What happened in Egypt during the massive protests against Islamist president Mohamed Morsi of June 30, 2013 – with 14-20 million people in the streets – raises serious doubts about the evolution of this country as well as the revolutionary dynamic existing since 2011. At that time, in a large-scale movement originating in the Tahrir Square of Cairo, President Hosni Mubarak, the symbol of authoritarian regimes of the Arab Orient, was ousted from office, a huge process of transition immediately began, the democratic elections brought to power a president belonging to a political organisation that was banned during the toppled regime, ‘Muslim Brotherhood,’ – Morsi, who is now in the custody of the army – and the structural changes of the country seemed to outline an ascending revolutionary dynamic. The partisans of the Arab spring saw the Egypt events as the barometer of the evolution of this unprecedented phenomenon which, for several months, seemed to be pointing at ‘fair weather.’
A democratic evolution in measure to fundamentally change, by the force of the example given by the strongest Arab country, the whole layout of the Middle East.
But, as it is said about any revolution, starting with the French one of 1789, the revolutionary dynamic does not know linear evolution processes. The French revolution needed several episodes, many of them imbued with terror and chaos, to reach its initially set goals, and eventually it had to pass through the phases of consulate and empire, plus a decades-long restoration, before being sure that at least it planted a strong seed of the ‘new regime’ in France and Europe.
The moderate Islamic regime presided by Mohamed Morsi had to deal with huge economic, political and social challenges. Unfortunately, as some objective observers with the most diverse orientations noted, the new regime did not raise to the high expectations of the electorate. An ever deeper economic crisis, whose essential characteristic was the increasing unemployment, especially among youths, which coincided with uninspired political measures – a presidential order that exempted own decrees from the monitoring of the judiciary, protecting its own supporters who committed illegal deeds, ignoring the big conflicting faults visible in the Egyptian society, between secularists and liberals and, on the other hand, the partisans of a religiously inspired governance, the alienation of religious minorities, especially of the Christians etc. These evolutions seriously undermined the presidential authority and carved very dangerous fault lines in the Egyptian society. The result was the recent military intervention in politics, first as an ultimatum urging the president to reach, within 48 hours, an agreement with the opposition that had mobilised huge crowds in the street, then with the suspension of Morsi, who was detained alongside hundreds other political leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood. These latest decisions, made on July 3, pushed Egypt into a different phase. The army announced that it will soon install a civil government, asked the opposition to get ready for early elections and initiate the drafting of a new constitution. Things began turning dangerous as early as Friday, when clashes ended with victims in both political camps. Monday, July 8, masses of partisans of the ousted president took by storm the headquarters of the Republican Military Guard of Cairo, the army fought back, dozens died and hundreds were injured, and a spiral of violence seems to have caught the country.
Monday’s events also created a different dynamic of the international community’s reaction of opinion. US President Barack Obama, for instance, as well as other western leaders, carefully chose their words when they evaluated the events of last week. Obama did not use the word ‘military coup’ in this context, as – under the American law – it would have automatically interrupted the financial support granted to the Egyptian army, with an implicit loss of the means to influence the events. The title of an article posted by Gideon Rachman, the international relations analyst of the ‘Financial Times,’ on his blog Thursday July 4 was ‘When is a coup not a coup.’ Emphasising how hard it is to qualify the events reported Wednesday in Cairo, the next day, when things were still hot, the analyst ended his analysis with these words: “Events in Egypt are teaching us that complexity, confusion and moral compromise, cannot, unfortunately, be avoided in international affairs.” Which tells enough about the fact that we live in a far from ideal world, real life has ups and downs that defy preconceptions and rigid interpretations and always obliges to inventiveness and a visionary attitude. In a separate move, the same day, ‘The Washington Post’ – perhaps the most influential newspaper of the USA – defined its position in a column with the title ‘US must suspend aid after Egypt’s coup.’
A reader could not refrain from commenting: “Has the Post gone mad? Does it really want Morsi and his gang of thugs running Egypt? Does the Post not realize that just winning an election isn’t the panacea for a good government?” And, in order to be convincing, he gives the example of Hitler, who democratically came to power in 1933, in Germany. And the opinion is not singular among the almost 500 comments posted to this column, evoking these ideas and historic examples.
As mentioned above, apparently after the events of last week and Monday, Egypt entered a different historic phase. Also apparently, for Egypt history seems to have caught a dramatic speed. Wednesday, president Morsi was ousted, Friday his partisans opposed this evolution and Monday they came in the thousands to face the army’s bullets. The succession is amazing. Is this the beginning of a civil war? Will the army succeed in quelling the violent protests of the sacked president’s fans, practically the expression of Islamist political forces? Are we witnessing a new episode of the 2011 revolution, with the Islamist trend being dealt a considerable blow? Or do we face a second revolution against the theocratic, religious-authoritarian and discriminatory trends?
The next days will bring new arguments for an adequate answer to the aforementioned questions. Anyway, it is undisputable that revolution continues in Egypt. The new Islamist trend outlined by the post-Mubarak electoral casting meets a very powerful resistance, with the army supporting the liberal and secular opposition. Probably the two camps – secular-liberal and minorities, now supported by the army because it is the oppressed opposition, vs. the moderate Islamism – will not be able to avoid a conflict. Most likely the Islamist camp, its radical elements will provoke it because they realise that otherwise they will lose in the long run. The entire Mideast is closely watching the evolutions in Cairo, because they will obviously influence – by direct and indirect impact – the geopolitics of the whole region, the ‘Arab spring,’ the Palestinian, Syrian and Iranian dossiers.