Egypt’s Tamarod movement succeeded in its attempt to pressure the Egyptian military to expel former President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government from office. Now the question is whether Tamarod and the other elements of the former opposition can avoid the kind of fragmentation and divisive infighting that played a significant role in catapulting the Muslim Brotherhood to power in the first place. There are many challenges to overcome, not the least of which is that the military ultimately holds the keys to power — something the Muslim Brotherhood learned the hard way July 3. Going forward, it will be difficult for the disparate blend of liberal, secular and Islamist parties united in their shared desire to see Morsi deposed to maintain their cohesion.
The Tamarod movement declared its existence and demands on May 1, and a little more than two months later it had gathered enough momentum to play a critical role in Egypt’s military coup. The military essentially fulfilled all of Tamarod’s demands — besides removing Morsi from office, the Islamist-dominated Shura Council has been dissolved, the constitution has been suspended and the head of the Supreme Court, Adly Mansour, has been installed as Egypt’s interim president.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Shortcomings
Tamarod’s meteoric rise was enabled in part by the failures of the Morsi government, and in part by structural problems that will plague Morsi’s successor as much as they troubled the previous government. The Morsi government was never able to secure the loyalty of the country’s police and Central Security Forces. In March, police and security officials held widespread strikes and sit-ins to demand better work conditions and benefits, more and higher-quality weapons and the resignation of then-Interior Minister Mansour el-Essawy. Because of these strikes, the military was called on at times to act in the police’s stead, a fact that severely undermined the government’s credibility in the eyes of the military. Morsi’s inability to establish independent command of police and security forces away from the military, combined with deteriorating economic conditions and an inability to manage the country with direct military involvement, made the Muslim Brotherhood an increasingly unpopular choice for the military to rule through.
The Muslim Brotherhood also never developed a working relationship with the Egyptian judiciary, much less asserted any kind of control over it. Many of the judges were appointed by former President Hosni Mubarak and remained loyal to entrenched interests and the military. The courts halted progress toward completing the constitution and holding new elections at every step. When Morsi tried to institute a younger mandatory retirement age, many of the judges saw it as a way to force them out of the system. And when Morsi overstepped his bounds Nov. 22 by trying to declare his actions beyond judicial review, he united the judiciary’s anger with the frustration of much of the rest of Egypt’s political landscape. Tamarod may have revealed itself to the world in May, but Morsi’s actions helped galvanize much of the overall anger that eventually toppled him. Morsi’s attempts to navigate around the limitations imposed upon him by the military and judiciary ultimately led to the sentiment that he was trying to seize power for the Muslim Brotherhood, and it was this sentiment that Tamarod was able to give voice to and ultimately upon which it capitalized.
Tamarod and Other Opposition Groups
Tamarod was not designed as a political party; on June 28 it announced the formation of its own political front (the June 30 movement), but for all intents and purposes, it has fulfilled its mission. The movement’s stated desires have come to fruition, and if it wants to remain politically relevant Tamarod now will have to transform from a critical external voice to a bona fide functional political entity. However, it will be challenging to maintain its popular momentum during such a change, and it is not even clear that the movement’s leaders desire a political future. One of the pivotal moments of the last few days in Egypt was when the supposed young leaders of Tamarod — themselves former members of an opposition group known as Kefaya that was founded in 2004 to advocate political reform in the Mubarak system — authorized Constitution Party President and National Salvation Front coordinator Mohamed ElBaradei to speak for them in negotiations with the military. At the time, the move demonstrated that the opposition was determined to maintain its cohesion and be disciplined in pursuit of its stated goals. But in the coup’s aftermath, it also indicates that Tamarod has no real program or ideology of its own.
It is important to remember that the National Salvation Front that ElBaradei coordinates is itself an umbrella of 35 distinct political parties and other groups. ElBaradei’s star is ascendant right now in part because of the widespread popular dissatisfaction with Morsi’s regime, and some believe that ElBaradei’s ties to the West, where he is generally respected because of his tenure as director general of the International Atomic Energy Agency from 1997 to 2009, will enable him to secure greater foreign investment and perhaps close a deal with the International Monetary Fund on a $4.8 billion loan. But ElBaradei will struggle to keep his support unified as Egypt moves from the excitement of its “revolution” to the mundane tasks of holding new elections and redesigning the political system. That phase will be marked by political jockeying among disparate groups, from the National Salvation Front’s 35 member groups to Salafist parties, such as al-Nour, that soured on Morsi’s rule toward the end. And although the Muslim Brotherhood for now is maintaining a defiant tone, it is likely to try reassimilating into the political process. It has suffered a setback, but it would be a mistake to underestimate the potential efficacy of the group in the opposition.
But such speculation about the upcoming political jockeying is in some ways premature and also misses the more salient reality. Little is known about interim President Adly Mansour, but it is known that he was appointed to the court by Mubarak and that he was instrumental in blocking the passage of a political isolation law that would have prevented old regime officials such as Ahmed Shafiq from running for president against Morsi in 2012. The military has granted him unilateral authority to determine interim constitutional measures while the current constitution is suspended. Whoever comes to try to govern Egypt as president will face many of the same obstacles that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood did, such as its structural economic issues, the role of the Central Security Forces and its relationship with the judiciary, not to mention maintaining a stable electoral base. The successor to Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood will have to understand that its role will be to manage the affairs of the state while being a caretaker of the military’s interests, and that it will be difficult to pursue a political agenda independent from the military’s interests. And all the while the military will be there, as it was in the last year when it assured that the constitution that the Brotherhood tried to force through the system maintained the military’s political and economic interests, and as it was on July 3 when it deemed it necessary to expel Morsi to maintain its grip on Egypt.