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Setting the records straight

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Sara Abou Bakr

Sara Abou Bakr

The year 2013 has not been kind to Egyptians or history books. Twisting facts has become the mantra highlighting this year in Egypt. Between the voices of Hosni Mubarak supporters getting louder and pro-Morsi team chanting “legitimacy”, accusations of 30 June protesters of being “army lovers” while others prodding Al-Sisi to run for presidency, the truth got lost. The shouts for bread, freedom and social justice—the demands of the 25 January 2011 revolution—were getting fainter. Since history is always written by the victorious and since the 25 January revolution has not triumphed yet, this is an attempt to set the records straight.

The beginning

Very few believed in 2011 that Mubarak will step down. The calls for protests were met by ridicule, criticism and, in the case of the Islamists, with outright fatwas deeming “rebelling against the ruler” as forbidden by Islam. When angry Egyptians discovered their power on 28 January 2011 and revelled in how fragile the regime’s was, the power players changed tactics; the Islamists decided to join the protests and touted “protecting the square” as their goal, many business men quickly changed stance to become “financiers of the pure young revolutionaries in the square”, while the Egyptian Armed Forces—headed at the time by Hussein Tatnawi—found the ideal way to get rid of Mubarak by responding to the masses on the streets.

The year 2011 was an eye opener for many; military brutality displayed in several incidents made people—in particular the younger generation—very wary of the institution that has always played and continues to play an important part in the political life. Young protesters paid their lives to bring on the parliamentary election in Mohamed Mahmoud and the cabinet clashes in November and December 2011. The Islamists—to appease the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF)—dubbed these young men and women as “thugs and whores who want to tarnish the democratic process”.  Yet, the Islamists gained the most in 2012 after the “thugs and whores” forced SCAF to relinquish a semblance of power in the form of dates set for parliamentary and presidential elections.

Since the Mubarak regime successfully emptied Egypt of any real opposition, save a few groups, it was a given that the Islamists will successfully win the majority of the parliament as well as the presidency. However, they were not able to do it alone, they needed the very young and angry Egyptians to support them; thus came the promises of “real reform”, “justice” and “renaissance” by the Brotherhood. Many writers, opposition groups, liberals and, surprisingly enough, leftists stood behind Morsi’s candidacy for the simple reason of stopping ex-Mubarak era Minister Ahmed Shafik from becoming president. Some of the young men who elected Morsi now lie dead by Morsi’s police and supporters, ushering in 2013.

 

Morsi’s rule

 The rule of Mohamed Morsi began to crumble by the beginning of 2013 due to three main reasons. First, his refusal to restructure and reform the ministry of interior; he left this institution as corrupt and vicious as his fellow ousted president Mubarak. Protesters were shot. Several activists were tortured, some of them to death, while arbitrary arrests continued. People were once again burying their children, with funerals yet again parading through Tahrir Square. The Morsi-appointed Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim still holds his position until this day after proving that he is as vicious as his predecessors.

Second, his dictatorial presidential decree further strengthened state power and immunised his decisions By January 2013, all pretense of true reform, promised by the Brotherhood and Morsi disappeared. Not even the two consecutive cabinet reshuffles, one in January and the other in May, convinced the weary Egyptians that the promises made during his presidential campaign of “renaissance”, “justice” and a “decent living” would be fulfilled, which led to the third reason for his ousting–lack of an economic vision.

The increasing economic burden coupled with a sense of estrangement caused by the Brotherhood’s elitist methods led to bottled anger. As one very angry man once told me, “It is like we are second-class citizens [if we do not belong to the Brotherhood]. They are appointed in all the important governmental positions and their businessmen are given all the privileges. We have replaced Mubarak with Morsi.”

Religion is always an important player in Egyptian politics. Under Morsi’s short reign, Wahabi sheiks were rampant with their hateful fatwas against non-Muslims, women and, at the very end, anyone who dared to criticise Morsi and his posy. While Egyptians do value religion, they grew tired of being manipulated by hypocritical sheiks; poor people make for bad disciples.

The situation for women did not fare any better under Morsi’s rule. The female representation in his cabinet was almost non-existent, even more laws were suggested by Islamists to prohibit women’s freedoms and a slew of strange fatwas regarding women spread in the country, falling on deaf governmental ears. On the street, sexual harassment was as rampant as usual and organised mobs targeting female protesters were common in almost every single demonstration. Egyptian women who paid a dear price in 2011 with their lives, limbs and children became a fading blip on the Islamist president’s monitor, which was a fatal mistake for they were the catalyst that brought him down.

To put it in perspective, Egyptians grew so tired of Morsi that in February they tried to blast him into space through enrolling him in AXE, a programme to send one civilian to space. Morsi, through voting, was in first place until the presidency contacted the Axe Company. Ingenious rebellion started long before Tamarod.

Tamarod Rebellion and 30 June

Tamarod first appeared in April 2013. It was a grassroots movement led by five unknown political activists that aimed at collecting 15 million signatures, verified by the signatories’ national IDs, to demand the removal of Morsi from power. The idea at first was ridiculed, particularly online and in the media. But on the street, the very poor and tired Egyptians welcomed it as one last ray of hope. As one Tamarod campaigner told me last June, “It’s the women who encourage the men on the street to sign. They would tell their husbands, ‘C’mon. Sign the paper. What else are we going to lose?’”

Women were a major player in the Tamarod campaign. Tired of burying their children and unable to make ends meet, they reached the end of their tether. Few will admit to that, except those who witnessed the interaction first-hand.

Conspiracy theorists and Brotherhood sympathisers accuse Tamarod of being the brainchild of a security apparatus—the intelligence—that wanted to bring Morsi down. Even if this theory is true, no one forced millions of Egyptians to willingly hand in their signatures and national ID numbers, demanding the ousting of a president who proved his failure.  Many doubted that “millions” actually signed the petition, but on 30 June, the number of people on the street were proof enough of the situation Egypt had reached; Morsi could no longer remain president.

Brotherhood sympathisers accuse the liberals of being behind Morsi’s failure. What they fail to see is that the people on the street mostly do not have political affiliation and that in Egypt, there are very few true liberals and they mostly stay away from political parties.

Morsi’s government had simply failed the test. Morsi ignored the mass protests for three days until 3 July when defence minister General Abdel Fattah Al-Sisi made the -historical declaration, with representatives from various political groups and parties (including the Salafi Al-Nour party) as well as the Church and Al-Azhar. Most notably, opposition leader, Mohamed ElBaradei attended to see Al-Sisi reclaim Egypt.

Brotherhood sympathisers like to label every protester on 30 June as an “army lover” who seeks military rule while the truth is that people were desperate enough to take to the streets not knowing if the army will side with them or not. People did not demand a military rule; many did not even think beyond getting rid of Morsi and the Brotherhood and had no contingency plan, except maybe immediate presidential elections.

The ouster aftermath

Morsi’s ouster stirred an international controversy on whether what happened was a military coup or not. Some academics even dubbed a new term for what happened, a “democratic coup”. Meanwhile, Egyptians in the streets were not very concerned with the terminology as they celebrated the end of the Brotherhood reign.

What was interesting was watching the international coverage of what was happening in Egypt. At times it felt very surreal, reading on the pain and suffering of Egyptians lamenting the end of democracy, while we were reporting on jubilation on the streets. Some TV channels even showed massive anti-Morsi protests in Tahrir as of his sympathisers. The international media’s reporting of that first week in July, except for a few outlets, was biased at best. There were people angry with Morsi’s ouster and Islamist sympathisers who felt they were cheated out of the promised four years. There were those worried about the ballots cast that resulted in Morsi’s legitimacy and the media, could have covered them, instead of reporting false information. Parachute reporting is and has been the plague of the Middle East.

A cabinet was formed and appointed by the Armed Forces, garnering much criticism from young people because it lacked “youthful representation” with the prime minister well over 70 years old. This cabinet would soon prove its own lack of vision.

Following Morsi’s ouster, many Christians lived in fear, with their churches continuously attacked by angry Islamists. By August, over 45 churches have been attacks. In Upper Egypt, particularly in Minya, shops belonging to Copts were marked with a black “X”. The Coptic community was targeted and the security apparatus could barely help them. It was up to their neighbouring Muslims to protect them.

Yet, the Church made a historic statement, denouncing any foreign intervention on behalf of the Coptic community. Christians were frightened for their lives, but refused to be used as pawns for political gain. This was unlike their Brotherhood sympathisers, who called for foreign intervention during their Rabaa sit-in.

Rabaa sit-in

Formed following the removal of Morsi from power, the Rabaa sit-in became the hub for Brotherhood sympathisers. At first, it mainly called for the reinstatement of Morsi, which later changed to demanding the “return of legitimacy”. The sit-in caused a lot of problems for neighbouring Nasr City residents, especially for women who did not cover their hair, as well as problems with sanitation.

It would only be fair to point out that among the several thousand protesters, there were those who truly believed in their cause. Unlike how the Egyptian media has vilified all those who belong to the Brotherhood or sympathise with the group, there were people who truly believed in Morsi’s legitimacy. It is also important to point out that there were armed protesters in the sit-in who appeared at the dispersal in August.

On 14 August, the cabinet decided to forcefully dismantle the sit-in, following several complaints against it and news of armed protesters. This resulted in over 600 deaths of the sit-in participants and 51 officers. The dispersal was bloody and it could have been handled in a better way, but was expected due to the Ministry of Interior’s lack of training, as well as its history of brutality. One should note that the current Minister of Interior Mohamed Ibrahim was also in charge.

As for people on the street on that day, they were too busy protecting their families from armed Islamists, fighting back the police, to care for what had just happened.

Al-Sisi in the media

Most of the media outlets in Egypt lack professional coverage. Following the ouster of Morsi, a hysterical “nationalistic” streak coloured almost every programme on TV and article, replicating the Nasserite era. Anyone who dared criticise the military in particular was deemed a traitor who did not care for Egypt. Many were silenced through editorial policy or through self censorship, but some remained the beacon for truthful, unbiased coverage.

Among the altered media came the personification of what transpired on 30 June in Al-Sisi. Media did its best to make the people forget about their role in ousting the promise of a new dictator, and thus only Al-Sisi remained “the hero”. To be objective, the man shied away from media attention, giving only a couple of interviews to papers rather than TV channels.

Yet, media outlets kept harping on how he was “the man for the current phase” and how “only Al-Sisi can save Egypt from chaos”. It was like Egyptians were being prepared for a soft military take-over.  TV talk shows did not explain to people that 3 July statement was not simply Al-Sisi’s, but that there were hundreds of people inside the military behind this step.  Egyptians are used to the concept of a political saviour and Al-Sisi was comfortably familiar.

If he decides to run in the coming presidential elections, he will no doubt win the much-coveted seat. I, for one, hope he is smarter than this.

Vilification

Part of the vilification process, currently ongoing in the country, is one that targets both the Islamists and the activists. The Islamists are currently despised by the majority of Egyptians and rightfully so. They have failed the people when they took over the country. Yet, they are turned into monsters by the state and the media.

There is, however, still a section in our society that vows loyalty to the Brotherhood; one cannot simply uproot them. Time has proven that ideas should be fought with ideas, not with arrests and weapons.

The media makes people believe that if all Islamists are not arrested, they will bring Egypt down. No sane person would go against the arrest of armed individuals, but vilification is not the key. During Morsi’s year in power, it became evident that the best way to resist the Islamists’ intervention in society is to expose their ideas rather than to make martyrs out of them.

The young peaceful Islamists need a guiding hand through moderate sheikhs to correct their radical way of thinking. Prison will not help them.  Killing their colleagues in protests will not change their minds,  but debates and discussions are the only way to “kill” ideas.

The word “activist” right now is becoming taboo as well, with media outlets accusing many of taking money from “foreign countries to ruin the state”. The same activists who were dubbed the “pure revolutionaries” are now turned into conniving devils through directed media. Political activism is becoming offensive to many. Coupled with fatigue from demonstrations, these new taboos have repelled many and people are ready to believe anything for a more stable existence.

Same Mistakes

The current cabinet backed by the military is committing the same mistakes of the Mubarak and Morsi’s regimes. The Ministry of Interior remains intact without any real reform with its “strong-man” Ibrahim at the head of it all. Misuse of power is reported on almost daily basis, now backed by a Protest Law passed by the cabinet and the interim president. Yet, the law only  fuels the anger of young people who paid a high price during 25 January revolution to gain the “right to assembly” at any given time. The media propogates the Protest Law as a way to fight the Brotherhood demonstrations, but savvy young people know that once the Brotherhood are completely depleted of power, the state will turn on them. And it already started with false charges against three well-known activists who got sentenced three years in jail under this law.

Even if people were willing to believe the lies concerning the Protest Law, the current situation in the country—with daily demonstrations that are forcibly dispersed—is proof enough that it is not working. The bombings have spread across the country and people live in fear. Neither the Protest Law nor declaring the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation has provided the instant solution to “security”.

The cabinet, which was mainly chosen for its economic and financial expertise, has followed the footsteps of Morsi’s cabinet and has failed to produce an economic plan that gives “hope” to the Egyptian people of a better life. Rather, its floundering decisions is repelling businessmen willing to invest in a turbulent Egypt.

Corruption, the main reason for the crumbling Mubarak regime, is kept intact in the form of municipalities. They are left as is. Municipalities in Egypt are responsible for the daily lives of Egyptians. During the Mubarak era, corrupt employees led them and in three years, this has not changed.

Egyptians should be able to elect their neighbourhood heads, governors as well as other officials, rather than being left under the mercy of an inefficient cabinet.

Unless real reform is undertaken, this cabinet will be brought down by the angry, poor Egyptians who cannot survive the worsening conditions anymore.

The future

Despite our ancient history, Egypt is new to democracy as it was never ruled by anything but a dictator, and the revolution is a process, not a onetime event.

In a study by the European Union, it predicted that within 30 years 54% of the population will be under 30 years old. This generation is the hope for change in Egypt. The young will not allow the country to be ruled by tyranny, be it under a religious or a military guise. The knowledge now available online and through travel and the “hope” for a brighter future are the main reasons for why Egypt will change.

If not now, it will change within the next three decades, and positively, just by the sheer numbers of young adults.

By 2045, those who were in the front line of clashes against tyranny in 2011 will be in their fifties. One can only imagine what my generation, in 30 years, with a much younger and more vibrant one at its side, can do.

It is a combination for change.

Check Daily News Egypt’s review of the year

About the author

Sara Abou Bakr

Politics editor at Daily News Egypt Twitter: @sara_ab5


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