The spirit of Spring

A third force in Egypt returns to the questions raised in Tahrir Square

Published: November 12, 2013 4:35:37 am

A third force in Egypt returns to the questions raised in Tahrir Square.

In the same building where Hosni Mubarak was tried,the trial of Mohamed Morsi,Egypt’s first freely-elected president,began last Monday. Both sides of the current political struggle in Egypt,the interim authorities backed by the military and the Muslim Brotherhood,have tried to use the trial to their own advantage. The interim authorities,which bring together the military,the security forces and some secular parties,saw the trial as an opportunity to reassure their supporters about the political process launched after the removal of Morsi,and to insist that there is no room for negotiation with the Brotherhood. The Brotherhood sought to use the trial,and the first public appearance of Morsi since July 3,as a chance to mobilise their supporters against the interim authorities and the whole political process. The defiant attitude of Morsi and his claim to be the legitimate president assured his supporters that he is still resisting,and gives them hope as they continue their struggle to “restore legitimacy”.

The trial has also deepened the polarisation within Egyptian society,between those who support the interim authorities and those who support the Brotherhood. Ironically,this polarisation serves the interests of both. It allows the Brotherhood to keep its organisational cohesion under the pretext of being targeted by the state,and to avoid assessing the mistakes made during its last year in power. It also allows the interim authorities to legitimise their rule under the pretext of defending national security and to avoid debates about freedoms and rights.

Unable to position itself with either the Brotherhood or the interim authorities,a third force has being emerging recently — those who joined the demonstration against the rule of the Brotherhood on June 30 and supported the roadmap launched by the military on July 3,but are now disappointed by the strategy adopted by the military and the interim authorities. While the July 3 roadmap was first presented as a way to bring Egypt back to the democratic path after the Brotherhood’s manipulation of power,it has quickly turned into a means to battle the Brotherhood under the slogan of “Egypt fights terrorism”. Even the few democratic voices who supported the interim authorities but were also trying to defend a democratic path are now being marginalised.

One of the manifestations of this emerging third force is a new political coalition,Revolution Path Front,which brings together activists from different political backgrounds. In its founding statement,the front insisted on the demands of the January 25 revolution in democracy and social justice,and presented itself as an alternative to both sides of the current polarisation. This front reflects the attitudes of a larger section of the youth,which feels that the struggle is no longer over economic and political rights but over power,between state institutions and the Brotherhood. In many ways,it is the same old battle between the July 1952 regime and the Brotherhood,which started in 1953.

Since Mubarak stepped down in February 2011,both the Brotherhood and the state institutions have been trying to avoid answering the questions about political and economic rights that were brought up by the protesters in Tahrir Square,and have tried instead to maintain their old discourse. The Brotherhood focused on the debate over religious identity,claiming to represent Islam against the secular forces that seek to destroy it. Asking the question,“do you support Islam or its enemies?” guaranteed victory for the Brotherhood in both the parliamentary and the presidential elections,and allowed them to avoid the debate over the needed political and economic reforms. After June 30,the interim authorities used the same tactic,but changed the question to that of national security,asking: “do you support the military or the Muslim Brotherhood?” Doing so allowed the interim authorities to avoid tackling the economic and political issues,and to legitimise their battle against the Brotherhood.

While the state institutions and the Brotherhood continue to tussle over power,the few democratic voices within the government and the growing youth movement are still trying to bring Egypt back on a democratic path. They insist that the question is neither how to protect Islam nor national security,but how to translate the main slogan of January 25,2011 — “Bread,Freedom,Social justice” — into policies that could bring a better future for Egypt and the Egyptians. Even if these voices have little influence,given the present environment of polarisation,the coming referendum over the constitution,as well as the parliamentary and presidential elections,will offer an important platform to bring back political and economic issues to the public debate,and to push both society and the political actors to raise and think of answers to these questions.

Georges Fahmi

The writer is with the Arab forum for alternatives and the European University in Florence

express@expressindia.com

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