for good or ill – Egypt stands in dire need of a profound breakthrough, be it a leadership change through snap presidential elections or a new-found respect for national consensus

The streets are filled with Tamarrod ('Rebel') volunteers, on their feet for hours in the often scorching heat of Egypt's summer. They are from every age and every walk of life, perhaps only united by fiercely determined visages.

The volunteers are collecting signatures from very eager citizens who feel they've finally found an outlet of expression. Many of them have to cross the streets or get out of their cars in Cairo's unforgiving traffic to sign the forms, and some even take blank ones to pass along.

Two days ago, in front of my own eyes, a man had suddenly stopped his car downtown in the middle of the road, leading people to start honking their car horns in anger. When it was revealed he had come to this sudden halt to catch the Tamarrod volunteer nearby, they astonishingly began to cheer for him, and the transformation only took a few seconds.

The Tamarrod volunteers also go into cafes, social clubs and private premises, where they often find a substantial welcome. I've never seen anything like it before in the past 28 months in revolutionary Egypt. In fact, Tamarrod has recently announced that they're close to achieving their primary target of 15 million signatures.

There is visibly a genuine widespread sentiment of anger and disapproval of the Brotherhood and President Morsi, the latter soon set to mark his first year in power with what many expect to be massive protests on 30 June calling for early presidential elections, with some already dubbing the protests a 'revolution.'

A recent Zogby national poll whose surveys ended a month ago has put Morsi's popularity at a meagre 28 percent, while more than 70 percent expressed disapproval of the government and the Muslim Brotherhood's aggressive reach for power over the state institutions (so-called 'Brotherhoodisation'), while a majority surprisingly expressed disapproval of the new constitution, as well as a lack of preference or trust in holding parliamentary elections now.

The poll's results, even if we assume a radical 10 percent margin of error, are astonishing.

Ironically, as I had recently written, this potential 'second revolution' on 30 June is theoretically set to be sparked by the same people who had actually ignited the first revolution that brought Morsi to power. They seem vehemently determined and deeply enraged, and no political overtures could seemingly change their minds anymore.

The language used by people belonging to the anti-Brotherhood and anti-Morsi camp in real life and on social media appears increasingly to be one that is preparing for a defining battle of some sort. The 30 June rallies are not only likely to see people marching and chanting. Something bigger – of which I have little guess or idea – appears to be brewing, at least as it seems right now.

Alternatively, Morsi, the Brotherhood and their supporters haven't been staying idle either. They too have their own anti-Tamarrod campaign, called 'Tagarrod,' basically calling for Morsi to stay in power until the end of his constitutional term, and they too claim to have just collected around 11 million signatures.

They've been holding large-scale Islamist-only events, including a recent conference on the Egypt-Ethiopia water crisis attended only by Islamist parties, and a packed event in Cairo Stadium just a few days ago in which Morsi both severed ties with the regime in Syria and also suggested a firm hand against at least anything out of the ordinary on 30 June, to roaring crowds.

The tone of Morsi's supporters also seems more confrontational and more belligerent and presents a unique blend of alternatively citing the democratic process and threatening decisive confrontation in another.

Islamist preachers have also come out in droves to support Morsi, using every trick in the book to try and pump up support for the increasingly unpopular president. Furthermore, the president appeared to be showing signs of preparation for a potentially strong confrontation during the coming protests, with his remarkable recent selection of 17 new governors, including seven of whom who hail from the Brotherhood, seven from the military and one Salafist.

I have participated in most major marches or protests since 2011, as a citizen before being a writer, always feeling determined, focused, emotionally resolved. And yet, somehow I find myself feeling a strange blend of alternating feelings this time around.

One moment, I am fully dissociated from everything; the other I am fully invested in the conversation and what is happening; another I am inspired; and another I am filled with trepidation and anxiousness. Almost consistently though, there is a sense of dread.

The thing is, it is just utterly frustrating, disheartening and troubling to see where we are after more than two years of a revolution that was meant to end injustice, political exclusion and repression and hopefully unify most of the country around the dream of rebuilding a strong and vibrant nation.

Instead, much of that injustice, exclusion and repression still exists, albeit often in different forms and methods. What's worse, we're more disunited and polarised than ever as a people, and more exclusionary, while the voices of reconciliation and bridge-building are finding themselves more and more unpopular.

So many of the country's political elites, on every side of the spectrum, have profoundly failed the nation in varying ways down the road through an astonishing alternation (or even, at a times, a blend) of lack of vision, insufficient farsightedness, displays of ineptitude, an improper balance of idealism and pragmatism, inability to know when to lead the street and their political bases and when to defy them for a greater good if necessary, and more.

I truly and exasperatedly wish we weren't in this deeply troubling state as a nation, filled with this anxiety and this sense of upcoming potential upheaval. We could have been in a much better place, and it relatively did not require much more than greater transparency, as well as a consistent and earnest commitment towards wider national consensus by everyone during this phase.

We could have been here instead, at this point in time, with a constitution we unite around, a more inclusive and vibrant democracy, a national coalition and/or capable government, a genuine sense of hope and forward looking, a legislative agenda whose debate is filled with promise, a steadily recovering or even booming economy, and a sense that we are all truly 'in this together.'

But there is one other specific source of anxiety: the fact that we are even likely to see some violence and casualties on all sides fills me with dread, and clashes between Morsi supporters and opponents have already begun in Fayoum and Menoufiya.

More personally, the fact that so many people, including family and friends whom I deeply care for, feel they still need to put their lives on the line for their freedoms and for a better democracy, after a revolution less than two and a half year ago that was meant to achieve as much, is both inspiring – given their incredible continued determination, self-sacrifice and courage – but also quite disheartening and enraging that they still feel a true need to risk and put themselves through all of this.

I have regularly said much about the opposition's substantial contribution to the mess we're in, especially their inability to help skilfully navigate the political process towards a nationally beneficial political consensus, vague vision and organisational problems, as well as a rhetoric and a set of strategic and tactical errors that often harmed the situation rather than aided in ameliorating it.

But the fact is that the defining stab that brought about this entire debacle and state of affairs was Morsi's and the Brotherhood's constitutional declaration in November and the rushing through of the divisive constitution, together with a growing unilateralism, governmental ineptitude, power overreach, lack of transparency, mounting partisanship, and a seeming lack of a sincere willingness to reach a truly deep and non-cosmetic political compromise, and more.

The truth is that despite a more promising start of this presidency, and while bearing in mind any influence of forces that might have never accepted seeing Morsi succeed, Morsi and the Brotherhood have steadily taken the country towards the opposite direction of what it truly needed after a revolution that was built upon the ideals of national unity, inclusion and freedom.

I don't know what will happen on 30 June. Maybe nothing much in the end, maybe much. Egypt needs a profound breakthrough, whether better leadership through new presidential elections as Tamarrod calls for, or some deep national political consensus that emerges in the aftermath of whatever happens. I just hope it doesn't come at too heavy a price.

Bassem Sabry is an Egyptian writer.

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