To watch the head of the Egyptian armed forces, General Sisi pronounce ‘the roadmap’ charting the country’s future was not a moment for rejoicing by true democrats, although for hours before and afterwards celebratory fireworks were being set off in and around Tahrir Square doing just that.
Undoubtedly, those millions taking part in the massive anti-Morsi rallies in Cairo, Alexandria, and throughout Egypt must have felt a surge of political adrenalin that renewed the democratising enthusiasm accompanying Mubarak’s fall from power on January 25, 2011. Yet such resemblances are deeply misleading as the political moment two years ago was one of a transcendent achievement and shared aspirations, reinforced by a strong, if fleeting, sense of creative unity that sent exciting reverberations of hope to every corner of the earth. In contrast, the Sisi statement on July 3, 2013 was a chilling and wooden reminder that Egypt’s prospects for a democratic future have been put on an indefinite hold, and done so allegedly on behalf of ‘democracy.’
Justifications perceptive and balanced assessment of what is happening in Egypt these last several days, this kind of response by the armed forces and the anti-Morsi coalition of very diverse forces, is not even pretending to seek unity in Egypt, but the opposite. It seems determined to again drive the MB underground, which will likely lead to a disenchantment with competitive party politics that is supposed to be the hallmark of constitutional democracy, and dispose the party stalwarts to believe that they are faced with the starkest of alternatives, insurgency or surrender. Instead of overcoming polarisation, the new temporary leadership seems to be moving toward the political suppression of the Islamically oriented pole by coercive means. During this period too little attention is given to the Morsi posture of rejecting the military takeover, urging nonviolent resistance and action within the law. This more aggressive line taken by the interim leadership seems a hazardous and morally dubious course, and one that is certain not to be able to accommodate the pluralist realities of Egypt or of the Arab societies throughout the region. It is a prescription for confrontation outside the arenas of democratic competition, and it makes one wonder about whether this military takeover allegedly needed to save democracy will turn out in another year to have been the farewell song of Egyptian democracy!
There was speculation as recently as a week ago rather widespread speculation that the armed forces might either remain on the sidelines or actually take the side of Morsi in the intensifying confrontation. On the one side, was the cry of tamarod! (‘rebel!’) by the anti-Morsi mobs on the street, while in the presidential palace came the response of tagarod! (‘impartiality,’ also understood as ‘legitimacy’). I would not contend that the armed forces could irresponsibly let Egypt slide further into chaos, especially given growing economic desperation.
It should not be blamed for choosing the side that seemed to have the greater preponderance of public support at this stage, but to couple that choice with the criminalisation of the legitimate government seems like the wrong alternative if the objective was to restore stability and renew the inspiring spirit of inclusiveness in the January 25 triumphal moment. In responding to Mubarak there was an occasion to criminalise those who carried out the oppressive and corrupt policies of the regime for three decades. In responding to Morsi, the appropriate outer limit of reasonable complaint are allegations of incompetence, inexperience, combined with a series of mistakes made under the most difficult of circumstances, including inheriting a bureaucracy that was still beholden to the Mubarak style of politics and committed to its abundant private sector allies. In this difficult situation, we can only hope and pray that the assertion of Judge Adly Mansour, the new interim president of Egypt, that the new order in the country has only one intention: “to restore the glorious Egyptian revolution.”
Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University and Visiting Distinguished Professor in Global and International Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.