By Nicholas Gjorvad
Early last May, Tamarod was merely a small, upstart group created by a handful of rather unknown youth activists. Two months later, the campaign was known throughout Egypt, the Middle East, and the world. The original goal of this campaign was simple: force Mohamed Morsi to resign as President of Egypt. The leaders of the group stressed that they supported the aspirations of Egyptians in their quest for ‘bread, freedom, and social justice’ while appealing to Egyptians who were already deeply frustrated of the political, economic, and social situation after only a year of Mohamed Morsi.
Tamarod’s strength came from its appeal to various segments of Egyptian society. For Egyptians, there were several reasons to protest the rule of Mohamed Morsi on 30 June. The economy was worsening with inflation rising and unemployment, especially among youth, were at disturbingly high numbers. The cabinet and other positions of power were largely held by Brotherhood members or those sympathetic to the group. Moreover, numerous political dissidents felt threatened by the Brotherhood’s strong-handed political tactics. Of course, several groups held a deep distrust of the Brotherhood from the beginning and needed little reason to contest its rule. It was through these various feelings that Tamarod captured the nation’s attention and the support of enormous masses of Egyptians.
After the realisation of its original goal to force Morsi from the presidency, it has been interesting to see the expansion of Tamarod’s political objectives. The campaign has swiftly evolved with the quickly changing political situation in Egypt. After the ouster of Morsi, the group has been a steadfast supporter of the new transitional government and constitution writing processes. Most notably, there have been rumblings that it will create a political party in the near future in order to help Egyptians obtain ‘bread, freedom, and social justice.’ Clearly, the group’s leaders see Tamarod’s continued existence as an essential component of Egypt’s democratic transition as protectors of the spirit of 30 June. A political party, it seems, is their way to protect the progress they believe they contributed to Egypt.
Many interesting questions surround the evolution of the Tamarod campaign toward a more concentrated political entity. One issue is whether a movement that was originally based on a rather broad objective can spawn a full-fledged political party. Keep in mind that many political parties emphasise that they work towards the aforementioned ‘bread, freedom, and social justice.’ However, the fact that they are numerous political parties all touting this slogan demonstrates that simple slogans alone cannot serve as comprehensive political platforms that unite scores of people. While the hope of obtaining ‘bread, freedom, and social justice’ is clear-cut, the realisation of this goal takes tangible economic, political, and social policies. It is unclear if Tamarod members have clearly articulated plans regarding the attainment of these goals.
This brings us to yet another issue, this one concerning how to preserve the coherence of a youth movement evolving into a political party. Often times it is easy to rally several groups around what you oppose, but much harder to unite around what you support. A movement which was formed on a rather straightforward objective may have difficulty finding enough common ground amongst members to form a political party. In fact, Tamarod has already seen the defection of some of its members over differences on the group’s future. This is not to say that a campaign such as Tamarod cannot transform into a political party, but that not all members have this singular goal in mind further complicates the matter.
A final question is how existing political parties will respond to the new political aspirations of the Tamarod Campaign. Tamarod leaders may think that it has a wide support base due to its ability to organise large protests this summer, and clearly its name still conjures pride amongst those who oppose Mohamed Morsi. While plenty of the political parties participating in the current transitional process wholeheartedly supported the Tamarod Campaign this summer, it is unclear if members from other parties would ultimately join a Tamarod political party. It is important to remember that the numerous political parties opposed to Morsi probably joined Tamarod for the singular goal of ousting Morsi and not to support a larger political project outside their own. This makes it difficult to gauge the amount of support which may be given to a Tamarod political party from those who joined its protests.
Many of these questions are not new for political movements in Egypt looking to form a political party. After the ouster of Hosni Mubarak, the 6 April Movement has seen splits stemming from differing visions of its role in Egyptian political life. In some ways, the issues surrounding Tamarod’s venture into a political party were confronted by the 6 April Movement before it. Tamarod’s leadership may find valuable clues as to how to proceed in the future in order to avoid the many struggles found in the 6 April camp.
While Tamarod has demonstrated a strong ability to organise massive protests, the venture into building a political party based off its past success appears to be more difficult. The core idea of Tamarod certainly finds support amongst Egyptians, but a political party requires more than simple objectives. Logistical, ideological, and strategic demands now confront the Tamarod Campaign and its prospective entry into party politics. How Tamarod leaders deal with these new demands will go a long way in determining the future of an evolving movement.
Nicholas Gjorvad is a political researcher. He holds Masters degrees in both Philosophy and Islamic and Middle Eastern Studies from the University of Edinburgh.