The Complex Situation of Egypt

Farooq Sulehria is a London-based researcher in media studies. He has written for many publications and periodicals in Pakistan, Sweden and elsewhere. he can be contacted at mfsulehria[at]hotmail.com.

Farooq Sulehria

In less than 30 months, Egyptians have forced two presidents out of office. While the first Egyptian revolution – in 2011 – took about three weeks to humble the modern-day pharaoh, the second revolution accomplished it in four days.

However, there are discrepancies between the two revolutions. In the first case, Hosni Mubarak – a military-backed dictator – was forced to pave the way for democracy. In the second case, Mohamed Morsi – a popularly elected president – was removed through a coup. In this way, the second revolution is simultaneously a victory for counter-revolution as well. In the first case, the Muslim Brotherhood was an essential part of the Arab spring. This time, the Muslim Brotherhood has been the target of the Tamarud (rebellion). Therefore, lazy analysts, conspiracy theorists, cynics of all hues, and ill-informed media pundits better pay more attention before passing fatwas on the Arab spring.

The second Egyptian revolution belies the initial ‘Facebook explanations’ as well as the later cynical observations that the Arab spring has turned into an Arab winter. Informed Arab commentators have been pointing out the ‘permanence’ of the Arab spring, a permanence likely to last perhaps for a couple of decades.

Tahrir Square/8 February 2011 (image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/89031137@N00)

While it is true that democracy is highly regarded in the Arab region and various surveys testify to this claim, the underlying cause sustaining the Arab spring is socio-economic crisis. In a way, the Arab spring is part of the worldwide Tamarud against the neoliberal coup d’etat carried out by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). We saw expressions of this Tamarud recently in Bulgaria (hardly mentioned), Turkey and Brazil while Greece, Spain and Portugal can be described as chronic cases.

Second, the June 30 Egyptian uprising shows yet again that a neoliberal economic tyranny will be resisted even when ‘Islamists’ impose it. The Brotherhood in Egypt and the Ennahda in Tunis were trying to imitate Turkey’s AKP, albeit with different economic realities. In all three cases (Egypt, Tunis, Turkey), neoliberalism couched in social conservatism has been promoted in a bid to please the IMF and the rising devout bourgeoisie in these countries.

The case of the Muslim Brotherhood also shows that running charity networks while in opposition is one thing, but forging economic policies at the helm of a state is a different ball game altogether. Among other factors, the Brotherhood’s appeal, under the Mubarak dictatorship, in poor neighbourhoods was in large part due to the huge charity networks it runs. In a country where a majority of the people live below the poverty line, even a poor act of charity is appreciated. However, citizens have different expectations from an elected government. The government is expected to raise the living standards.

President Morsi’s phenomenal unpopularity in less than one year mirrors the bankruptcy of the fundamentalist alternative in Muslim countries lacking black gold. Reportedly, 17 million people took to the streets from June 30 to July 4. Certain commentators say this Tamarud is the biggest mobilisation in human history. In any case, 17 million constitutes roughly half the adult population in Egypt. Such is the scale of anti-Morsi outrage.

Third, it is indeed ironic to see conspiracy theorists and anti-Americans changing roles. When the fundamentalists scored electoral victory post-Arab spring, our liberals smelt a rat. This time, our anti-Americans are spinning conspiracy theories. In both cases, the conspiracy was hatched by Uncle Sam. Incidentally, in the case of President Morsi, both anti-Americans and Uncle Sam are mourning the ‘murder of democracy’ in unison.

While Obama has urged a return to parliamentary practices, The New York Times laments: Morsi’s “removal through mass protests and military intervention would set a terrible precedent. Egyptians would be encouraged to take to the streets and ask the generals to intervene whenever a president became unpopular…the people need patience and faith that leaders can be voted out…If the millions in the streets want the Brotherhood out of power, they must learn to organise and campaign effectively, and vote them out.”

Progressives have long been pointing out that the apparent ‘clash of civilisations’ will begin to get resolved the day a mass movement with radical demands threatens the status quo in the Arab/Muslim world. There is also no fundamental clash between the fundamentalists and Washington.

The clash is between Uncle Sam and a few estranged Al-Qaeda/Taliban-types who refuse to comply. However, all believe in capitalism in its neoliberal form.

Finally, it is important to appreciate the complexity of Egyptian situation. Ascribing heroic fights in the Arab world to conspiracies is to deny agency to the Arab people. While the July 4 coup deserves no support and has split even Egypt in the middle, the Egyptian struggle against neoliberal tyranny and bearded conservatism deserves full solidarity.

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