It feels like we have been here before. The last time I had to field this many phone calls, texts, and e-mails was in February 2011. Then, as now, Egyptians and their allies all over the world celebrated the end of a dangerous regime. Then, as now, social media and corporate media alike exploded with coverage of Egypt and the immense spirit of her people. Then, as now, we knew that this celebration would have to be brief. We knew, and know still, that the popular resistance of the Egyptian people against any and all attempts to deny their freedoms would continue.
And now, heralded in by the 30 June protests and the many struggles of the past two years, another moment of joy tempered by our awareness that the fight is yet to come.
I am from Alexandria, and–as is my luck–had returned to the U.S. after a too-brief stay in the city that my father’s family still calls home. A brief time later, Alex seemed up in flames. Every conversation that I had or listened in on while back home was centered around Morsi and his broken promises. Morsi and his Mubarak-style silencing of journalists and opposition figures. Morsi and the Brotherhood (Ikhwan) and the filth endemic to the streets and the military and the police: all things he had promised to clean up.
I have some family and friends that are (or at least once were) supporters of Ikhwan.* But my family and friends, like most Egyptians, are very funny (I’ve covered our nation’s particular sense of humour before on AIAC). So, a joke my uncle shared before 30 June seems apt: “Under Mubarak, you look out the window and see the street and a gap. This is good, you can park there. Under Morsi, if you see your car still there and no police nearby… well, that is the good thing.” We drove by countless heaps of trash on the streets, some of it put into trenches dug by neighborhood residents and burned in an attempt to keep things a little more normal. The falafel stand I grew up with is shuttered. The price of bread and rice is astronomical by Egyptian standards. Morsi kept none of his promises, instead attacking straw men (and the judiciary) just as Mubarak had done all through his crumbling presidency. Worse, he would accuse his opponents of being “feloul” (literally, the remnant of a defeated army – in Morsi’s mind, Mubarak supporters).
Unsurprisingly, much of the media in the Western world continues to frame these massive protests (some claim the largest in human history? though certainly immense all the same) as a struggle of the Egyptian peoples’ secular desires against Morsi and the Brotherhood’s Islamism. It would be too simple to dismiss Islamism as a factor in the protests against the government, but it was not only ‘secular’ Egyptians who took to the streets before and after June 30. Morsi, quite simply, did not live up to his promises. He did not clean up Egypt (either literally, or figuratively). He did not attempt to limit the power and ubiquity of the military in all aspects of Egyptian life (including its economy, agricultural sectors, and industrial operations). As Khaled Fahmy writes on CNN:
Winning with the slimmest margins, he found himself confronted by a stern judiciary, a hostile press, a powerful army and a corrupt police force. An unenviable situation, it is true, but he had the revolution behind him. Had he turned to us, we would have helped him tackle the army and the police, not overnight it is true, but we were willing to fight on. Instead, he chose to direct his wrath against the judiciary and the press, while letting the army and the police off the hook.
Morsi did not turn to the people, and so the revolution continued. Now, Egypt has a suspended constitution and the leader of the Supreme Constitution Court, Chief Justice Adli Mansour, as interim president. While Western media coverage of this moment in Egypt is predictably skewed toward the Islamist/Secularist binary that these news outlets depend on (don’t even get me started on coverage of Turkey…), another and similarly troubling claim is making its rounds right now.
Because the military took charge and ousted Morsi, and because Egyptians celebrate widely this ouster, the perception that Egyptians wanted a military coup is dangerously embedding itself in many conversations I am witnessing in the press, on television, and social media. This is not the coup of 1952, supported (though still critiqued) after the fact by the Egyptian people. This is the Egyptian military, the oldest, best organized, and best armed ‘political’ organization in the history of the country (thanks to 30 years of dictatorship and their most generous benefactor, the United States), attempting to appease and reign in control once more. Egyptians did want Morsi out – they did not want a coup.
Let me be as clear as I can be about this: Egyptians largely do not want the military to (continue to) rule. Many Egyptians fought Morsi in large part because he did not or could not curb the excessive power that the military has in every aspect of Egypt’s national, economic, and social well-being. This is vital to remember. As many of us cautioned in the first days as Mubarak stepped down: this fight is not over. The Supreme Council of Armed Forces in Egypt is a virus that remains to be beat. Let Egyptians celebrate their victory over Morsi, but do not think for a moment that we are not aware that SCAF is always, quietly, arranging as much as it can in its own favour. This is still a revolution. The popular resistance continues.
* And purportedly one great-uncle who was so invested in the Brotherhood that he refused to call my brother by his given name, and so hilariously altered it from “Karim” to “Karoom.” “Kumi” is the standard and less obnoxiously pious nickname for most Karims in Egypt.