Monday, July 1, 2013

Military Plans Return to Power on Egypt's Date with Destiny

June 30th, 2013, marks a historic date in Egypt for many reasons.  It is the culmination of months of organizing by the Tamarod "rebel" campaign which aims to unseat the Muslim Brotherhood from power and organize another round of democratic elections in Egypt.  Tamarod collected 22 million signatures for its petition campaign to remove Morsi from power.  The signatures and the protests represented a cross-section of Egyptian society, including members of various social and economic classes and also both Muslims and Christians.

On June 30, 2013, massive crowds of demonstrators flooded Tahrir Square in Cairo to demand immediate regime change.  The BBC and the Interior Ministry both reported the crowd size at 17 million, an extraordinarily high number which represents nearly one fourth of Egypt's 83 million people.  Feeling cornered and blind-sided by the scale of the protests against him, Morsi suddenly announced his willingness for "dialogue".  The Morsi regime is revealing its desperation and weakness by making a last-minute offer to engage in "dialogue."

Unfortunately, the military is already planning to return to power with the consent of the Tamarod movement.  On Monday, the Armed Forces announced that it will intervene in Egyptian politics if the conflict between the various political parties is not resolved within 48 hours.  Thus, the military has already declared that it will return to power by Wednesday in the event the political stand-off continues.  Many opposition leaders praised the military's decision to intervene in Egyptian politics.  Tamarod campaign spokesperson Mai Wahba described the army approvingly as "the pole that's keeping the tent up." Free Egyptians Party spokesperson Shaheb Wageeh called the statement "reassuring."  Al Dostour Party member Ahmed al Hawary believed the statement indicated the armed forces are intervening on the side of the people.

The Tamarod spokesperson Mahmoud Badr said,"The army responding to the demands of the people crowns our movement."  The crowd at Tahrir Square already erupted in celebration at the news that the military is returning to power.  Thus, the goal of the Tamarod movement is not to restore democracy but to remove the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) through a military coup.  The goal of removing the MB is laudable, but the methodology chosen is highly flawed and likely to be fatal to the cause of Egyptian democracy.  By inviting the military back to power, the opposition has already aborted the democratic process.  The opposition may also have unwittingly paved the way for a long-term military rule which could last for several years and involve even more brutal human rights abuses than the last bout of military rule from February, 2011, to June, 2012.   Egypt is in store for the military to expand its policy of subjecting political dissident civilians like Maikel Nabil to military tribunals.  So the number of civilians subjected to military tribunals may  be even more than 12,000 this time around.  

In a related worrying development, the Military Academy is beginning to admit students from MB families, including Morsi's nephew.  This process will further cement the MB's control over the military which was greatly strengthened by Morsi's decision to fire the top generals from the Mubarak era in August, 2012.  In addition, the new policy in a sense crowns a successful long-term strategy by the MB to infiltrate the military at all levels over many decades.  

Returning the military to power means that exiled political democratic dissidents such as Maikel Nabil and his followers cannot return home to resume their participation in the political process in Egypt.  Atheists such as Mr. Nabil, Kareem Amer, and Alber Saber will have to remain in exile for their own safety along with feminist activists such as Sahar Mahar El Issawi.  Women will face the risk of additional sexual assaults and "virginity checks" which attempt to suppress and intimidate female political activists.

In addition, moderate Muslims will be forced to remain silent for fear of being targeted by the military which is increasingly aligned with the MB.  And the Coptic Christian minority will remain in danger of ongoing massacres, suppression and religious persecution. Omar, a Muslim shopkeeper quoted by Deroy Murdock in Egypt on the Brink, an opinion article in the New York Post on June 29, 2013, page 17, dreams of Muslim-Christian coexistence.  He asks,"What about our Christian brothers and friends? They have the right to live in this country.  Christians and Muslims are woven together, here, like this piece of fabric, (tugging at his shirt).  They are Egyptian citizens."  Sadly, the military's return to power will abort such dreams of Muslim-Christian coexistence based on respect for the rights of the Coptic Christian minority.

The underlying cause of the protests remains economic discontent.  The economic situation in Egypt is catastrophic with a 25% unemployment rate.  Murdock noted that foreign exchange reserves fell by more than 50% from $36 billion in December 2010 to $16 billion in May 2013. The Egyptian pound fell in buying power by 27% from 5.5 to the USD when Mubarak fell to 7 today.

Muhammad, who works in the tourism industry, is now underemployed.  His employment has fallen from 4 days a week to 4 days a  month.  He added,"My best year was 2010.  I was saving money to buy a house.  Now I have lost one third of my savings.  My dreams have been crushed."  Muhammad's economic situation has grown so desperate that he would welcome the return of the Mubarak regime.  The opposition will not last long in power if it does not address the concrete economic concerns of ordinary Egyptians like Muhammad.

Any  new government which fails to deal with the economy is bound to lose power rapidly.  Hazem el Beblawy, a former Finance Minister and Deputy Prime Minister under the military regime, says that economic subsidies for the poor represent 25% of the budget directly and contribute to borrowing costs that cost another 25% of the budget.  Thus, the direct and indirect cost of subsidies is 50% of the budget.  Such levels of subsidies are clearly unsustainable in the long term.

However, no regime had the moral and popular legitimacy to take the difficult decision to reduce the subsidies.  Part of the problem is no regime has ever placed a meaningful priority on economic development that would benefit.all classes of society rather than a small class of well-connected, wealthy businessmen.  The Sadat regime reduced subsidies on "luxury" goods including butane gas, granulated sugar, beer, fine flour and macaroni.  The public rapidly rioted against the cuts in subsidies, resulting in 80 deaths and 800 injuries (Harry Ades, A Traveler's History of Egypt, 2007, pp. 352-353).  The regime had to call in the army to restore order for the first time since 1952, and the Sadat regime rapidly cancelled the subsidy cuts.  Since then, all subsequent regimes have been afraid to end the subsidies for fear of triggering public riots.

In addition, the systematic sexual assaults on female protestors during the recent demonstrations are highly worrying.  The I Saw Harassment initiative reported 51 sexual assaults between Friday and Sunday.  Operation anti-Sexual Harassment, reported 46 sexual assaults on Sunday at Tahrir Square alone.  The Free Egyptians Party warned against 'terrorizing' women.  Thus, the MB is unleashing a systematic campaign of sexual assaults to suppress female participation in the anti-regime demonstrations, a pattern that can only be expected to continue under the return of military rule.  The number of sexual assaults against female protestors over the weekend is more than double the number of the 24 cases reported during the protests on  January 25, 2013, which marked the second anniversary of the movement that ultimately overthrew the Mubarak regime. In addition, the vast majority of sexual assaults undoubtedly go unreported in a country which tends to blame the female victim for rape and in which the police are likely to further assault and terrorize victims of rape and sexual assault.

We should also remember the people who gave their lives in these protests.  16 people were killed, including  nine at the Muslim Brotherhood headquarters, 3 in Assiyut, and one each in Beni Suef, Fayoum, Alexandria, and Kafr al Sheikh.  The three demonstrators killed in Assiyut were Mohamed Nassef Shaker, Abanob Adel, and Mohamed Abdel Hamid.   Salah Eddin Hassan, a journalist in Port Said, was killed last week in a bomb blast while covering anti-regime protests.  He leaves behind a wife, Rasha Fahmy, and two small sons, Mohamed, 4, and Omar, 3.  His widow said,"“I hold Morsy responsible for the death of my husband. He and his group are responsible for his death. I feel pain when my two sons, Mohamed, 4, and Omar, 3, ask me where their father is.”  His bereaved mother, Ayda Mohamed Sobh, added,"He is my only son through whose eyes I see everything."  If the military returns to power, then the struggle to remove Morsi and the deaths of these protestors and this journalist will have been in vain. 

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