Who really decides in revolutionary Egypt?

Wael Gamal , Thursday 11 Jul 2013

Political forces and the media search for power brokers and behind-the-scenes manoeuvres, forgetting that the masses in the street are deciding their own history

There is a new-old view that politics is the monopoly of senior power circles, those who plot for and against them, those who are close to or ejected from them. It is an approach to politics that only focus on what is happening behind the scenes within state institutions and among the political elite, along with the embassies of world power. This outlook, which is not merely an analytical tool but primarily a political position, is adopted by the majority of well known political players in Egypt.
Accordingly, they tell us that the revolt of 30 June was pre-planned between the army and the National Salvation Front (NSF) and orchestrated by a veteran godfather of the state (he is the creator of this outlook in documenting Egyptian politics and even relies on psychoanalysing the leader and the type of personalities he prefers, etc), along with financial and media mobilisation, etc.

NSF politicians and those attending meetings to draw up the political map today do not talk about this notion, perhaps to curtail the sensitivity of the US position that — at least outwardly — does not welcome this coup-like attribute. But they clearly base their calculations on it, which is why we are now waist deep in roadmaps, negotiations over cabinet appointments, and details of the interim phase, which are all negotiations behind closed doors.

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood adopts the exact same approach. They claim the revolt of 30 June is merely a military coup created by Saudi and UAE support (note the great similarities between Omar Suleiman’s “remnant” outlook that viewed the January revolution through the same prism: a foreign-domestic plot in tangent between Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood). This was followed by leaking information about a mutiny within the army, criticising General Al-Sisi for betraying his oath of loyalty, as well as flagrant appeals to the US to intervene and defend the regime of “the elected president.”

The debate over whether 30 June is a military coup highlights these visions of those who took action, those who support action and those who oppose it and do not seriously take into consideration the power that has the final say on matters these days: the power of the masses on the street and in the workplace. The technical debate about what constitutes a coup and international media coverage confirms this intense focus on the circles of power in the narrowest sense.

Despite their differences, advocates of this outlook chirp about being the true representatives of the people’s will. They view the masses who take to the streets in Tahrir or by Itihaydia or Rabaa or Al-Nahda as nothing more than leverage; pawns who are not independent nor have any weight in decision making. Meanwhile, all their sensors are focused on Washington.

Who created the 30 June revolt?

There is no doubt there was a plan and plotters in what happened in 30 June. There were unknown architects and pre-arrangements, just like in the 18 days following 25 January 2011 when the Muslim Brotherhood coordinated and made deals with Omar Suleiman and his successors. But the scene is much more panoramic than this, although it is difficult to understand without analysing all the symptoms of the current revolutionary situation.

The first symptom: an endemic crisis of rule. In an article by Asef Bayat, professor of sociology and Middle East Studies at Illinois University, he describes what happened after the uprisings in Egypt, Yemen and Tunisia as neither revolution nor reform. Instead, they are revolutions demanding reform of — and through the institutions of — the existing regime. Bayat adds that this creates conflicting conditions. On the one hand, it enables a safe transfer of power that avoids revolutionary excesses (executions and violence), while on the other it inherently contains the threat of counter-revolution to restore the prior regime, essentially because the revolution did not touch state institutions.

But what type of ruling alliance is found in Egypt today? Part of the 30 June revolt is that the ruling alliance (Muslim Brotherhood-military-bureaucracy-remnants) failed to reach a formula that enables them to achieve stable power control. The same condition remains after 30 June.

In fact, the new ruling alliance is still unstable, seeking steady ground in light of internal disputes among its components: the army; NSF composed of liberals, Nasserists, revolutionaries and others; and remnants of the National Democratic Party who are trying to reinvent themselves. Neither has it resolved its dispute with its former ally.

The clash between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood is a sign of weakness of a ruling alliance that represents the interests of a former regime unable to manage the state or appease the angry street. This crisis of governance continues, and a requisite of any revolution is that the ruling class cannot continue on the same path.

This is one symptom. The second symptom of the revolutionary situation is that people’s living conditions significantly deteriorate. Crises in butane gas, bread, electricity, incredible price hikes, rising unemployment instead of job creation, and deterioration in public services, are all features of pre-30 June.

This is behind the third symptom of the revolutionary situation, namely a tangible increase in public activism and action that is not pre-politicised, and is triggered by a crisis in governance and dire conditions to take independent political action. Bayat’s article argues this constant pressure on the streets, through strikes, protests and civil society, is the only means to achieve any genuine transformation through reforming the regime or social and class conditions, amid the unique type of political change that he calls a “refolution” (or combination of reform and revolution).

This revolutionary activity never stopped since the January revolution. The people did not take to the streets on 30 June because of media incitement or deals with rediscovered godfathers of former regimes, but because they were already on the streets in what Morsi’s presidency described as its "challenges": more than 5,000 demonstrations and 7,700 social protests. The deal attempted to preempt mass action to curb and frame it, not the opposite.

The position of the new regime on these protests will reveal its intentions. (One television anchor from Mubarak’s era and a remnant of that regime didn’t waste a second as soon as Morsi was removed to urge on his programme that social demands and protests should stop “because the country cannot take any more.” This is something most of the political elite agrees on, whether from the old or new regime, Muslim Brotherhood, military, remnants of Mubarak’s regime and the majority of the NSF.)

No one has control over the millions who took to the streets on 30 June and who were called for protest again on Sunday, 7July. While they welcomed intervention from above to support their demand of ousting Morsi, they will never allow another despotic regime to come to power. Their top demand is early elections, and more importantly their criteria are direct interests. On both issues, it appears the new ruling alliance, even after it settles its ranks, will not be able to meet the aspirations of the masses that are becoming increasingly vibrant and politicised.

The serious confusion in the process of choosing the new prime minister indicates how chaotic the new alliance is, without any of its members having the upper hand in a fragile balance of power. Meanwhile, there is the omnipresent US requisite to adopt the IMF loan as a precondition for US political and Gulf economic support. This means continuing the same austerity policies, taxing the poor, and devaluation of the pound (which raises prices).

These are the same measures the Muslim Brotherhood tried to apply unsuccessfully, and that caused the masses to take to the streets to begin with. The new alliance, like its predecessor, relies on security institutions and is too weak to maintain a strong suppressive grip on unruly streets.

The revolutionary situation continues, and the final word remains with the street. Now do you know who really decides policies in Egypt?

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