x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 23 July 2017

As turmoil grows in Egypt army rule finds new support

To many Egyptians, the armed forces seem like the last option to save their country and guide it towards the liberal democracy.

From the window of my office in the Moqattam district of Cairo, I followed with much curiosity Friday's violent clashes between protesters and Muslim Brotherhood members, outside the group's headquarters.

This huge protest and the clash came after a week of smaller rallies, at that spot and elsewhere. The anger of the Egyptian people is now turning towards the Brotherhood (MB) to which President Mohammed Morsi belongs.

People understand that it is not the president who is making the moves that are hurting the nation's economy and threatening its stability, but the Brotherhood.

On March 11, ordinary people verbally attacked Mohammed Badie, the "General Guide" of the MB, while he was having dinner with family at City Stars mall in Nasr City. They warned him that the people would no longer tolerate the MB's failures in running state affairs, and would thus bring them down.

It is significant that this kind of anger towards Mr Morsi and the MB has a parallel trend: increased support for the military leadership.

Since the beginning of March, Egyptians from various backgrounds have joined demonstrations in different cities, calling for the military's return to political leadership.

Since the deadly riots in Port Said in eastern Egypt, in January and again this month, tens of thousands of ordinary citizens have gone to the offices of notaries public all over the country, to sign petitions calling for a return to military rule.

A public opinion survey by my Ibn Khaldun Center over the past month discovered that no known political party or group is behind the wave of petitions. This is a spontaneous search for a viable and realistic alternative to Mr Morsi's failing government.

The surveyed sample involved Egyptians with different social and political backgrounds, urban and rural: greater Cairo, the Delta, Upper Egypt and the eastern governorates. Most of the people polled were under 35.

Among the 82 per cent who supported the return of the military institution to political leadership, 46 per cent agreed that the generals should return for a limited period of time, with specified goals that include restoring stability, drafting a consensus constitution and basic supporting laws, restructuring state institutions, and paving the way for free and fair elections that would bring in a qualified civilian president.

Of course, none of this is the normal job of the military. So a return to military rule would seem to many to be a step backwards, and thus an indication that the revolution had failed.

The ultimate goal of the majority of Egyptians, especially the young people who led the drive to bring down former leader Hosni Mubarak, is to have a liberal democratic state.

We toppled Mubarak because we were not happy with his illiberal state that tolerated corruption and denied basic human rights and civil freedoms. He, too, ran elections, but they were never free and fair.

The Mubarak regime said it supported women's rights, to please its friends in the West, but ordinary people were brutalised in police stations and bloggers were taken to jail without being charged.

The state adopted policies to facilitate an open market economy and encourage foreign investment, but only businessmen profited from this, not the poor.

All this and more ignited anger in the hearts of the people, who brought down this masked dictatorship.

Apparently, we knew how to bring down a dictator but not how to build a democracy. Rather than focusing on drafting a constitution as a first step, we rushed into parliamentary and then presidential elections. Only later did we realise our error: we had been grooming a new dictator without setting up a system that would enable us to question him.

It is time now to correct this mistake before the economy deteriorates further and political instability turns into chaos. The removal of the Morsi regime is one step, but finding an alternative will be more difficult.

The fragmented nature of the opposition has left the young revolutionaries with very limited choices. The most prominent opposition leaders are not young. The youth want to introduce their own leaders as potential alternatives to the current regime, but some current opposition leaders are more inclined to negotiate their way to participation in the current regime. While the young activists are idealistic, many veteran opposition leaders are self-interested.

But the revolutionaries are too young and politically inexperienced to be real leaders.

So the only remaining scenario, though it is strongly disliked by many, is for the military to take the lead in the country once again, until stability is restored, the economy is reformed and political parties get better organised.

When the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (Scaf) took over after the fall of Mubarak, they showed little if any commitment to the principles of the civil state. In a sense this is normal, especially during a period of transition, but this attitude meant the people did not have sympathy with the generals. The momentum of victory and the public's high expectations at that time blinded people to the reality that Scaf needed more time to develop a sound plan for a stable transition.

But there has long been a good relationship between the military and the Egyptian people, and so now opinion is changing.

The fear of political chaos and economic failure under Mr Morsi, and the need for security and stability, are encouraging Egyptians to re-evaluate the role of the military. To many, the armed forces seem like the last bulwark to save Egypt and guide the country towards the liberal democracy we have always longed to have.

 

Dalia Ziada is a liberal human rights activist and executive director of the Ibn Khaldun Center for Democratic Studies, in Cairo