It has been 19 weeks. 19 weeks since the man that former Egyptian President Mohammad Mursi appointed as Defense Minister issued an ultimatum to the ‘commander in chief’ of the armed forces. 19 weeks since the democratic process, which had been damaged during Mursi’s tenure, was issued a suspension notice. The repercussions of those days have, of course, not been completed – those consequences remain to unfold, and it is likely they will continue to for months & years to come. But it has also been 19 weeks since many of those who supported the June 30 protests swallowed what they felt was a bitter pill at the time, in supporting a more direct role of the military into political life. It seems some of them, if they’re not reconsidering that choice, are realizing how costly it was.
In the run-up to the June 30 protests, readers will recall that this page was not entirely convinced by the Tamarod movement. Early on, I suggested that using the June 30 as the end date for a movement was not nearly as useful as using it as a start date: because there was very little hope that a transfer of power would take place without either undemocratic means or violence. Using the June 30 as a spring board for a movement that would then capitalize on the anti-Mursi momentum to grab seats in parliament later on in the year, on the other hand, was an entirely different proposition. As the June 30 protests drew closer, I did not see in it a movement that was revolutionary: it was reactionary, and far too many unsavory characters that seemed more interested in destroying a revolution (Jan. 25), rather than fulfill one.
Neither undemocratic nor unjustified
The June 30 protests did not have to lead to a military ouster of Mohammad Mursi – it could have just as easily led to a number of different outcomes.H.A. Hellyer
Nevertheless, the call for early presidential elections was neither undemocratic nor unjustified – indeed, considering the utter failure of the Mursi government to lead Egypt, it was an entirely reasonable position to take. Many of those who took it insisted that the military ought to have no role whatsoever, including those who had taken that position long before Tamarod, such as Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh (the former Muslim Brotherhood, leftist-leaning leader) and Amr Hamzawy (the liberal academic and political figure). For days and weeks before the protests, many of these groups and individuals signed up to a statement that rejected the return of not only Mubarak left-overs (felool), but also the military – they included the likes of the April 6 Youth Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists, the Strong Egypt Party and the Free Egypt Party (led by Aboul Fotouh and Hamzawy, respectively), as well as individuals such as political scientist Rabab el-Mahdi and former presidential contender Khaled Ali.
Many now argue that in hindsight, these figures were naïve, and that the June 30th protests would inevitably lead to what has happened in the last few months – including the security crackdown that has led to the worst examples of civilian causalities that modern Egypt has seen, according to numerous human rights organizations.
One can argue that these figures were naïve – but it is entirely misleading to insist that the events of the last four months were somehow unavoidable. It’s a similar argument, frankly, to the one that insists that the Jan. 25 revolution that began in 2011 was to inevitably lead to the Muslim Brotherhood taking power. The reality is, the only thing inevitable about the revolution of the Jan. 25 was that it happened – and one can thank Hosni Mubarak for being the impetus for the protests that led to that revolution. What came thereafter was neither inevitable, nor could it blamed upon Mubarak – it was a series of choices, and those who took them are responsible. The same ought to be said for the June 30 protests: the man most responsible for them taking place was Mohammed Mursi, and from that point on, there were a series of choices. Indeed, one could argue quite easily that if the June 30 protests were morally responsible for what followed on August 14, for example, with the violent dispersal of the pro-Mursi sit-ins that left hundreds of civilians dead at the hands of the state, then Mursi was morally responsible for creating the conditions for the June 30 protests with his policies of the previous year, including the disastrous extra-judicial decree of November 2012.
An alternative reality
The June 30 protests did not have to lead to a military ouster of Mohammed Mursi – it could have just as easily led to a number of different outcomes. Mursi could have called for early presidential elections, for example: how different Egypt might have turned out if that had happened. General Sisi could have implemented early presidential elections immediately, using the same coalition he put together on the July 3, rather than enforce any road-map, as another option. Alternatively, the army could have simply stayed out of it altogether, except to keep protest groups apart from each other (as their encounter would have undoubtedly led to a great loss of life). We will now never know what might have happened.
Where does that leave Egyptians now? It leaves them in much the same place that they’ve always been – with a choice. The choice is fairly simple: whether or not to call foul when those in power fail to live up to their responsibilities, and demand a better future - or to simply remain acquiescent when one’s own ‘team’ is the one that has failed the nation. Today, Egypt remains split between not two, but three groups: the first two insist that their ‘team’ is not only the right one, but has done little wrong. The last one, on the other hand, supports the right, regardless who actually does it, and rejects wrong, regardless who actually does it. As Egypt stands, yet again, at a crossroads, it seems that such a position is the only ethical one to take up.
Dr. H.A. Hellyer, non-resident fellow at the Brookings Institution and the Institute for Social Policy and Understanding, is a Cairo-based specialist on Arab affairs who previously held senior posts at Gallup and Warwick University. Follow him on Twitter at @hahellyer.