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Tuesday, August 20, 2013

The Egyptian Revolution Vs The 1 Percent

This post is written for a very important friend and fellow activist with whom I have been debating how to define the current events in Egypt.

The hot debate of the day is whether the overthrow of Egypt's President Morsi was because of the revolution or an outright coup. Those who call his displacement a coup make three critical mistakes in making their assessment. The first error is assuming that Morsi's rule was legitimate. The second error  consists of minimizing the Egyptian Revolution's massive protests. These protests involved more people than the protests that oversaw the ouster of Hosni Mubarak. The third error is the tradition of confusing authority with power. For a coup to take place, those in power must be disposed of. Since only those in authority were removed, there might have been no coup.

In the formal democratic sense, Morsi was debatably the legitimate President of Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood held control over the government. But if we are to take seriously the definition of the word democracy, one cannot assume that the existence of a formal democracy implies the existence of an actual democracy. So the extent of the legitimacy of a nation's democracy is always measured by how the government's rule reflects the will of the people. If more people would use this criteria seriously, then the people from many other countries besides Egypt would be forced to face some disturbing truths about their own governments.

But was Morsi's government even legitimate in the first place? Juan Cole (see here for the article) tells us that before the elections, the Muslim Brotherhood began breaking agreement after agreement in order to enable a post election authoritarian rule. Before the election, the Muslim Brotherhood promised to neither run candidates in all constintuencies nor to run a candidate for president in order to avoid taking control over all branches of government. They also gave the impression that they wanted a "consensual" constitution. 

Not only did the Muslim Brotherhood break these pre-election agreements, they cheated by gaining parliamentary seats by running Muslim Brotherhood candidates in slots reserved for independent candidates. Once in power,  Morsi pushed through a Brotherhood-friendly constitution that, despite protests, was passed through a referendum where only 30% of the population voted. According to Cole, Morsi dictated that the "ceremonial" upper house was now the new Egyptian Parliament and appointed  members to it with the result that only 7% of the members were elected. He also passed a law that forced a quarter of the judges to retire and began to appoint his own judges to replace them and he used arrests and violence to silence critics. And that was not all folks.

In the meantime, from Mubarak's overthrow through Morsi's presidency, the military gave up neither power nor economic resources. In addition, some in the Military were afraid of a Muslim Brotherhood secret militia from the beginning. But the military tolerated the Muslim Brotherhood possibly so that the people could see what "democracy" in Egypt looked like. Using the capital it obtained from its role in overthrowing Mubarak, the military waited for a request to intervene by the revolutionaries which followed the June 30 protests. And since then, the ever present military rule has come out of the closet. For those who wish to call what the military did a coup, then, if they are to be consistent, they would have to say the same about what Morsi was orchestrating as well as the displacement of Mubarak.

The protests that started on June 30 of this year was a continuation of the protests that ousted Mubarak. It was a reaction to the same kind of environment but with some different players that Mubarak had carefully crafted. Certainly, the protests were a response to a continuation of authoritarian rule in Egypt, but they were also a response to the continued neoliberal economic policies according to Vivienne Matthias-Boon (click here for the article). And we should note here, for our benefit, that neoliberalism capitalism has always been accompanied by either a significant democratic decline or outright authoritarianism.

The opposition to the existing economic structures lends weight to an interesting point is made by Vivienne Matthias-Boon. This point was that while the media wanted to reduce the protests in Egypt and other surrounding countries to elections only, the desire of revolutionaries was for a grass roots democracy. In fact, the protests served as examples of that kind of democracy. In contrast to a bottom-up democracy, Egypt's formal democracy could be used to hide a continued and real authoritarianism.

June 30 saw the start of protests that were so massive that they were larger than the protests that ousted Mubarak. That the US might have financially supported some of the groups involved is irrelevant. The protests challenged the illegitimate rule of President Morsi. But when the revolutionaries asked for military help in ousting Morsi, there came a hijacking of the revolution. 

With the violent conflicts between the Muslim Brotherhoold and the Egyptian Military that followed the ouster of Morsi, along with the massacres, comes the threat of pushing Egypt's Revolutionaries, and thus real democracy, to the side. For how can one protest for democracy today when the military provokes the already violent Muslim Brotherhood to greater acts of violence by using violence and massacres. And in attacking the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian Military is only working to ensure job security for military rule of the country. For what appears to the people as democracy having failed is really nothing more than a battle for control between two gangs with totalitarian goals. And even if the Muslim Brotherhood ceased to be a problem, how manywould dare protest for democratic change now when those in the Muslim Brotherhood were so easily murdered?

What we end up with are three groups vying to change Egypt. These groups are the Revolutionaries, the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Egyptian Military. And despite the overthrow of Mubarak being inspired by the Revolutionaries, they have never had their day in the sun. Regardless of the leader, whether it was Mubarak, Morsie, or the current military leader, Al-Sisi, the political model has been that of authoritarianism while the current economic model has been neoliberalism. 

And all of the above have existed with America's support. Of course, some of the main beneficiaries of this aid to Egypt are American arms manufacturers such as General Dynamics (manufactures tanks) and Lockheed Martin (manufactures F-16s) who are paid by the U.S. to provide weapons for Egypt. And with Egypt's economic model having never been changed from Mubarak's day, what we see in Egypt today is a battle between the Egypt's Revolutionaries and the different faces of the 1% with the rule of the 1%, either in terms of power or economics, having never been disposed of. It moves one to ask, "What coup?"

What's next? That depends on whom one is referring to. In an opinion piece published by Egypt Independent (click here for the article), Farah Halime predicts that Egypt will run out of money since every possible source of funding will be too reluctant to lend money to an Egypt that is brutally run by the military. If this occurs, this will act as an Achilles Heel for the military dictatorship and could throw the country into total chaos. However, if outside interest is too great to allow military control to collapse, then we should see this new status quo conflict between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood to continue for two reasons. Both are competing over who will rule Egypt. Also, the longer that a sufficient amount of violence exists, the more democracy is taken off the table by the people whose main concern becomes simple survival. We should note here that the Revolutionaries who are pushing for a real grassroots democracy cannot offer direct protection from either group.

The above leads to the question, what is next for the America? By providing weapons for Egypt, our government both retains at least some control over the military as well as provides revenue for American arms manufacturers whose campaign and other donations are greatly appreciated by many of our elected officials. America has two other concerns. One concern is that Israel does not feel threatened by any new regime. The other concern regards the economic results of an interruption in the flow of oil and gas through the Suez Canal and the pipelines.

Finally, what is next for the Revolutionaries? They are in the following bind. Their greatest threat, authoritarianism, regardless of its practitioner, becomes a perceived source of refuge in a time of violent turmoil. In addition comes the perceived failure of the 18 day revolt against Mubarak and the June 30th protests of this year. For the Revolutionaries to win, they must turnout a critical mass of people who are committed enough to go beyond the overthrow of a dictator, whether it be Mubarak or Morsi or Al-Sisi, to being involved in a participatory political-economic system. Those who are so committed have to survive the ongoing violence. 

So the Revolutionaries will have to find nonviolent ways to involve masses of people so that their actions gain some leverage and thus influence over the military rulers of the country while at the same time does not make those involved too vulnerable to attacks by either the Muslim Brotherhood or the Egyptian Military. Mass protests may be impossible to carry out. However, general strikes do what the inability for Egypt to find loans does, it strikes at the Military's Achilles Heel. It may be that the striking of this heel, rather than relying on co-opting members of the military through demonstrations, is the way for the Revolutionaries to gain an advantage in moving the country towards a real democracy.

Depending on one's definition of a coup, what we have seen in Egypt is more of a hijacking of a revolution than an outright coup. This is especially true since only those with official authority have been unseated, not those with real power. 

Finally, what is the next step for Christians who are deeply pained by the news of fellow believers who are being attacked and killed? One temptation is to let their persecution fuel xenophobia especially toward Muslims. Such would be myopic since American Christians practice proxy violence against Muslims by the support they give to their own government's and Israel's operations in the Middle East. 

Another temptation is to only be concerned with the plight of fellow believers. To do so is to forget the tie that binds us to the nonbeliever. That tie is the brotherhood and sisterhood of all mankind by virtue of creation.

Yes, we need to be deeply concerned for the well-being of our brothers and sisters in Christ. At the same time, we cannot afford to become numb to issues of justice because we are so worried about our fellow believers. Such an approach would show that we have embraced a spiritual tribalism in place of God's justice.

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