The revolutionary dials spin in Egypt – By Dr Harry Hagopian
After three short but dense years of hopes created, chiselled, mislaid, abused, dismissed, shattered or else retrieved, the blogosphere is replete today with words and images of the different forms of uprisings that shook Egypt ever since those heady days when the majority of the people rose up and forced Hosni Mubarak to relinquish power.
I am not Egyptian, but I was nonetheless one of the many millions worldwide who cheered the January 25 Revolution in Egypt. Given what had also occurred next door in Tunisia, I thought this was the start of a bottom-up awakening within much of the Arab world that could empower its men and women to become real citizens and exercise their basic rights. However, only one year later, I – like many other analysts and psephologists – endorsed the “counter-revolution” of June 30 when the military alongside a majority of Egyptians and their institutions got rid of an elected president.
Acclaiming both those events might admittedly seem contradictory, yet the presidency of Mohamed Morsi had become narrowly partisan in favour of the Muslim Brotherhood and so maladroit in its governance that there was genuine concern about the long-term consequences upon a country so young with its revolution had he been allowed to complete his full term.
Revolutions are perceptions driven by instincts, not exact sciences, and they can ricochet randomly – painfully – in different directions until the dust settles eventually.
After all, we must understand that revolutions are perceptions driven by instincts, not exact sciences, and they can ricochet randomly – painfully – in different directions until the dust settles eventually. We in Europe cannot ignore our own experiences with the French, British or American revolutions.
However, while supporting the disposal of a president in the haze of another popular effervescence, I also hoped – almost expected – that this would have been the moment to re-boot the revolution and refresh its imperatives of human and economic dignity by drawing all Egyptians back together. It has become increasingly clear, however, that the military establishment in Egypt is yet again using its considerable military as well as financial clout in the person of Field Marshal Abdel Fattah el-Sisi to claw back to power. And while most Egyptians, minus the Muslim Brotherhood, initially supported Sisi in re-prioritising law and order (read security) in the country, many of the younger and secular generations who remain intuitively and politically proactive realised that their fundamental freedoms in Egypt were being eroded again. Anybody who is not with “us” is now almost deemed to be against “us”.
Consider some facts that Human Rights Watch (HRW) underlined recently. Since assuming power on July 3, 2013, the military-backed government in Egypt has killed over 1,000 protesters and locked up more than 16,000 people, many solely on the basis of a peaceful exercise of their rights to free expression, association and peaceful assembly. Equally, the mass death sentences handed down by an Egyptian court to 529 alleged members of the Muslim Brotherhood on March 24 in a trial lacking even the most sparse elements of due process, is another example of a questionable climate of extreme political regression.
The military-backed government has broadened its net to include secular activists, dissident academics and journalists – whether in custody or else tried in absentia. Moreover, the government has provided no meaningful accountability for the killings of protesters or the excessive use of force by security forces.
In a recent analysis piece for NOW entitled “Field Marshal Pharaoh” that would certainly prove a helpful read for political and religious hierarchs alike, the Lebanese journalist Michael Young argued the pros and cons of the current phase in Egypt with his conclusion that, “Even the most hardened optimists must shake their heads at this, and wonder if their hopeful narrative can hold. Hope is not something that survives for long in the region.”
This zigzag from Mubarak to Morsi and now (possibly) to Sisi is not an answer. Waging war against one component of Egyptian society – no matter how ideologically entrenched they appear to others – is neither the solution to a peaceful Egypt nor the guarantee for its cohesive welfare. Irrespective of the viewpoints of some political and religious hierarchs, the success of Egypt – and its leadership role in the Arab world – depends largely upon the economy.
However, it does not take one long to realise that many of the key indicators do not augur well for Egypt. Sisi could well succeed if he turns the economy around, but he will surely fail if he does not – and I do not believe that the generous subsidies Egypt receives from the Gulf countries alone are sufficient to buoy up forever a stagnant economy. The signs do not bode well.
However, and much as the economy is one determining factor, it is equally true that the perceived world order of the last few decades has also changed dramatically. The variables of another new world order are being drawn up awkwardly by the US alongside the G7 economic powers and their global allies in a post-Iraq and Afghanistan scenario.
The predictable binaries and their erstwhile political philosophies no longer explain the new geo-political map, and this is one reason why the West is not intervening in Syria the way it did in, say, Libya, or why the US is eager to conclude a deal with Iran – as is Iran with the West despite Ayatollah Khamenei’s “domestic” statements. In fact, it is precisely this emerging new world order that Ukraine has also highlighted which urges the West to continue dealing with Egypt despite the excesses and abuses that think-tanks and human rights organisations write about regularly.
However, the final chapter has not yet been written about those uprisings: With the genie out of the MENA bottle and the people no longer mute, there is still hope for the future as the revolutionary dials continue to spin – wildly – in Egypt.
Dr Harry Hagopian is a London-based international lawyer, political adviser and ecumenical consultant on the MENA region. He is also a second-track negotiator and works closely with European institutions.