Egypt’s Still-Unfinished Revolution: Celebration & Danger

tamarrud, or Rebel, movement that had initiated the call for these recent days’ protests. Even the al-Nour party, rooted in Egypt’s most extreme Salafi movements, which had been Morsi’s key coalition partner, participated in the parade of voices heralding the new military-led post-Morsi order.


General al-Sisi called for a technocratic cabinet to be formed, to govern the country and to review the constitution, which he suspended. He said there would be a new election law drafted for parliamentary elections, and that an “ethical charter” would be drafted to guarantee freedom of expression and free media. And he said that all measures would be taken “to empower the youth to take part in state institutions and to be key players in the process.” What will happen if the supporters of former President Morsi, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and its political party, remain in the streets? The pro-Morsi demonstrations were way smaller than those calling for his ouster; but there are still hundreds of thousands in the squares. The students at Cairo University, known as a pro-Morsi stronghold, are outraged at the APCs surrounding their campus. The threat of violence remains sky-high. At the main pro-morsi mobilization site in Cairo’s Nasr City, Morsi managed to get a message to the crowd via a scratchy cell phone. The song that followed his cri du Coeur that he would never step down, was a well-known Egyptian militant song whose refrain says something like “keep your weapons close.” Egypt remains as polarized as perhaps any country but Syria in the entire region – the threat of civil war is not out of the question.


And beyond the threat of violence in the streets, having the military in control means that U.S. influence is much greater – because the Egyptian military is thoroughly dependent on the U.S. for economic support and access to weapons. After the overthrow of Mubarak, the U.S. promised around a billion dollars in economic and development aid for the “new Egypt.” But less than a quarter of that has actually been sent. On the other hand, the $1.3 billion the Egyptian military receives in U.S. tax dollars every year has continued to flow in full and on time. (It’s not clear whether military aid to Egypt even faced any sequester-based reduction, since the Pentagon has a lot more flexibility in its accounts than domestic programs do.) Eighty percent of all Egyptian arms purchases are enabled by U.S. tax dollars, and the U.S. (along with the UK on a much smaller scale) continues to provide training for the Egyptian officer corps. However they choose to use it, the Obama administration and the Pentagon hold enormous potential capacity to influence the military’s trajectory. And that too bodes badly for the Egyptian people’s ability to realize the goals of what they still call their revolution.


It remains unclear what the impact of Morsi’s overthrow will be in the region. Certainly Morsi’s recent move towards a stronger level of support for the Syrian rebel opposition, and parallel consolidation of his government’s ties with Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Qatar in the context of the regionalization of the Syrian civil war, fueled his opponents’ anger. He was perceived as pulling Egypt further into not only a regional war, but a sectarian one as well, and Christian, secular and even many Muslim Egyptians were not happy. What role, if any, the military and the military-backed interim government will play in Syria remains unclear.


For those of us in the U.S., the most important point should be to stop greater U.S. intervention in Egypt. Washington Post described  

Part of the reason U.S. officials will likely resist identifying the military’s action as a coup, is that officially, if not always in practice, coups have consequences in U.S. foreign policy. U.S. law prohibits sending aid to a government which comes to power by removing an elected government by force. We can expect to hear a lot of synonyms, and not too many overt uses of the word “coup.” For the moment, U.S. military aid will probably continue to flow –the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff implied that it would be how the military runs things, not the act of removing an elected leader that will determine Washington’s position. “At the end of the day it's their country and they will find their way,” General Dempsey said, “but there will consequences if it is badly handled.”


For now, our main hope should be for a tamping down of the violence, and a rapid end to military governance. Egyptian society had been divided almost down the middle between supporters and opponents of Morsi, although the recent protests may well indicate that even many of his supporters, disillusioned, have moved to the other side. But there is no question that there are many people on both sides, this is not “the people” against “the dictator,” or even “the people and the army” against “the dictator.” The revolutionary process that began in Tahrir Square has transformed Egypt in many ways – but it was an incomplete revolution. For now at least, it still is. 

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