In the previous part of this article, we outlined a critique of the formal democratic paradigm that not only underpinned the international responses to Egypt’s revolution from its very inception, but also largely formed the backbone to president Mohamed Morsi’s claimed legitimacy.
Mohamed Morsi lost all legitimacy
Given the deep political, social and economic grievances in Egypt as well as problems within this paradigm itself, it is not surprising that many Egyptians have argued that president Mohamed Morsi has lost all legitimacy. It is hence also understandable that many Egyptians are angered by the Western media coverage, which largely holds onto this formal democratic and simplistically depicts the current events as the ousting of a democratic and legitimate president by a military coup.
However, we should be careful to note that this critique of the formal democratic paradigm does not imply a straightforward fiat for military intervention. In order to transcend the conceptual dichotomy between “revolutionary coup” and “democratic legitimacy”, one should carefully analyse the motivations and positions of the different factions involved in the process. One should particularly note the silent alliance between the MB and army, and how this has been interrupted by the Tamarrod campaign and the recent street protests.
Since January 2011, the simple discursive contradistinction between “the people” and the “dictator” has been complicated by the fragmentation and crystallization of different revolutionary and counter-revolutionary actors. The popular uprising of 25 January disorganised the ruling bloc, but it did not overthrow it. The military intervention of the SCAF that forced Mubarak to resign and brought forth a “transitional” regime represented itself as the realization of popular power, while, in reality, it merely replaced popular mobilization from below by its own top-down rearrangement of elite forces. Gamal Mubarak and his cronies were kicked out the ruling coalition and the patrimonial networks of the NDP and the power of the Interior Ministry were weakened in relation to the Armed Forces.
From the March 2011 referendum onwards, the SCAF found a strong but unruly ally in the Brotherhood and the Salafist movement to impose its formal democratic roadmap on the revolution. The torture and intimidation of political activists, especially women, the failure to democratise authoritarian institutions such as the Ministry of Interior and the army itself, the inability to secure economic prosperity and social justice, stimulated new protests against the military-engineered transition. The Brotherhood, for its part, tried to capitalise on the increased discontent with SCAF rule to strengthen its own position vis-à-vis the generals and the other remnants of the old regime.
Mohamed Morsi promoted ‘Likable’ Military officers
While the Brotherhood was unable and unwilling to confront these institutions of power, it could negotiate a compromise in which the old guard of the SCAF retired, Thus, Hussein Tantawi (the Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces the Minister of Defense under Mubarak since 1991) and Sami Anan (Chief of Staff since 2005) were pushed to the sidelines of the political game in return for immunity from prosecution. This spectacle was engineered with a great deal of fanfare, which boosted Mohamed Morsi’s image as a pro-revolutionary civilian president who “sent the army back to the barracks”, thereby completing one of the goals of the revolution. Mohamed Morsi also promoted more ‘likeable’ military officers such as Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi – who was regarded as a Brotherhood sympathiser – to the position of Defense Minister and Chief of Staff of the Armed forces.
However, as Gilbert Achcar points out in his new book The People Want,[i] the “revolutionary nature” of these retirements and appointments was grossly overstated both within and beyond the Brotherhood. For, Tantawi and Annan had long passed their retirement age and were severely disliked within the military forces anyway. Furthermore, Al Sisi was not as pro-revolutionary as generally claimed: in June 2011, he even publicly justified the virginity tests on 17 female demonstrators[ii]. In fact, Sisi was forced to retract his statement by SCAF itself, as they were such an embarrassment to them in light of international condemnation.
Nevertheless, there was an emerging temporary division of labour between Mohamed Morsi, the Brotherhood and the generals, whereby the Brotherhood safeguarded the economic and political interests of the military apparatus, in exchange for the right to govern. The December 2012 constitution articulated this compromise, as it continued to shield the military’s budget from parliamentary control. Ironically, for the Brotherhood rank-and-file, as well as the revolutionary opposition, this alliance with the military remained a closed book.
Battle Between Mohamed Morsi Supporters And Others
Instead, Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood increasingly depicted itself as engaged in a ‘revolutionary’ battle to cleanse the feloulist elements both within state institutions as well as within revolutionary forces, thereby constructing a revolutionary legitimacy of their own. Yet, one could say that this ‘revolutionary’ battle was compromised when they grew increasingly sympathetic to corrupt businessmen affiliated to the previous regime. Even feloulist capitalists such as Hussein Salem, who was slapped with a 15 year jail sentence in absentia for illegally acquiring public property and was responsible for the illegal gas deals with Israel, was offered a reconciliatory deal. And more generally, businessmen closely associated to the NDP were asked to return to Egypt in order to improve Egypt’s business climate.
The rise of Tamarrod and the inability of the Ikhwan to contain the movement, alienated the generals from their erstwhile partners. As the Brothers proved incapable of securing political and economic stability, the military apparatus opened negotiations with Tamarrod and the political opposition parties, especially the National Salvation Front. As such, the stand-off between the Armed Forces and the Brotherhood was expressed by a split in the revolutionary movement itself. In the eyes of the anti-Mohamed Morsi protesters, the Brotherhood had hijacked and betrayed the revolution.
The army was conceived of as an instrument of popular power to get rid of the Ikhwan and revive the revolutionary process. In the eyes of the Mohamed Morsi’s supporters, Tamarrod paved the way for the return of the military and the feloul to power – thus it constituted a counter-revolutionary force. The fight between the Brotherhood leadership and the generals over state power was articulated within the revolutionary movement, splitting it along sectarian lines, with protesters in each camp genuinely believing they represented the revolution.
The Revolution Continued Against Mohamed Morsi
Even though Tamarrod underestimated the impact of the military intervention on the political relations of force against Mohamed Morsi, it would be wrong to consider the whole process as merely a top-down coup. The magnificent movement represented a new high point in the revolutionary process that started since 2011, re-politicising broad layers of the populace, and re-constituting grassroots instruments of popular power. Despite the presence of feloul and opportunist political figures in the ranks of the campaign against Mohamed Morsi, its spontaneous mobilisation and organisation represented the revolutionary aspirations that once had driven the 25 January uprising.
The military was forced to intervene because of this mass uprising and could only control it by seemingly allying itself with the movement. Conversely, although