The dust kicked up by the so-called people’s coup of July 3 in Egypt is finally settling and we can finally discern who won and who lost. Wild claims of over 30 million people protesting notwithstanding, the winner of the conflict between Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Morsi and the masses fed up with the Morsi’s hyper-inept governance is the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), a coterie of the reactionary generals beholden to no one but themselves.
Anyone who doubts that SCAF was victorious over the revolutionary people are probably unaware that SCAF-appointed interim president Adly Mansour’s power grab is far more serious than what President Morsi was condemned for and the Islamism codified by Mansour’s new constitution is worse than Morsi’s voter-sanctioned constitution. SCAF has also overturned the March 2011 majority vote (approved by a crushing majority of 77%) to elect a parliament before drafting a new constitution and reversed the order of operations, locking in a constitution first before any elections take place. This effectively straightjackets any future parliament from enacting constitutional limits to military and police powers through something akin to the U.S. Constitution’s Bill of Rights.
Add to all that the fact that SCAF arrested President Morsi and hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood leaders, shut down their TV stations, repressed al-Jazeera and other media agencies, used snipers to kill reporters, and fired live ammunition into peaceful protests killing 54 and injuring over 1,000 – all without a peep of protest from the masses who rallied against President Morsi on June 30. The silence of millions who last week rose up against President Morsi’s “dictatorship” in the face of the crimes of the SCAF dictatorship is a sign that one has divided into two, that the revolutionary people have divided against themselves – secular democrats against Islamist democrats, Islamists against salafists, Coptic Christians against Muslim Brothers, salafists against secularists – instead of remaining united to dismantle the judiciary, mukhbarat, and military apparatuses that relentlessly bled, tortured, and killed them all for more than half a century. The spirit of Tahrir Square, where an injury to one was an injury to all, has dissipated due to the democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government’s failure to deliver security, prosperity, and good governance to an increasingly impoverished and restless population.
Although the Muslim Brotherhood was removed from office before they could exhaust themselves as the country’s most popular and powerful political force, today they are impotent and isolated despite their mass support in the face of unrelenting state repression. The millions of votes cast for Morsi and his brethren count for nothing in a system based on bullets rather than ballots and fundamentally that is what the coup revived: rule by the ballot was replaced by rule by the bullet, rule by lawfully elected authorities was replaced by rule by unlawful, unelected authorities. Whether 10 million, 20 million, or 30 million people cheered this on does not change the fact that the Egyptian people have less power over the state that oppresses them than they did two weeks ago.
Egypt’s democratic revolution, hardly begun in institutional terms, has been aborted and undone by SCAF. The thin layer of elected officials sitting atop Egypt’s police state machinery was forcibly removed and is being actively suppressed by that machinery. Until the next elections (tentatively scheduled by SCAF for 2014), the state will continue to crush the Muslim Brotherhood, the country’s single largest and most popular political party, thereby cementing SCAF’s role as political kingmaker for perhaps the next decade since the anti-Muslim Brotherhood opposition is too weak, too fractious, and too unpopular to form a democratic and stable government of its own.
If SCAF can so easily oust President Morsi and smash the most deeply rooted grassroots organization in the Egypt, taming a future President Mohamed El Baradei, Hamdeen Sabahi, or Amr Moussa, with their considerably weaker following, will be child’s play. And a future President Ahmed Shafiq? Egypt’s Pinochet will not need any taming at all.
For secular fans of democracy, the inescapable contradiction of the Arab Spring is that anti or non-secular Islamist parties were bound to win power in free and fair democratic elections held after dictators were vanquished throughout the Middle East and North Africa. This dilemma forced secular democrats to choose between the separation of religion from state power and the protection of minority rights on the one hand and majority rule through multiparty elections on the other, that is, between democratic principles and democratic process. The repeated failure of the masses to elect Western-style secular parties led Egypt’s liberal and ostensibly progressive forces Tamarod and the National Salvation Front (NSF) coalition to turn their backs on the democratic process since through that process they continually lost fair and square to Islamists. Rather than acting as a loyal opposition – loyal to the democratic revolution, opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood – they instead became anti-democrats by forming a bloc with the country’s most anti-revolutionary force: the elements of the old regime (fulool), which includes not only the country’s state institutions but also the wealthy elite and media magnates. This unholy alliance may have been formed in the name of safeguarding secular-democratic principles from Islamist political hegemony, but without the democratic process, there can be no battle of democracy against the Islamists for political hegemony among the masses.
Today, Egypt’s aborted democratic revolution is trapped in a blind alley, caught between a re-empowered SCAF and a disempowered anti or non-secular electoral majority. Until the NSF and Tamarod reverse course and defend both the legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhood’s democratic mandate and the democratic process from which that legitimacy sprang against illegitimate counter-revolutionary coups and elite intrigues, SCAF will have gotten its groove back – permanently, and at no cost.