Lecture: Egypt in turmoil

This is a shortened version of a lecture I delivered on Monday, September 9, at the Student Association for International Relations (Studentenvereniging Internationale Betrekkingen) in Groningen. For more information, kindly visit their website.

First of all, I would like to thank SIB for inviting me to give this lecture on recent events in Egypt.

Let me start this lecture by sharing two anecdotes to give you an idea of the current situation. A few days before the mass demonstrations of 30 June, I walked into a small supermarket close to Tahrir square, Cairo. The owner of the shop greeted me and jokingly asked: “Are you a member of the Muslim Brotherhood?”, referring to my beard. I said: “Of course not, I’m not Egyptian.” Then, the guy suddenly turned serious, and advised me to shave my beard before the big demonstrations of next Sunday. Because, “god willing, we will slaughter all those beards.”

Last week, the minister of the Interior, Mohamed Ibrahim, survived an attempt on his life. A bomb went off as his motorcade passed in Nasr City, the area where the minister lives and also the scene of the biggest pro-Morsi demonstrations a until couple of weeks ago at the Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque.

What I’ll try to do in this lecture, is to explain how we got from the first anecdote, to the second. I will also provide some background. SIB has asked me to talk about the recent events, namely the ousting of president Morsi, in the context of Army-Muslim Brotherhood relations. I will give a short history of these two players in Egyptian politics, the army and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Afterwards, I’ll discuss in detail the way Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood came to power after the January 25 revolution. I’ll try to explain the context in which this took place, as well as the challenges that Morsi had to deal with during his short presidency.

Subsequently, I’ll talk about the popular protests against Muslim Brotherhood rule, Morsi’s ousting by the military and finally the current situation.

A short history of the Army

The Egyptian army is one of the most powerful players, if not the most powerful player, in Egyptian politics. Led by the Free Officers, the army staged a coup d’etat against King Farouq in 1952, resulting in the king’s ousting and the establishment of the Arab Republic of Egypt.

Ever since 1952, Egypt has been ruled by generals or retired generals. Gamal Abdel Nasser, one of the Free Officers, deposed Mohamed Naguib and took power in 1954. After Nasser died in 1970, Anwar Sadat took over. Sadat was assassinated by a member of an extremist offshoot of the Muslim Brotherhood during a military parade, and his vice-president Hosni Mubarak became president.

The Egyptian army controls a large percentage of the economy, and directly or indirectly owns up to 40% of Egypt’s businesses. This is of course one of the reasons why the army is so powerful. The army has the ability to influence the Egyptian economy, as it controls numerous factories, bakeries, natural gas and gasoline companies, et cetera.

Another source of power for the Egyptian military is its popularity. Despite the fact that the army has proven to be very incompetent in fighting and winning wars, it is still very popular among many Egyptians. Just imagine, almost everyone knows someone, a conscript or an officer, doing service in the army.

Maybe because of this popularity, the army has largely escaped public anger over the issue of foreign funding. Egyptians aren’t really fond of organizations that they suspect of being funded by the West. However, the biggest recipient of foreign funding is the military, which receives 1.3 bln dollar annually from the United States. I don’t think this is a fact that the army is very proud of, and it won’t publicly acknowledge this of course.

Let’s now have a look at the Muslim Brotherhood. I’ll come back to the army and its relationship with the Brotherhood later.

The Muslim Brotherhood

Founded in 1928 by a school teacher, Hassan al Banna. Quickly grew to become a country-wide conservative Islamic movement, aiming to ‘Islamize’ Egyptian life.

The Muslim Brotherhood was involved in the resistance against Israel in 1948. The organization also opposed the Egyptian monarchy. The Muslim Brotherhood was disbanded by the prime minister in 1948, out of fear for its popularity and because of rumors that the organization was plotting a coup against the king.

Less than three weeks later, the prime minister was assassinated by a student member of the Muslim Brotherhood. Although Hassan al-Banna condemned the assassination, he was himself murdered in February 1949.

The Muslim Brotherhood supported the 1952 revolution, but they felt Nasser and the Free Officers betrayed them afterwards, and tried assassinating Nasser in 1954. This led to a crackdown on Islamists.

During the presidencies of Nasser, Sadat and Mubarak, the Muslim Brotherhood was largely forced to work underground. On a few occasions, members of the organization were allowed to run in elections as independents. In the parliamentary elections of 2005, these ‘independents’ won 20% of the seats, but in the 2010 elections most of the Muslim Brotherhood candidates were banned from participating. So the army-Muslim Brotherhood relation has always been problematic.

The 25 January revolution

That fact that the Muslim Brotherhood is a conservative organization explains the way it dealt with the 25th of January revolution. The first few days, it prohibited its members from participating in demonstrations. While mainly youth from the April 6 Youth Movement and other groups took to the streets on the 25th, the Muslim Brotherhood stayed home. When it became clear that this time it was serious, the Muslim Brotherhood joined the protesters in their call for Mubarak to step down.

After Mubarak stepped down, the army took over and ruled Egypt through the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. While the youth movements and other opposition groups continued their protests against what they viewed as the same old regime with new faces, the Muslim Brotherhood cooperated with SCAF to pass a constitutional declaration opening the road to elections.

Even when the army was rounding up many activists, putting them in jail and prosecuting them before military courts, the Muslim Brotherhood remained quiet. When the army committed the Maspiro massacre in October, in which over 20 Coptic christians were killed, and when the army and police killed over 40 protesters in November, the Brotherhood still said that parliamentary and presidential elections under SCAF were the way forward.

People were presented with maybe the worst possible choice. Ahmed Shafiq was the last prime minister under Mubarak, and a retired air force officer. For many Egyptians, voting for Shafiq felt like betraying the revolution. So people who supported the revolution were more or less forced to vote for Morsi.

However, in 2012, Morsi won the presidential elections by a small margin, in part because many non-Muslim Brotherhood people voted for him to keep the other candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, out.

Morsi’s presidency

We have to acknowledge the fact that Egypt was more or less in ruins when Morsi became president. The economy was in a very bad state, security absent in many places, people had no trust in government institutions, et cetera.

Morsi faced many challenges, and expectations were unrealistically high. It was clear from the beginning that a few years would not be enough to fix Egypt’s economy, get the tourists back and improve the daily lives of poor Egyptians.

Morsi obviously didn’t succeed in fixing these problems. But I think it’s actually worse than this. He only didn’t succeed, he didn’t even try. Instead of reforming the police, he tried to use the state security and riot police to quash opponents. And when the police refused to disperse protesters in front of the presidential palace in December, 2012, Morsi sent his supporters to attack these peaceful demonstrators.

Instead of fulfilling his campaign promise of inclusiveness, he fired or marginalized advisors who didn’t agree with his policies. The Muslim Brotherhood refused to compromise on the subject of the new constitution, instead pushing for a very dividing document.

The way the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies among the Salafi parties approached the draft process for the first post-revolution constitution disappointed a lot of people. Even the ones who voted for Morsi in the second round of the presidential elections felt like the first civilian president in the history of Egypt was just another dictator looking to maximize his power. When Morsi issued his infamous constitutional declaration, making himself and his presidential decrees immune against judicial oversight, people took to the streets in anger.

The protests continued for a couple of weeks, resulting in a lot of violence, especially outside of Cairo. Still, the army and the security forces supported Morsi. After some time, the protests died down, without any tangible results for the opposition.

However, the first cracks in the army-Muslim Brotherhood alliance became visible during these weeks of protest.  The army, now headed by General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who was appointed by Morsi in August, 2012, called for reconciliation and an end to the violence. Al-Sisi wanted to organize meetings between the opposition and the government to find a way out of the crisis.


Out of disappointment in the Egyptian opposition, mainly the National Salvation Front headed by ElBaradei, a group of youth activists started their own campaign against Muslim Brotherhood rule. The campaign is called Tamarod, or Rebellion, and entailed the collection of signatures against Mohamed Morsi, calling for early presidential elections. As soon as Tamarod became well-known and picked up speed, the ‘mainstream’ opposition endorsed the campaign, trying to jump on the bandwagon of anti-Muslim Brotherhood sentiment.

I think it’s important to note that these youth were not the same people who started the revolution in 2011. Although a lot of activists supported the Tamarod campaign, others questioned its understanding of democracy. They also pointed out that the campaign lacked a decent follow-up strategy in case Morsi would step down.

On June 30, Morsi’s first anniversary as president, thousands of people took to the streets. It was a very celebratory atmosphere in most places in Cairo, as people seemed surprised that so many turned out in protest against the Muslim Brotherhood. The inevitable numbers game was played by both sides, as Morsi’s supporters also came together to show their support for the Muslim Brotherhood and their elected president. It’s hard to say how many people each demonstration had, but in my experience at least, the number of protesters against Morsi was larger than the number of protesters during the 18-day revolution in 2011.

A few days before June 30, Morsi had delivered a speech broadcast on StateTV. It was expected that he would compromise on a few less important issues, but he wouldn’t even go that far to prevent this political crisis from becoming unsolvable.

On Monday, July 1st, al-Sisi, the army general, issued a statement urging Morsi and his political opponents to reach an agreement. Al-Sisi basically gave Morsi 48 hours to solve this crisis, otherwise he would come up with a roadmap that would clearly not include the Muslim Brotherhood or Morsi.

On July 2nd, Morsi delivered another speech, stressing his democratic legitimacy as president, that he would defend until death. Again, it was clear that the Muslim Brotherhood would try to hold on to power, without compromise. I wonder whether anything else than “I resign” would have been enough to make people return to their normal daily lives. In the run-up to June 30, I heard many people say that Morsi would finally leave on the 30th, and that hopefully the army would save Egypt from disaster and civil war. So expectations were a bit high.

Finally, on the 3rd of July, at about nine in the evening, al-Sisi issued a statement outlining a roadmap for transition. I watched the speech just a few hundred meters away from Tahrir square, in the street where I used to live. I could only hear the first couple of sentences, after that it was clear that Morsi was no longer president and celebrations had started.

According to the army, the Tamarod movement and political parties like ElBaradei’s National Salvation Front, this was not a coup, but a popular revolution supported by the army. Of course, the Muslim Brotherhood has a different perspective. They say it’s an attack on the legitimacy of a democratically elected president.

I think you all know how the army and police forces ended the pro-Morsi sit-in on August 14. As Human Rights Watch put it, the security forces used excessive lethal force against mostly unarmed civilians. Hundreds were killed, thousands injured. Muslim Brotherhood supporters responded by attacking tens of churches and other christian institutions, as well as burning houses and shops owned by christians.

Right now, a curfew is still in place in Cairo and other parts of Egypt. The military is very visible in the streets, and violence between security forces and groups of civilians is happening almost every day.

The short anecdote I started this lecture with illustrates how it’s possible that many people, I think a fair majority even, supports the violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood. There are a number of reasons: the first is that people were very disappointed in Morsi’s presidency, as he failed to fulfill his campaign promises. Second, the way Morsi was elected shows that a large part of Egyptian society was always against the Muslim Brotherhood. The former regimes of Mubarak and even Nasser and Sadat before him, have always attacked the Muslim Brotherhood and described it as a terrorist organization.

The Egyptian media, and unfortunately not only state media but also private, so-called liberal, media, have adopted the “war on terror” discours in their coverage of the current crackdown. The most dangerous thing is that many Egyptians are fine with it. Something that has become very clear to me when I lived in Egypt before the coup, is that many Egyptians hate the Muslim Brotherhood and its members. One time when I exited the metro, a elderly headscarved woman came up to a man with a large beard and started insulting him, and his Muslim Brotherhood. Like the crackdown on Islamists in the fifties and nineties, every man with a beard, and every woman wearing a niqab, is a suspect. Not only Islamists or members of the Muslim Brotherhood are targeted. Leftists and human rights activists as well as lawyers are vulnerable as they critizice the current government’s treatment of Islamists and lament the lack of progress.

As the failed attempt to assassinate the minister of interior shows, there are some jihadist extremist elements in Egypt. Police stations and military checkpoints have been targets of such groups over the past few weeks. The current situation resembles the period of violence of the nineties, when tourist attractions were often targets. I am afraid that the current situation of bombings, assassination attempts and attacks on churches will remain for at least some time. It’s very hard to see how free and fair elections can take place in such an insecure and polarized environment.


Juich nieuwe regering in Egypte niet toe

Veel mensen waren zeer gelukkig met het afzetten van de Egyptische president Morsi, lid van de Moslim Broederschap, door het leger op 3 juli. Na een handtekeningenactie en daaropvolgende massademonstraties kon de minister van defensie, generaal Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, niets anders dan Morsi door middel van een populaire coup d’etat afzetten.

Veel westerse regeringen zijn echter een stuk minder enthousiast. Zeker nadat leger en politie op 14 augustus de sit-in van de Moslimbroeders met excessief geweld uiteensloegen is de steun voor de nieuwe regering snel verdwenen. De Nederlandse regering heeft de hulp aan Egypte stopgezet, de export van militair materieel naar Egypte is verboden. Ik lees de laatste dagen steeds vaker artikelen van verontwaardigde columnisten (onder anderen Afshin Ellian), die vinden dat minister van buitenlandse zaken Frans Timmermans de nieuwe regering het voordeel van de twijfel moet geven. Waarom steunde Timmermans Morsi’s regering wel en de huidige ‘liberale’ regering onder aanvoering van hoogste rechter Adly Mansour niet? zo vragen zij zich af. Het antwoord zou moeten luiden: omdat deze regering voorlopig geen haar beter is dan de vorige.

Laat ik duidelijk zijn: ik ben geen fan van Morsi en zijn Moslim Broederschap. Sterker nog, in de hoop op positieve verandering was ik zelfs voor de zo spoedig mogelijke verdrijving van zijn regime. De weg die de nieuwe regering ingeslagen is, zal om een aantal redenen echter niet leiden tot deze vooruitgang. Ten eerste: door de demonstraties van voorstanders van Morsi met zeer veel geweld neer te slaan, heeft het regime aangetoond dat bevordering van mensenrechten ergens onderaan de lijst van prioriteiten staat (zie onder anderen dit rapport van Human Rights Watch). De van de Verenigde Staten gekopieerde ‘war on terror’ leidt slechts tot diepere polarisatie en geweld in plaats van verzoening en gerechtigheid.

Ten tweede: tot nu toe hebben de Egyptische regering en haar veiligheidsdiensten slechts lippendienst bewezen aan de beveiliging van christenen, hun kerken, instituties, winkels en huizen. Op 14 augustus vielen voorstanders van de afgezette president tientallen kerken en andere christelijke eigendommen aan. Hoewel de Egyptische regering deze aanvallen heeft veroordeeld, heeft men geen enkele actie ondernomen om de christenen beter te beschermen. In plaats daarvan gebruikt de regering deze aanvallen als excuus om honderden Moslimbroeders en andere mannen met baarden op te pakken in het kader van de ‘war on terror’. De daadwerkelijke daders lopen in veel gevallen nog vrij rond. (Deze manier van ‘divide and rule’, alsmede geweld tegen christenen is het Egyptische regime niet vreemd. Herinnert u zich het bloedbad bij Maspero nog?)

De derde reden heeft te maken met wat Egypte nu te wachten staat. Daarvoor moeten we even terug naar eind vorig jaar, toen de Moslim Broederschap een gedrocht van een grondwet met veel haast en zonder al te veel overleg door de daarvoor bestemde commissie ramde. Met consensus en democratie had het weinig te maken. Die grondwet en de daaropvolgende decreten van Morsi zorgden voor enorme demonstraties tegen zijn bewind. Die grondwet, een aangepaste versie van de constitutie van 1971, wordt nu gebruikt als de basis voor de nieuwe grondwet, die moet leiden tot een democratisch Egypte. In dit artikel van Ziad Ali wordt goed uitgelegd waarom dit een heel slecht idee is, en dit stuk van Bassem Sabry geeft een overzicht van de veranderingen en overeenkomsten ten opzichte van de vorige grondwet.

Ik denk dat we kunnen stellen dat Egypte niet op de goede weg is. Niet als het gaat om het tegengaan van polarisatie. Het beschermen van minderheden, een van de redenen waarom Joël Voordewind deze regering juist wil steunen, is voor deze regering ook geen prioriteit. En op verbetering van mensenrechten en versterking van de rechtsstaat door de nieuwe grondwet hoeft men al helemaal niet te rekenen. Westerse regeringen moeten dus druk uit blijven oefenen op de huidige (militaire) machthebbers, om het regime te dwingen tot grootschalige hervormingen. Het zonder omhaal accepteren van de routekaart zal de situatie in Egypte slechts verergeren.

In een eerdere versie schreef ik dat Maja Mischke in haar column net als Afshin Ellian schreef dat de huidige regering het voordeel van de twijfel moet krijgen. Zij bekritiseerde slechts het feit dat Frans Timmermans de regering van Morsi steunde.

Nieuwe grondwet Egypte product van Moslim Broederschap

English version here.

In de afgelopen weken was Egypte weer het toneel van grote demonstraties en hevige rellen. Zowel voor- als tegenstanders van president Morsi gingen de straat op. Aanleiding is de constitutionele declaratie die de president op donderdag 22 november uitvaardigde. In de hoofdstad Caïro gingen voornamelijk jongeren al op 19 november op de vuist met de politie na de herdenking van hun kameraden die vorig jaar tijdens gevechten met het leger en de politie omkwamen. Toen vervolgens president Morsi, voorheen een belangrijk lid van de Moslim Broederschap, door middel van een decreet nog meer macht naar zich toe trok, braken ook in andere steden demonstraties uit.

Het moge duidelijk zijn dat president Morsi er niet in geslaagd is om voor eenheid te zorgen in de Egyptische samenleving. Integendeel, door het eenzijdig opereren van de Moslim Broederschap op allerlei gebieden, en het totaal negeren van bezwaren van de oppositie, is Egypte nu meer gepolariseerd dan ooit. Hier moet één kanttekening bij gemaakt worden: de Moslimbroeders hebben wel degelijk samengewerkt met de Salafisten. Het schrijven van de nieuwe grondwet is hier een uitstekend voorbeeld van.

Al vanaf het begin werd de commissie, die belast was met het schrijven van Egypte’s eerste post-revolutionaire grondwet, gedomineerd door deze twee partijen. Na veel protest tegen de eerste constitutionele commissie werd deze door het leger, dat toen nog aan de macht was, ontbonden. De nieuwe commissie vertoonde echter dezelfde symptomen: de islamisten domineren en marginaliseren de overige partijen. Langzamerhand stapten steeds meer niet-islamisten uit de commissie, waaronder grote namen als Amr Moussa, oud-minister van Buitenlandse Zaken en voormalig secretaris-generaal van de Arabische Liga.

Een van de leden die ontslag nam, een lid van de seculiere al-Wafd Partij, vertelde dat leden die tegen de dominantie van de islamisten in opstand kwamen geïntimideerd werden. Volgens hem werd de oppositie het werken in de commissie onmogelijk gemaakt door de voorzitter, die lid is van de Moslim Broederschap. Uiteindelijk zagen zij geen andere mogelijkheid dan ontslag te nemen. Niet dat dit een groot verschil maakte. Door de manier waarop het blok van Moslimbroeders en Salafisten te werk ging, was de oppositie binnen de commissie toch al monddood gemaakt.

Het is dan ook geen verrassing dat het uiteindelijke resultaat vooral de belangen van de Moslim Broederschap en diverse Salafistische groeperingen dient. Er zijn veel voorbeelden te geven, hieronder volgen er enkele. Een van de belangrijkste bezwaren van seculieren en liberalen is uiteraard de rol die de islamitische wetgeving (de sharia) krijgt toebedeeld in de constitutie. Artikel 2 stelt dat de sharia de belangrijkste bron van wetgeving is. Daarmee is de scheiding van religie en staat meteen van de baan. In artikel 4 wordt bepaald dat alleen de islamitische instelling Al-Azhar, de belangrijkste autoriteit op het gebied van de soennitische islam, mag bepalen wat de sharia precies inhoudt. De positie van Al-Azhar is onaantastbaar, aangezien zijn leider niet ontslagen kan worden. De instelling is het overigens niet eens met de aan haar toebedeelde rol.

Vervolgens zijn er diverse artikelen die vrijheden inperken en de mogelijkheid laten voor de staat om op te treden als de morele autoriteit in Egypte. Zo staat in artikel 10 dat de staat de morele waarden van de Egyptische familie zal beschermen. Daarnaast legt artikel 10 een conservatieve interpretatie op van de rol van de vrouw in het gezin.

Het leger, een grote machtsfactor in de Egyptische politiek, komt er goed van af in de nieuwe grondwet. Zo is democratische controle over het leger niet vastgelegd. Van de vijftien leden van de Nationale Defensie Raad, die beslist over de militaire begroting, zijn er acht militair. De raad heeft slechts een enkelvoudige meerderheid nodig om besluiten te nemen, dus samenwerking met de burgerlijke regering is niet nodig. Daarnaast kunnen burgers nog steeds door militaire rechtbanken berecht worden als de misdaad het leger beschadigt, een vage term die gemakkelijk misbruikt kan worden. Blijkbaar durft de Moslim Broederschap de macht van het leger nog niet in te perken.

Op 15 december mag de Egyptische bevolking zich in een referendum uitspreken over de grondwet. Normaal gesproken vinden verkiezingen in Egypte plaats onder auspiciën van rechters als waarnemers. Zij hebben echter aangegeven te zullen staken uit protest tegen Morsi’s aanval op de rechterlijke macht. Desondanks is de president vastbesloten om door te gaan, in de overtuiging dat de grondwet in een referendum zal worden geratificeerd. Ondanks de grote demonstraties van de oppositie, is het te verwachten dat de meerderheid toch voor zal stemmen. Egypte is dan, bijna twee jaar na de revolutie, opgezadeld met een slechte grondwet en een nauwelijks te controleren, machtige regering.

Egypt’s draft constitution is product of Islamists only

Note: I wrote this post a couple of days ago, but forgot to publish it… So here it is.

Over the past few weeks, Egypt has again seen scenes of large demonstrations and clashes between anti-government protesters on the one hand and pro-government supporters and police forces on the other. Protesters turned back to the streets after president Morsi issued a constitutional decree on November 22. Already on November 19, mostly youth clashed with the Central Security Forces after they staged a demonstration in Mohamed Mahmoud Street to remember their friends who died during last year’s clashes with the army. After Morsi’s decree, which extends his powers and makes him and the Constituent Assembly immune from judicial oversight, people in other cities also took to the streets.

It should be clear that Morsi has not succeeded in uniting the Egyptian society, or has even tried to. On the contrary, by the unilateral actions of the Muslim Brotherhood on several (subjects), and by disregarding of all the objections to the draft constitution made by the opposition, Egypt has become more polarized than ever before. One thing has to be noted though: the Muslim Brotherhood has been cooperating excellently with the even more fundamentalist salafi groups, mainly the Nour Party. The drafting process of the constitution poses as a perfect example.

Already from its very establishment the Constituent Assembly, responsible for drafting Egypt’s first post-revolutionary constitution,  has been dominated by the above-mentioned Islamist parties. After strong protest, the first assembly was disbanded by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces, the authority that took over power after Mubarak’s ousting. The new assembly however, showed the same symptoms of its predecessor: Islamists dominating and marginalising the other political parties. Steadily, more and more non-Islamist members resigned, including important politicians as Amr Moussa, former Minister of Foreign Affairs and Secretary-General of the Arab League.

One of the members who resigned from the assembly, member of the secular Wafd Party, said that members who objected to the dominance of the Islamists were intimidated. According to him, the assembly’s president, Hossam el-Gheryany, a member of the Brotherhood, made it almost impossible for them to perform their job within the assembly. In the end, they saw no other option then to resign. Not that resigning made a difference though. By the way in which the block of Brothers and Salafis operated, the opposition to the draft constitution had already been silenced.

It doesn’t come as a surprise that the final result, the draft constitution, mainly serves the Muslim Brotherhood’s and Salafi groups’ interests. There are many examples of this, a few of them will be given below. One of the main objections of seculars and liberals obviously is the role of Islamic law (the sharia) within the constitution. Article 2 states that sharia is the main source of legislation, which makes the seperation of religion and state non-existent. Article 4 states that only the Islamic institution of Al-Azhar, the most important authority regarding Sunni Islam, may define the meaning and contents of sharia. The position of the Grand Shaykh unimpeachable. It must be said that even Al-Azhar doesn’t agree with the role that it has been given.

There are also several articles that restrict freedom of civillians and that leave the possibility for the state to act as the moral authority of Egypt. Article 10 for example, states that the state will protect the moral values of the Egyptian family. Besides that, article 10 also imposes a conservative interpretation of the role of women in their families.

The power of the army, a very important player within Egyptian politics, has been left unchallenged in the new constitution. Democratic oversight of military affairs has not been secured. Eight of the fifteen members of the National Defense Council hail from the military, while only simple majority is needed for decision-making, thus making sure that civilians can’t challenge the military in this council. Besides the lack of democratic control, the military is still allowed to try civilians in its courts, if the crime was committed against the army, a very vague description which can easily be exploited. Apparently, the Muslim Brotherhood doesn’t want to constrain the army’s powers.

On December 15, Egyptians will be able to vote on the constitution in a referendum. The opposition however, has demanded that Morsi postpones the vote and rescinds his constitutional decree that caused the current political crisis. It is still unclear if the Muslim Brotherhood will give in to these demands. If they don’t, Egyptians will most likely vote the constitution into law, mainly because of the well-organized voting machine that the Muslim Brotherhood can rely on, as well as bribing poor voters with food and other benefits (also known as vote-rigging). Egypt will then, almost two years after the revolution, be burdened with a very bad constitution, potentially granting the state enormous powers.

Are Egypt’s revolutionary youth losing touch?

Last Friday, a huge protest was organised in Tahrir square. In the days leading to the Friday protest, several secular and Islamist organisations decided to agree upon a few main targets that the demonstration should focus on (prosecution of security officers, release of demonstrators, etc.), in order to prevent clashes between protesters. But what was supposed to be a day of unity turned into a day of division, when salafi demonstrators decided not to comply and started to raise slogans like “The people demand the implementation of the sharia!”

According to some protesters, they rejected the agreement because they were provoked by secularists: “Secularists are all over the media, trying to marginalize us because they think we’re ignorant,” said Islam Farris, a 23-year-old pharmacist. “For the first time in history, all Islamic movements are united here because the secularists are provoking us.”

After a few hours, secular and liberal organisations pulled out of the square and held a press conference to explain their decision. “There was an agreement signed by all political groups including most of the Islamic groups to hold a national-unity Friday,” Mostafa Shawky of the Revolution Youth Coalition explained, “upholding the demands of the revolution, and sending a message to the Military Council that Egypt’s political forces cannot be divided. However, only controversial points and demands disagreed on have been raised in the square today.”

Another member of the Revolution Youth Coalition, Khaled Abdelhamid, said: “Sticking to our principle of always maintaining peacefulness, we have decided to withdraw from this Friday’s demonstrations while continuing our sit-in which upholds the revolution’s demands.” But shop owners in the area said they were fed up with the sit-in: “If they [the protesters] don’t open the square, all the residents and shop owners in the Talaat Harb area will go and break this sit-in up with our own hands,” a shop owners said.

Last Monday, on the first day of the holy month Ramadan, the army and security forces opened the square and destroyed the tent city, assisted by shop owners from the area. According to the LA Times, “The solidarity around the revolution that is splintering amid deep differences between protesters and millions of struggling Egyptians exasperated by the unrest and its economic consequences. The split reveals how young activists plotting rebellion in cyberspace are disconnected from the anxieties of millworkers and laborers.” “Enough is enough,” says Moussa. “These protests must stop. It’s sabotage.”

It becomes clear that the demonstrators should develop a new strategy to achieve their goals. Without grassroots support, demonstrations will not be tolerated by a large percentage of the people. This revolution will only be succcesful if the revolutionaries are in touch with the people. Some activists suggested that, in order to win support from the people, political groups should refrain from demonstrating during Ramadan. Give the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) time to implement the demanded reforms. After some time, more people will start to realize that keeping pressure on the ruling Supreme Council is important, because otherwise nothing will change.