How to Defeat (or Revive) a Revolution
On Thursday June 14, the High Constitutional Court in Egypt will rule on two pending motions that may radically change the future course of Egypt and determine the fate of its remarkable -- but unfinished -- revolution. The two motions are the constitutionality of the political ban on the former regime senior officials, such as Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, the undeclared military's candidate for president, and the constitutionality of last winter's parliamentary elections. Each decision might drastically alter the power structure in the country, and possibly propel another revolution whose fate remains unclear.
But how did we get to this point of complete uncertainty?
History will show that the unity displayed by the Egyptian people during the 18 revolutionary days in early 2011 was decisive in convincing the Egyptian military to dump Mubarak and side with the people. Although the revolution was initially called for and led by the youth groups on January 25, soon after most political and social movements, religious and secular, and civil society groups including labor unions, professional syndicates, students, as well as the common man and woman in the street were demonstrating across Egypt by the millions, demanding the ouster of their dictator and the end of his corrupt regime.
By the time Mubarak was overthrown on February 11, 2011, the Egyptian people were divided into two camps: an overwhelming majority that celebrated the triumph of the revolution, and a tiny minority that comprised the remnants of the old regime, which included party bosses of Mubarak's National Democratic Party (NDP), his sons' corrupt businessmen and cronies who looted billions of dollars from Egypt's economy, and the resilient structure of the deep state that, for decades, ruled Egyptians through fear, intimidation, and propaganda including the top echelons of the military, intelligence services, state security apparatuses, as well as state media conglomerates.
It was also abundantly clear that, by the second week of the massive demonstrations across the country, the U.S. government encouraged the Egyptian military leaders to take matters into their hands after reaching the conclusion that the best way to keep Egypt in the U.S. orbit was to abandon Mubarak. Ever since that fateful day, the plan by the counter-revolutionary forces -- internally and externally -- has been to break up the unity of the revolutionary groups and gradually restore the old regime minus its most corrupt public faces.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), which took the reign of power from Mubarak, recognized early on that the most powerful organized group within the revolutionary forces was the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). As a cautious social and religious movement, the MB is more reformist in nature than revolutionary. For decades, its objective has been to gradually reform the society towards an Islamically-oriented system of government based on its interpretation of Shari'a or Islamic law.
Realizing that it has a huge organizational advantage over other political parties, especially the nascent revolutionary youth movements, the MB quickly broke ranks from these groups and reached a tacit understanding with SCAF to push for parliamentary elections ahead of rewriting the constitution or cleansing the state institutions from the loyal remnants of the old regime or the fulool. By March 2011, Egyptians were split almost 3-to-1 in favor of the Islamist position to hold elections before writing the constitution.
Throughout last summer and fall most of the youth revolutionary groups were in the streets protesting the excesses of SCAF, including holding over 12,000 military trials for civilians, carrying out several bloody crackdowns against the protesters, protecting the fulool of the old regime from accountability, and appointing a government made up of many Mubarak loyalists.
But by the end of the year, Egyptians went again to the polls to elect 678 representatives in the upper and lower chambers of Parliament. Once again, the electorate chose Islamic candidates over their liberal and leftist counterparts by a margin of 3-to-1.
Feeling empowered the Islamic parties led by the MB's Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) ignored most other political parties and formed a tacit alliance with the more conservative Salafi Al-Noor party to form the constitution-writing committee. Soon after, the FJP reneged on its one-year old promise not to field a presidential candidate, thus creating a major distrust between the revolution's Islamic and secular followers.
As the religious and secular revolutionary groups were quarreling over the discourse of the revolution and the nature of the state, the fulool, supported by SCAF and the deep security state, were quietly regrouping behind the scenes. Meanwhile, the SCAF-appointed government created many hardships that disrupted the daily life of common Egyptians while the state-run media, still controlled by Mubarak loyalists, as well as other private media outlets run by corrupt businesspeople, blamed the newly elected Parliament for the country's deterioration in security and the near-collapse of the economy.
When the FJP demanded to form a coalition government to deal with the struggling economy, SCAF not only scoffed at the request, but also humiliated and threatened the group in public. Soon after, its preferred candidate, Mubarak's last Prime Minster, Shafiq, was propped up throughout the country and promoted as the next president by the fulool and the former NDP machinery, as well as by the operatives of the intelligence services. Initially, no one took his candidacy seriously, believing that Shafiq could not be elected by the same people who overwhelmingly overthrew his boss just a year earlier.
At first, the fulool hoped that if they only elevated their candidate to reach the second round they would then have a strong chance to win the election one-on-one. In their view their best chance was to face the MB's divisive candidate, Dr. Muhammad Mursi, in the runoff since it would be easier to attack him as the candidate of "the religious state," rather than a candidate representing the revolutionary groups. They knew that if they faced any of the other viable revolutionary candidates, such as Dr. Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh or Hamdein Sabahi, their candidate would be easily routed. So in the final two weeks of the first round in May every effort was made to promote Sabahi at the expense of Abol Fotouh, who was ahead in most credible polls, so as to force the split of the pro-revolution votes and defeat both candidates who were preferred by the revolutionary groups. Combined Abol Futouh and Sabahi gained 39 percent of the total vote in the first round, while Mursi and Shafiq garnered 25 and 24 percent, respectively.