Egypt’s Military Stays in Power, 2011 to 2014
Content: Free Elections, Women’s Rights Eroded, Conflict Between the MB and Critics, Desire for Democracy?, The Military Ousts President Morsi
Helping the new Arab democracies stabilize and deal with the main issue of finding jobs for the people is the most important issue of our time, according to Professor Joel Brinkley.[i] A Pew Research Center poll of Muslims more than a year after the Arab Spring began revealed that large majorities in Egypt, Lebanon, Turkey, Tunisia and Jordan believe democracy is the best form of government and that women should have equal rights (36% disagree about the latter in Egypt).[ii] Blogger Gigi Ibrahim said on a positive note, “People have found their voice, they are not afraid and they know their way onto the streets.” But she was less optimistic after the military expelled Morsi and pro- and anti-Morsi supporters fought each other. She said the revolutionaries had failed to provide a clear alternative, to spell out how to implement the goals of the revolution. And young people like Yara (17, f) want cooperation not conflict: “I’d change the ‘friend-enemy’ mindset people have. I hate the idea that people think of those who contravene their ideals as enemies. They are not enemies; we are just different.”
A poll conducted in April 2012 reported that two-thirds of Egyptians believe the Koran should shape the country’s laws and that they consider Saudi Arabia a better model than Turkey for the role of religion in government.[iii] Another poll indicate that 74% of Egyptian Muslims want the country to adopt Sharia law.[iv] The respondents had most favorable views of opposing groups, the MB, the April 6 Movement, and the SCAF ruling military council.
Women running as independents lost, including feminist media personality Gameela Ismail. Only nine women were members of the first parliament, two of them appointed. Egyptian journalist Dina Sadek explained, “While the liberals fought amongst themselves, the Islamist parties were well-organized and united under mutual goals.” Akram commented, “The new parliament is a mess. However, it’s the people’s choice so we shall wait and see.”
The presidential elections held in May and June 2012 resulted in a run-off between Shafiq, the last prime minister under Mubarak, and the MBs’ Mohamed Morsi after the SCAF disqualified many candidates. The military hoped that Ahmed Shafiq would win, but Morsi won with 52% of the vote to the delight of the crowd waiting in Tahrir Square to hear the results, as you can see.[v] Morsi has a Ph.D. in engineering from the University of Southern California, but like all MB officers is a conservative Muslim who wants an Egyptian constitution based on Sharia law.
Conflict Between the MB and Critics
Morsi told his followers in June 2012 that a “heinous coup” was underway when SCAF sent soldiers to lock out lawmakers from parliament after the highest court declared it was illegally elected. The SCAF claimed its right to write a new interim constitution, and control their own huge military budget. Reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei warned on Twitter that Morsi was Egypt’s “new pharaoh,” assuming “imperial powers,” especially in November of 2012. Morsi overturned the judicial system that had challenged his decisions, selected the constitution-writing committee, and gave himself the absolute power to take steps to deal with any “threat” to the revolution and to enact laws until a new parliament was elected. Judges went on strike to protest Morsi’s decrees. He led a coalition of 35 opposition groups called the National Front for the Salvation of the Revolution.
Demonstrators again took to Tahrir Square, carrying signs with half Morsi’s face and the other half Mubarak’s face. Egypt was divided between the MB and the poor they court with food, versus the liberals, judges, youth, and intellectuals, as seen in conflicting demonstrations and rock throwing, with police using tear gas. Supporters and opponents of Morsi clashed in the largest demonstrations since the revolution: 200,000 protesters filled Tahrir Square in November changing erhal, erhal, leave, leave and the same chant they used against Mubarak, “the people want to topple the regime.” Even the police went on strike in 2013 to protest the MB’s attempt to politicize the police force.
Morsi pushed for voters to approve the new constitution in December quickly drafted by a 100-person committee without the three dozen liberals and Coptic Christians who walked out in protest. Morsi’s committee rushed through a constitution, with only four women, all Islamists, attending the all-night session. They acted before the Supreme Constitutional Court could dissolve the committee and the MB locked the judges out of the court building. The constitution was criticized for not guaranteeing rights for minorities and women and giving Sharia law and clergy too much power over civil rights. It aimed to “preserve the genuine character of the Egyptian family” and permited freedom of the press to be controlled in times of war or “public mobilization.”
The MB campaigned that a yes vote on the constitution was a yes to Islam, that “Islam is the solution,” with posters saying to vote “yes to protecting Sharia law.” The liberal opposition coalition National Salvation Front’s slogan was “A constitution to divide Egypt.” They gained about a third of the seats in Parliament in 2011. Egyptian human-rights organizations charged that some women, including some Christian Copts, were refused ballots in the December referendum. The constitution received a yes vote of nearly 64% percent but only one-third voted. In Cairo, 56% voted no.
Protest demonstrations continued on the Jan25 anniversary in 2013 with young people especially angry about the lack of jobs or other economic improvements under Morsi. The Global Uprisings online documentary Egyptian Winter shows that unemployment increased, the economy was failing, and prices of staples like bread increased. Many trade unions led strikes, including independent unions, opposing the constitution that took away labor rights, resulting in more child labor, forced labor, and military tribunals for civilians (the latter is discussed in a Mosireen media collective documentary[vi]).
Desire for Democracy?
The Salafist Islamic extremists kept stirring flames of anti-Americanism. They led attacks on the US embassy in Cairo to protest an anti-Muslim YouTube video titled Innocence of Muslims in September 2012. Similar attacks occurred in Libya where the US ambassador was killed, in Yemen, and other Muslim countries. These extremists want to see secular political parties replaced by Muslim rule. Some commentators explain the angry demonstrations reflected young men’s continued frustration over lack of jobs and dignity and anger at US Middle East policy favoring Israel.
Despite all the turmoil after ousting the dictators, youth are still supportive of democratic change. Two years after Jan25, the economy was in free fall, tourism—that used to bring in as much as 20% of the revenue—is reduced to almost nothing as I experienced when I was there in 2011. Unemployment and inflation increased, street battles continued between secularists and Islamists, young ultra soccer fans and police with homeless street children joining in. Coptic Christians feared ongoing attacks. The faces of young men killed in the battles are often seen painted on walls, banners, and shirts.
After two years of ongoing conflict with the Morsi regime and the MB, some young people turned to civil disobedience like the general strike supported by around 10,000 people in Port Said the end of January 2013. Ultra soccer fans joined demonstrations to demand that police officials be punished for the deaths of 74 soccer fans killed the previous year. They protested of the sentencing of 21 Port Said soccer fans to death for the killings of their Cairo rivals in the soccer riot the previous year. Some attacked MB offices, blaming Morsi for the lack of democracy. They were protesting the court’s rulings about the soccer riot the year before. A third of Egyptians lived on $2 a day and faced power outages and crime. New York Times reporter David Kirkpatrick, who lives in Cairo, suggested to NPR radio host Terry Gross that the fact that the long gas lines and frequent lack of power ended after Morsi was ousted indicates that the shortages may have been part of the military’s plan to take over.
The Military Ousts President Morsi
On Facebook, Bothaina Kamel criticized media coverage of the ouster of Morsi as a military coup:
If you define 33 million citizens described by the BBC as the biggest protest in the history of mankind, led by the opposition figures, WONDERFUL YOUTH GROUPS WHO ARE THE ACTUAL OWNERS OF THE JANUARY’S REVOLUTION, and its demands implemented by Ministries of Defense and Interior, as a “small group” or if you describe the fall of a DICTATOR TERRORIST and his regime as “roller coaster” or “new crisis,” kindly SHUT the hell your mouth and go back to DICTIONARY that can define “small,” “sudden,” and most importantly “ETHICS,” “RESPECT TO THE WILL OF NATIONS: and “HUMAN RIGHTS.”
Teacher Amal reported to me,
I’ve been one of the participants of 30th June revolution which is a wholehearted revolution and it wasn’t a coup at all as about 33 million Egyptians took to the streets all over Egypt and asking Morsi to leave the office, raising red signs with the word LEAVE and holding whistles and whistling with them during our marches on the streets. All Egyptians urged the army to make our wish true as the army has the mandate according to the Egyptian constitution to execute people’s will.
Morsi made huge promises to improve Egyptian economy, health care system, traffic system and he never delivered of any of them. Moreover he started to impose restrictions on the freedom expression and detain activists opposing him, poverty increased, prices were sky high and unemployment grew up and he allow such high positions in all sectors to only MB members and their followers, which mounted corruption in Egypt.
The demonstrations were hugely amazing and they were nation-wide. But thank God the Egyptians won and gained their freedom and gave the criminal Morsi, who keeps claiming that he wants to maintain legitimacy by causing civil war in the country, a hard lesson. We taught him that the ballot is not a guarantee to any oppressive ruler to keep running our country and the people of the country are the master. The ruler is just a public servant and should serve all his people and not discriminate and he should fulfill his promises of freedom, justice, maintaining dignity for his people–otherwise he should leave.
This is a message from Egyptians to the misled American people. The situation right now is still unstable as the MB are trying to cause chaos and attack the military and its generals through the social media and try to damage its image by spreading the misleading news that it was a coup by the Egyptian generals. They try to mobilize and use violence against their opponents. But I’m sure stability will happen soon.
Regarding the sits-in by Morsi supporters, they were not peaceful ones as the protesters there were armed with very advanced weapons and the leaders of the MB sitting in there were bribing very poor people with food and money to stay there and they were misleading their followers by making false promises that America will help them to return Morsi to the office. So to maintain law and order it was the right decision to clear such unpeaceful sits-in and during such operation there were more than 30 officers killed by the armed protesters there.
The effort to depose Morsi was also supported by a group of opposition parties and movements including the April 6th Youth Movement and the National Salvation Front. On Monday, Tamarod gave Morsi 24 hours to leave or face “complete civil disobedience.” Many of his cabinet ministers defected to the opposition. Military helicopters circles over Tahrir Square dropping flags while fireworks lit up the sky and some people chanted, “The people and the military are one hand,” while others shouted, “No Mubarak, No Military, No Morsi!” They waved red cards signally a no vote and flags, and some wore headbands with “Leave, Morsi” written on them, as seen in the video of Tamarod leaders.
The army joined in the ultimatum to “meet the people’s demands,” giving him a week to reach a compromise. They deposed Morsi on July 3 after four days of huge protests to prevent the nation from entering a “dark tunnel,” replacing him with Adli Mansour, the head of the Supreme Court, until elections were held. Mansour said these actions “corrected the path of its glorious revolution” and promised, “We will preserve the revolution.” They also arrested MB leaders and shut down their media outlets. Economist Hazem el-Beblawi was appointed Prime Minister, a founder of the Social Democratic party, one of the secular members of the National Salvation Front. President Mansur announced that an amended constitution would be put to a referendum and a new parliament elected within months.
The MB organized counter-demonstrations in support of their democratically elected president and against what they called a coup and the return of dictatorship, resulting in deaths and injuries in Cairo, Alexandria and other cities including Upper Egypt. Brotherhood leader Mohammed Badie told his supporters “May the Lord destroy” the secular opponents of the Islamist movement. A warrant was issued for his arrest. A “massacre” killed over 50 Morsi supporters in clashes with security forces in front of the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo on July 8, including four officers. Morsi supporters vowed to continue their sit-in at Baba’a al-Adawiya Square where some children wore t-shirts with Jihadist messages like “martyr on call” and families were divided as to which side they supported. A rumor circulated that the coup was an Israeli plot to destroy an Islamist government. Supporters of both sides were killed and widespread lawlessness is reported.
When Yemeni “Mother of the Revolution” Tawakkol Karman flew to Cairo to support Morsi, who she viewed as on the side of democracy versus military coup, she was sent back home. She supported replacing Morsi but not by the military. After six weeks of sit-ins by MB supporters, the security forces cleared two massive sit-ins in Cairo on August 14 beginning at 6:00 AM, wounding nearly four thousand, and killing over 600 the first day, the most violent day since Jan25. Some protesters wrote their names and phone numbers on their arms in case they were shot. More than 1,000 people were killed nation-wide. Vice-President ElBaradei resigned in protest. Morsi supporters called for daily protests and were accused of attacking dozens of Coptic Christians and their churches, especially in Lower Egypt. MB supporters fought not only the police but also armed residents, some of them who threw rocks and glass bottles. Protesters chanted General “El-Sisi is the enemy of God” and “Down with the murder.”
A state of emergency was declared and a nighttime curfew put in place. Freedom of press was curtailed as in shutting down Al Jazeera TV in September, a seeming return to Mubarak era repression in opposition to the spirit of the revolution. Four Al Jazeera employees were arrested and put on trial in 2014, accused of being a terrorist cell. Blogger Gigi Ibrahim faulted the SCAF and police for “an endless list of vicious crimes” that the people will not forget. I asked Amal about this disturbing trend, but she remained optimistic; “Most Egyptians are asking the authorities in Egypt to close the Al Jazerra office in Cairo as it’s not a credible channel and it’s so biased to the MB. [Ibrahim agreed that Aljzeera and CNN were pro-Morsi, while many Egyptian-owned channels were pro-military.] Moreover they bring false news about what’s happening in Egypt and they are conspiring against the interim government and June 30th revolution.”
While some look at military takeover as a response to the people’s demands, groups like the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists believe that the military encouraged the demonstrations as an excuse to take power, fearful of the instability Morsi was generating. Some speculate that Morsi was trying to replace Minister of Defense Sisi.[vii] On July 3, the Interior Ministry instructed security forces to hand out water and juice to demonstrators rather than teargas, indicating their support. Dilip Hiro, a prolific author born in Pakistani who lives in London, also maintains that the military pulled the strings.[viii] They abandoned former officer Mubarak because they were afraid his son Gamal as the next president would interfere with their undocumented business economy, which some guess is 40% or more of the GDP. Hiro adds that no independent organization verified the number of signatures on the petition to oust Morsi. Shortly before the June 30 demonstrations police disappeared from street patrols, power cuts became more frequent, and fuel shortages appeared to create discontent with Morsi. A New York Times article links the “miraculous end” to these problems right after the coup evidence of a plan to replace Morsi.[ix] The problem was that military intelligence agents infiltrated the group in March, helped fund their petition campaign. Within a week after Morsi was imprisoned, the military cast Tamarod aside: “Having ridden the Tamarod horse to total power, SCAF had no more use for it.” To squelch MB supporters, Interior Ministry troops killed nearly 1,000 protesters at two sites. Within days of the coup, Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and UAE gave $12 billion to the military and the US continued to provide aid. The US did very little to express disapproval, even when the military’s president Adly Mansour approved a new law that essentially outlawed the right to protest unless approved by officials.
A new constitution mandated that the defense minister be a military officer and civilians could be tried in military courts for some crimes. It was approved in a referendum in January 2014. In Sisi’s acceptance speech as president in June 2014 he made many references to the slogan of the revolution, but the army’s massacre of MB protesters and outlawing demonstrations indicates their reactionary stance rather than aiming for a second revolution.
The January 2014 vote to approve the amended constitution was approved by 98% of the 39% of the eligible voters who turned out at the polls, compared to 64% of the third of the voters in the Mori referendum the previous year. The MB and other groups called for a boycott of the election. Islam remains the state religion but freedom of religion is guaranteed, it guarantees “equality between men and women,” political parties can’t be formed based on religion, and the military will appoint the defense minister for the next eight years. General Sisi interpreted the election as a mandate to run for president in 2014.
On August 14 the Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists posted on Facebook that they were active in the overthrow of Mubarak; they didn’t support Morsi for a single day as he continued the armed power structures used by Mubarak, but were against the “brutal massacre which the army and police are committing. It is a bloody dress rehearsal for the liquidation of the Egyptian Revolution. . . creating a state of terror.” They charged military rule with a “filthy attempt to create a civil war.” I asked Omar if he thought civil war is occurring: “Yes, but the new president is not doing his job as the numbers of Egyptian killed from July 3 till today [August 19] is double the number of Egyptians whom killed during Morsi.” Akram, now a university student, told me:
I’d say it’s just some riots, some very serious riots, it’s not a civil war since its not people against each other, it’s a war against terrorism between the people supported by the army and the terrorist MB. You have no idea how much people hate the Brotherhood here (and how mad they are against the US for supporting them). But yeah, it’s mainly clashes and chaos, no civil war in sight.
The military outlawed the MB, seized their assets and newspaper building, and arrested most of the leaders and around 2,000 Brotherhood members, calling them terrorists linked to a growing insurgency in the Sinai Peninsula. Militant Islamists groups there consider the army and police to be infidels because they work for a secular government. It’s a vast desert hardly populated as I saw taking a bus from Cairo to the Red Sea. Police stood by while a crowd burned down the MB headquarters in Cairo. In August 2013, nearly a thousand MB demonstrators were killed in the largest mass killings in modern Egyptian history and more than 40 security officers were also killed. Videos show young men in morgues with bullet holes in their heads and chests—not rubber bullets. This was the excuse for reinstating a state of emergency.
To bolster public support the military provided subsidies for low-income families, helping with education and public transportation costs. To spur employment, $3.1 billion was budgeted for infrastructure projects, much of it funded by Saudi Arabia, the UAE, and Kuwait (over $12 billion), countries interested in stability and expansion of their control in the region. With the exception of Qatar, Gulf States also cracked down on MB members, viewed as part of the Arab Spring rebellions.
I asked Yara what her friends thought as of October 2013. She said they’re divided, but most like her don’t support the military or the Brotherhood. At first, she was rather relieved when the military ousted Morsi because she believes in secular government in opposition to traditional pharonic thinking. An example of that mode of thinking is some people are begging General Sisi to run for president in 2014. She added that under Morsi, if you didn’t support him, you weren’t considered a Muslim. She would vote for ElBaradei for president but fears that he is too idealistic, too utopian for Egypt, and that the military will continue to control Egypt.
The military controls much of the economy, many officials are ex-generals, it’s funded by over a billion dollars from the US each year, and insists on shaping the new constitution to keep some of its power. The military outlawed street demonstrations without approval from the Ministry of Interior, banned overnight sit-ins and protests at places of worship, and gave police the right to ban political campaign meetings.
A post from “Comrades from Cairo” in December 2013 reminded readers that this was the “same Interior Ministry whose soldiers killed thousands of protesters, maimed tens of thousands and tortured unknown others in recent years.” They also faulted approval of military trials for civilians in the new constitution. They call the July 3 regime change a military coup and believe the military uses the excuse of fighting terrorism and the need for stability to “whitewash the violence of the security regime.” They declared, “The January 25 revolution has returned to the streets. We will oppose the system everywhere we can. Stand by our side.” Morsi and 35 other MB leaders were put on trial charged with attempting to incite civil war in Sinai, revealing state secrets to Iran, sponsoring terrorism, and inciting the murder of anti-Morsi protesters against him while he was in office.
The Mosireen Collective reported that protesters were hit with water hoses and tear gas, beaten, sexually assaulted, and arrested—including 14 women. The females refused to be released until the men were also free. One protester said, “Those thinking the authoritarian, pharaonic style works will find it doesn’t anymore. There will be a third wave of the revolution much more violent than before. We are witnessing a turning point.” A police senior officer said the new law is “unenforceable.” Police jailed well-known revolutionary activists including Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel, Ahmed Douma and Alaa Abdel-Fattah in 20 other demonstrators in November 2013, organized by the “No to Military Trials of Civilians” group. They were accused of organizing a protest without permission. In June 2014 blogger Abdel-Fattah and 24 other demonstrators was sentenced to 15 years in prison, not allowed to enter the courtroom or have lawyers present a defense, the longest sentence for a youth activist. His sister Mona Seif said he did attend but didn’t organize the demonstration. She and other female demonstrators were taken by police in a van, dumped in the desert in the middle of the night. A Facebook page and Twitter campaign was created, “Free Alaa.” President Sisi said freedom of speech will take a back seat to restoring security and revitalized the economy.
On the other side of the political spectrum, police attacked a MB student protest in Cairo University, using live ammunition. The students continued to protest almost daily, leading one policeman to remark to his colleague, “The students are bullies. I’m not going back.” Jihadist groups have also attacked police and soldiers. More than 150 policemen were killed just in the months between August and December 2013; they called for higher wages.
The military declared the MB a terrorist organization thereby outlawing the organization and possibly also prohibiting the activities of its more than a 1,000 charitable organizations after most of its leaders and thousands of its members were jailed. The government also seized land and property belong to MB members. One of them told a reporter, “I personally am not scared. People don’t have anything to lose.”
On November 28, 2013, Yara, 17, emailed from Cairo about pro-Morsi demonstrators captured by police. Seven were girls ages 15 and 16 and the others were in their early 20s:
In what could only be described as a dark day in the history of the revolution, 21 girls today we’re sentenced to prison. Some were sentenced to more than 14 years! Others who are underage were sent to juvenile! For peaceful protesting!! The court made its decision in only ONE session. Mubarak has been on trial for the past 3 years or so, and he wasn’t even sentenced… Not only that, but also the government just passed the “No protesting” law which basically gives a right to officer to dismiss using force any groups of more than 10, and even arrest them without a warrant. I think you should mark today in your book, as the beginning of the end.
Because of the outrage, the girls were released, but 24 young men were kept in jail and tortured. In court, the prisoners chanted “down with military rule,” and started a hunger strike in jail.
Yara’s teacher, Amal, had a different perspective and rather condescending analysis.
I would like to assure you that we are not ruled right now by military at all. And I am afraid to say that what Yara mentioned about the girls who belonged to MB is not exact. As I see Yara hasn’t got adequate information, as I think she depends only on Facebook, like all the young nowadays, to get information and have views. And the fact is that such young girls have participated in violent demonstrations by MB who insist on spreading fear and chaos in Egypt. And that is why they have been arrested among others for their violent attacks during such demonstration, and through the investigation they have admitted that they used weapons and they participated in violent attacks. I have been following such case through newspapers and TV and radio. So my information is more accurate than Yara’s information and I understand Yara’s stand as she belongs to the same age. But as one of the TV announcers said if you were in the judge’s position and you asked a suspect and he or she fully confessed and pleaded guilty, so what would be your verdict?!
Also I would like to correct Yara as she mentioned that the girls are sentenced to 14 years and the right verdict is 11 years each. And my third correction to my dear Yara is that such verdict is not a final one; it is just a primary one and the girls can resume and go to a higher court and resume their case. So my dear Gayle it is not a final judgment. And this is one of the sufferings of our society as most of our youth never get information but from Facebook. As they pass inaccurate information to each other without trying to verify such information.
Next Yara emailed to tell me that an icon of the revolution, Bassem Mohsen was shot in the head during a November 20 protest against police violence. He lost an eye during the 2011 demonstrations, was jailed, almost beaten to death, became the coordinator of Tamarod in Suez. He was a “martyr for what he believed in, who fought for the revolution with everything he had.” Youth leaders of Jan25 were arrested the end of 2013 and sentenced to three years in jail under the new anti-protest law, including Ahmed Maher, Mohamed Adel and Alaa Abdel-Fattah, and Ahmed Douma co-founders of the April movement. Amr Ali, another leader of the youth movement, reported, “The repression happening now to the movement and other NGOs is even higher than what we experienced in Mubarak’s time. Mubarak’s regime is trying to get power back, and there is a systematic approach of revenge against groups and movements that stood against it.”[x]
Security forces detained and beat up staff members of the Egyptian Center for Economic and Social Rights in December 2013, including Mohamed Adel who was active in the April 6 movement. At the same time, Mubarak’s sons were acquitted of some corruption charges as the military sought to broaden its support base as it faces almost daily demonstrations by Morsi supporters secular youth groups. Maher acknowledged that the people are tired of revolution and want stability.
The “Revolution Path Front” was formed September 2013 to prevent the revolution from being hijacked again and proposed an “Egyptian Bill of Rights.”[xi] At a press conference of “left” activists, they stated that although millions took to the streets in January 2011 and June 2013, “It has been two-and-a-half years since the revolution began and Egyptians have not yet achieved their dream of building a new republic that will provide them with democracy, justice and equality.” They blamed the MB and the military. About 150 founding members belonged to April 6 movement, The Revolutionary Socialists, Justice and Freedom Youth, and Strong Egypt Party. Yara said she had heard of them, “A lot of people have given up though and just feel like all this isn’t going to work. We are all very frustrated as you can imagine.”
Fault lines are coming to the surface three years after the revolution, with attacks on women getting worse. Escalating violence includes gang rape of a woman surrounded by a large swarm of men referred to as a “a circle of hell.” In a video shot from above you see a rotating circle of men like an angry swarm of bees. Mariam Kirollos reported to the Global Uprisings conference that many groups around Egypt are organizing independently with different ideologies to rescue the victims. She said that during the revolution women were told to wait until their issues were addressed, that they were a diversion from the important issues at hand, but they’re not waiting anymore. “Now if our demands are not met, we’ll start our own revolution.” A government official commented in 2013 that women go to Tahrir in order to get raped, so the outcome is a lot of women are afraid to organize in Tahrir.
Western powers pushed the military to follow through on its promise to write a more secular and democratic constitution and hold elections in 2014. Amazingly, in August 2013 Secretary of State Kerry praised the military for “restoring democracy.” In November, the government prohibited public meetings of more than 10 people without approval from the Interior Ministry as well as all demonstrations at religious buildings like mosques. In response three members of April 6 and others protested outside the upper house of parliament; the three leaders were sentenced to three years in jail. In December, Morsi supporters held a large demonstration were five people were killed and over 250 arrested.
In the constitution proposed in December 2013, the military gave itself more power while cleansing Islamic elements from Morsi’s version of the constitution. The military reserves the right to name the Defense Minister for the next two presidential terms. A 50-member panel drafted it in preparation for a national referendum. Soldiers beat and arrested some well-know human rights activists including members of the ”No Military Trials for Civilians” group when they protested the restrictive rules in the new constitution on November 26. Youth succeeded in making a revolution but not in long-term planning for a democracy free of military influence.
A referendum on the new constitution was held in January 2014, billed as also a straw poll on General Sisi’s bid for the presidency. It included exceptions to free speech including punishment for “dishonoring individuals” and “inciting violence.” TV ads and posters told voters a yes vote is a vote for the continuation of the revolution, despite its special treatment of the military and outlawing unauthorized protests. Campaigning for a no vote could lend up in arrest and being called traitors. Eleven people were killed in protests. Most of the 39% of the eligible voters who cast a ballot said yes. The military regime used classic imperial strategy of divide and conquer, setting Islamists, Salafis, Coptic Christians, and secularists against each other. I asked Akram why Sisi was popular when he jailed secular youth activists as well as MB members: “Because most of the people are not revolutionaries. Plus, there’s an awful campaign that’s distorting the image of activists and the 25th of January revolution!“
Since three out of four Egyptians are under 40, the government worried about low youth voter turnout for the referendum. In referendums after the revolution, their turnout was high. The Minister of Youth, age 55, discounted the youth disaffection, saying “It was exaggerated, until it became a subject addressed by everyone who works in the media.” President Adly Mansour (age 68), invited youth leaders to the presidential palace for discussions where he asked them why youth didn’t vote. After attending three meetings, activist Shady el-Ghazaly Harb (age 35) said he stopped attending because authorities hadn’t stopped arresting young people and jailing them in appalling conditions. In another government meeting with youth in February 2014, the groups selected were Tamarod, the Wafd Party, and the Free Egyptians Party.
General Sisi, Defense Minister, was elected president in 2014, Egypt’s fifth military president. He was opposed by a left-wing politician called Hamdeen Sabahi who finished third in the June 2012 presidential election. A devout Muslim, growing up in a poor family in Cairo, the military was Sisi’s way out. He begins the day at 5:00 am for dawn prayers. Mosireen Media Collective warned him in January 2014, “You, General al-Sisi, will keep killing us, we’ll keep dying and grieving until your time comes. Like it did for Morsi, the tables will turn on you….We used to face Morsi down with rocks for hours. . . but we weren’t afraid.” (Their videos are on YouTube.[xii]) He said in his inauguration speech that “It is time for our great people to reap the harvest of their two revolutions,” but that free speech would take a back seat to stability.[xiii] Since Morsi was ousted in a coup, the military killed more than 1,000 protesters and jailed at least 16,000 others. He thanked Saudi despot King Abdullah for his monetary support.
Amnesty International said the military-backed government has “trampled on human rights and quashed dissent,” pointing in January 2014 to at least 1,400 deaths in political demonstrations since July 2013. Government crackdowns jailed 16,000 in the eight months after the coup with many reports of beatings, according to senior officials.[xiv] The mother of a jailed 20-year-old said he looks like a dirty caveman with long hair and nails. Protesters are increasingly resorting to violence, throwing Molotov cocktails and homemade grenades at police cars and barracks in Cairo. Pro-Sisi demonstrators chanted, “The people want the execution of the Brothers,” waving flags and holding photos of Sisi with a lion or hawk. Ahmed Shafik, a former general and prime minister, the runner-up behind Morsi, said the 2014 elections would be a farce, a comedy show, “I know very well they will fix all the ballot boxes.”[xv] The turn out on May 26 was lower than the election of Morsi, so the military extended voting by another day, threatened to fine people who didn’t vote, and TV announcers and religious leaders scolded non-voters. The official turnout rate was 46% with 103 million spoiled ballots. Harry Potter fan Yara emailed a photo of a ballot with a message written on it (shown on the book website),
A lot of Egyptians are NOT supporting the play that the system chooses to call “presidential elections.” For this reason, and in an act of protestation, many Egyptians have opted to invalidate their votes on the voting papers. It is in this time that the hilarity of the Egyptian people makes itself clear. Some chose to draw; others wrote a punch line or a joke. However, this has to be my favorite. It says: “The entirety of the Egyptian People hereby extend their warmest, heartfelt regards to actress Emma Watson for her Bachelor Degree.” I thought you may enjoy this! I thought it was gold!
The state of emergency was reinstated and protesters are jailed—at least 22,000 by mid-2014, including friends of Yara’s. Aril 6 youth movement was banned in April 2014 by the Court for Urgent Matters, but its Facebook page remained up.[xvi] Ahmed Abd Alla, a member of April 6, said “thousands of the revolutionaries are in prison. Our revolution did not succeed.” A judge sentenced 529 MB supporters to death after a few hours of trial in March for the murder of a police officer after Morsi was ousted, with another groups of 600 accused of attacking a police station were put on trial soon after. Several students were sentenced to 17 years in prison. In June 2014, Alaa Abdel Fattah (33) and 24 others were sentenced to 15 years in jail for violating 2013 protest laws. He was a leading activist in Jan25.
With the military in control of Tahrir, universities became the places to demonstrate against the coup, as in March 2014, around the country. They demanded the release of classmates jailed during the previous semester and that security forces who killed students be put on trial. In February, a judge lifted a ban on police entering campuses and administrators dissolved elected student unions, suspended activists, and fired professors who supported them. Students want an end to military rule. Multiple student groups including revolutionary socialists organized a protest in May called “Black Week for Universities.”
Yara and her peers were discouraged. She reported in 2014, “There’s minor activism now. It has less to do with fear and more to do with frustration. A lot of us feel like there’s no point anymore. We learned a long time ago to not fear bullets, sticks, fires, or jail. We seek freedom and death with the same zeal that they seek life in ignominy.” Students against the Coup clashed with security forces on numerous campuses, including Cairo, Alexandria, and Beni Fuef on March 20, 2014. Two students were killed by birdshot and many more were injured. Cairo University expelled 23 students for taking part in campus protests. The same month, a court sentenced 500 Muslim Brotherhood members to death in a joint trial.
Yara revealed a generational divide as she commented on the state of the revolution in 2014,
Youth did lead the revolution. We started it. We didn’t lead it to victory though; we lost it along the way. Here’s what I feel, and a lot of people my age feel the same way. We started this; the older generation claimed we were spies for the western world. After a while they joined. Then they expected their voices to mean more than ours, because they’re the “ADULTS.” They said yes to the military council for stability and when we screamed no, they called us thugs. Then they went out of their way and elected members to the Egyptian equivalent of the Senate house, that were old enough to have witnessed the 1919 revolution! Then again they dragged us to the dirt with electing Morsi and Shafeek for the final round of presidential elections. When we started talking about how it was unfair for the right wing Muslims to control the political scene, they called us atheists. And now here we are again screaming that the military should NOT be ruling the country, yet again. This time it’s no different. They deem our voices because we are “kids, atheists, thugs, and spies” and theirs are the only ones that matter. At this point though, we are tired of fighting. We fight, we protest, we sleep in the streets, we get shot, we get arrested, we die, and they, well, they rule. Everyone is frustrated. Everyone’s hope is lost. I know mine is.
In a generation gap, they’re blaming each other. A New York Times reporter who lives in Cairo, David Kirkpatrick also observed a generation gap.[xvii] The two-thirds of the Egyptians under age 35 had their Woodstock moment in Jan25 and feel the regime repudiated their revolution. He sites a blogger called Sandmonkey (32) who said in a widely viewed post that elders are incompetent: “Egypt is facing the tragedy of an entire generation incapable and unqualified to deal with their plight.”[xviii] Young members of the MB blame the old guard for making the MB unpopular and not following “the revolutionary path.” An April 6 member said, “Their generation was silent for 60 years, and when we have paid the price in blood for them to have the right to say something, they turn around and call us traitors.” A pro-military elder blames youth for confusing revolution with chaos and destruction. Akram provides and example of elders discrediting the revolution:
Abdel Rehim Aly has an “exposé” TV show now where he claims to have documents against activists and some key players in the revolution, it’s really annoying and he claims they wanted to destroy Egypt and all are affiliated with the MB. Being a member of the 6th of April now is like the worst thing that can be said about someone as everyone now thinks they were funded and trained by foreign authorities.
Some fault youth for not organizing a coherent political plan, for not being a vanguard leadership, like New York Times op-ed columnist who wrote, “I blame the squabbling Egyptian liberals.” The filmmakers of Oscar-nominated The Square said in 2014 that the genie is out of the bottle. Director Jehane Noujaim followed activists shown in the film for two years. She told Al Jazzera America that more than 16,000 people were detained by the military since Morsi was ousted but she’s optimistic.[xix] Producer Karim Amer noted,
Everyone who felt that power isn’t going to give up. What was born in that square was a sense of dignity, as people felt for the first time they could be authors of their future. It’s an ongoing struggle. I believe in the resistance of a dedicated few. Especially the young Egyptians will take things into their own hands. We haven’t had a chance to reflect, live moment to moment. This revolution comes in waves, part of a global struggle. Youth are going to write our own stories that will and interconnected and hard to beat.
To keep current, check online sites such as the Foreign Policy’s Middle East Channel, Al Jazeera English, and the Khaled Said Facebook page. Akram reports one can follow all the news on Egyptian Chronicles.[xx] Zeinobia, its author, is one of the most famous bloggers in Egypt. She says she posts about everything that happens and describes herself on the blog as, “I am just an Egyptian girl who lives in the present with the glories of the past and hopes in a better future for herself and for her country.” Egypt’s revolution got rid of Mubarak and Morsi, but the military remained in power, jailing young liberal activists, discouraging others. But they influenced global uprisings and believe they eventually will succeed in establishing democracy after older people are replaced in power. Sub-Saharan Africa has many countries with youth bulges living in poverty, but do they have the resources to displace corrupt governments? So far, not much progress in that regard, although poverty is being reduced.
[i] Joel Brinkley, “A Lesson from America,” San Francisco Chronicle, April 17, 2011, p. F9. He points out that Latin American democracies crumbled over their failure to improve the quality of life for the people, leading to the authoritarianism of leaders like Hugo Chavez in Venezuela.
[ii] “Most Muslims Want Democracy, Personal Freedoms, and Islam in Political Life,” Pew Global Attitudes Project, July 10, 2012.
[iii] “One Year Later, Egyptians Embrace Democracy, Islam in Political Life,” Pew Research Center Publications, May 8, 2012.
[iv] Nathan Key, “Survey Shows Majority of Muslims in Favor of Sharia,” The Layman, May 3, 2013.
[vii] Peter Storm, “Egyptian Revolutionary Socialists’ Letter to Supporters,” Socialist Worker, August 20, 2013. http://socialistworker.co.uk/art/34144/Egyptian+Revolutionary+Socialists+letter+to+supporters
[viii] Dilip Hiro, “Clueless in Cairo,” Huffington Post, June 5, 2014.
[ix] Ben Hubbard and David Kirkpatrick, “Sudden Improvements in Egypt Suggest a Campaign to Undermine Morsi,” New York Times, July 10, 2013.
[xi] “A Revolutionary Front in Egypt,” Socialist Worker, October 10, 2013.
[xiii] David Kirkpatrick, “At Swearing-In, Ex-General Vows ‘Inclusive’ Egypt,” New York Times, June 8, 2014.
[xv] David Kirkpatrick, “Former Egyptian General Calls Promise of Free Elections a ‘Farce,’” New York Times, March 13, 2014.
[xvii] David Kirkpatrick and Mayy El Sheikh, “In Egypt, A Chasm Grows Between Young and Old,” New York Times, February 16, 2014. Ahmad Abd Allah is 34.
February 11, 2014