Friday, 9 August 2013

The Revolution that Never Was.

Tawakkol Karman, winner of the Nobel Peace Prize and advocate of the "Jasmine Revolution" in Yemen has condemned the military coup in Egypt. She is in no doubt that the 'Arab Spring' was, in fact, a true revolution.
'My support for the 30 June movement in opposition to Morsi changed after the military coup, which went against all the gains and values of the 25 January revolution.

The 25 January revolution guaranteed freedom of expression, of assembly and organisation. All these freedoms have been crushed in the aftermath of the coup.'
Yet the July 3 coup in Egypt did not crush all the freedoms gained in the Arab Spring because there were no actual gains. From the time the revolt of 2011 led to Mubarak being allowed to fall, the better to defuse discontent, the Egyptian state structures inherited from the previous era readapted to the new reality.

The January 25 'revolution' was nothing much more than repeat of the 1952 revolution enlivened and facilitated by the illusion of 'People Power' spawned by modern communications technology and social media. No freedoms were guaranteed by the Arab Spring of 2011.

The referendum on changing the constitution 19 March 2011 only approved the demand for reforms that were never ratified by the Egyptian Constituent in Assembly before it was dissolved by SCAF in June 2012 after a Supreme Court ruling declared electoral irregularities in Muslim Brotherhood seats.

The failure to have a new constitution in place before the presidential elections subsequently took place just two weeks after the brief experiment of an elected parliament ended meant that the electoral turnout was very low even for the first run off. For the president's powers had not been defined.

The coup against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, therefore,removed a president who only got a fraction of the vote from the total number of Egyptian citizens and who was voted in through elections that were not fully legitimate because no new constitition, as promised in 2011, had materialised.

It was the attempt by Morsi, among his other botched and incompetent manouevres, to force through a constitution without an elected parliament in December 2012 that created fears of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover and the creation of an Islamist republic that were exploited by the Egyptian army.

So despite Morsi being elected, he lacked legitimacy and was in the weak position set up for the Muslim Brotherhood by the old elites who had little to lose by either having Shafik ( Morsi's rival candidate and Mubarak's last PM) as president or Morsi to take the flak for Egypt's chaos.
'It is unrealistic and unfair to believe Morsi was responsible for the failure to achieve economic prosperity within a year of his presidency. The man inherited a huge legacy of failure and institutional collapse from the previous regime.'
True, but it was unrealistic of Morsi to be determined to go for the presidency and right into a trap that was set for him. Karmen's dubious when she writes 'the success of heads of state or government is measured more by their respect for civil and political rights than by economic prosperity'.

If that ought to be the situation, it is not clear that it is. The 2011 Arab revolts were precipitated by economic mismanagement and corruption and the rocketing price of bread caused by the impact of global heating and grain shortage. The demand for civil and political rights does not guarantee bread on the table.

Karmen then claims,
'Morsi passed this tough test by guaranteeing these rights when, in fact, his opponents enjoyed more freedom than his own supporters. Compare this to what has been happening to his supporters since the coup: hundreds have been detained, killed or wounded'.
Morsi did not guarantee civil and political rights. He attempted to push a constitution through without a sitting parliament to check his authority. Moreover, Egyptian human rights activists complained that the torture and beatings by the police continued as well as threats to political opponents.

The Arab Spring so far has been an utter failure. There was no revolution. Only a revolt, the decapitation of the old regime, a shambolic attempt to institute democracy without there being an agreed constitutional change first and then a grubby power struggle between the Muslim Brotherhood and an old regime still in place.

It remains to be seen whether a new constitution can now be drawn up that will allow a transition to a functioning democracy. But with the Muslim Brotherhood desperately maintaining their street sit ins and protests, the security situation gives every reason for the state to retain emergency powers.

As Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi put it "We cannot write a constitution when the country is divided. We have to return to harmony". There is a lot of talk about 'national dialogue'. Yet it is clear that the Muslim Brotherhood look likely not to be able to participate in that without losing face and even more support.

The one thing Karmen does get right, though, is the danger that the coup poses in ramping up 'extremist' threats in Egypt.
'It is dreadful to imagine the long-term consequences of frustration with democracy. Al-Qaida and those sympathetic to it have always mocked the Muslim Brotherhood, telling them that the solution would not come via ballot boxes, but through bullets'.
The problem now for those who promoted the Arab Spring is whether they are going to accept the coup as irreversible fact because there are no chances that President Morsi will be reinstated (which risks being seen to give tacit support for the suppression of 'democracy' ) or call for another revolt from below.

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