The fall of the Brotherhood

July 4, 2013

In the wake of the immense protests on June 30 demanding the resignation of President Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood, Egypt's military stepped in to oust Morsi, appoint the country's top justice as interim president, and announce plans for constitutional revisions and early presidential elections.

The scenes of celebration Wednesday night in Cairo's Tahrir Square and other city centers were reminiscent of February 2011, when former dictator Hosni Mubarak was forced out of power after 30 years of rule. According to reports, the streets never really cleared from three days before, when millions upon millions of Egyptians--estimates range as high as 17 million in all, roughly half the adult population--demonstrated in the culmination of a petition campaign, called "Tamarod" (Rebellion), to demand Morsi's resignation.

The size of the protests and the jubilance of the crowds after his fall show the intensity of opposition to Morsi and the Brotherhood, just a year after Morsi won the presidential election and the Brotherhood dominated previous votes. But once in power, they continued to pursue the neoliberal economic agenda that has impoverished Egyptian society, and they proved themselves as anti-democratic as the Mubarak regime.

Morsi's downfall would not have come without this popular revolt. But it must also be recognized that Morsi's actual ouster was carried out by the Egyptian military--the backbone of the former Mubarak dictatorship, though often the rival of the Brotherhood since Mubarak's fall. Some political forces active in the movement against Morsi celebrated the military's action, but the threat it represents must not be underestimated. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi--the top commander who announced Morsi's removal--doesn't care about democracy or economic justice or freedom from oppression. The generals may have moved against the Brotherhood, but their long-term goal is to safeguard the interests of Egypt's elite.

The days to come will be filled with intense political conflicts--and Egypt's revolutionaries will again respond with the goal of furthering the revolution. But one cause for optimism is the confidence gained by millions of Egyptians in the struggle against Morsi.

Hani Shukrallah, the former editor of the English-language Ahram Online website, who was forced out under pressure from the Muslim Brotherhood, wrote this article after the June 30 protests--but before the military issued its ultimatum that led to Morsi's ouster. In it, Shukrallah explains why the demonstrations were so big--and why Morsi fell.

EGYPT IS making world history; in particular, world revolutionary history. Already, it is firmly up there with the two axiomatic revolutions of the modern world, the French and Russian Revolutions.

The popular upsurge on June 30 has been described as the biggest demonstration in the history of mankind; we would be hard-pressed as well to cite other examples of two major revolutionary upsurges in the space of two-and-a-half years, overthrowing two regimes--and make no bones about it, the Muslim Brotherhood regime in Egypt is over and done with--meanwhile putting somewhere between 30 and 40 percent of the nation's adult population on the streets in a single day.

Simply, there is no historical precedent for any of this. Let alone that even in the grimmest of times during the past two-and-a-half years, under the military/Muslim Brotherhood alliance, under the Muslim Brotherhood/military alliance and under the Muslim Brotherhood's frenzied power grab, popular resistance did not cease for a single day. And it was thus that the first wave of the Egyptian revolution slipped--just like waves are known to do--into the second.

Protesters fill Tahrir Square calling for Mohamed Morsi's resignation
Protesters fill Tahrir Square calling for Mohamed Morsi's resignation (Amgad Fahmi)

Also, for the first time in modern political history, a popular revolution is in the process of overthrowing an Islamist regime. Thirty-four years in Pakistan, another 34 years in Iran, 24 years in Sudan, a foreign invasion to oust the Taliban in Afghanistan--and never mind for the moment the fractured and corrupt caricature that has produced--a foreign invasion actually bringing Shia Islamists to power in Iraq, which Saddam had been Islamizing already via a debased marriage of degenerate Arab nationalism and Sunni Islamism.

Against that backdrop, the overwhelming conviction everywhere was that once in power, Islamists were there to stay--short, that is, of foreign invasion. Egyptians, however, did it, in 12 months.

All of which makes it doubly imperative for the revolutionary and democratic forces in the country to be fully aware of their place in history, and for God's sake to not let the trees blind them to the wondrous magical forest that lies just beyond.

"THERE IS something in the soul that cries out for freedom," said Martin Luther King Jr. so many years ago--his memorable words quoted by none other than Barak Obama in his February 12 statement on the Egyptian revolution, which a day earlier had successfully overthrown Hosni Mubarak's obdurate 30-year rule. For the American president it was rhetorical flourish, even as his administration, both before February 11, 2011 and since, acted consistently to help strangulate that very "something" in Egypt's soul.

Yet for the rest of us, there are few phrases that sum up Egypt's continuing revolution as aptly or as eloquently. For over 30 years, the overwhelmingly predominant perspective on Arabs and Muslims was that they were somehow a uniquely notable exception to King's words, even in their most vulgarized, stunted sense, as neoliberal free market economics accompanied by some form of equally stunted parliamentary democracy, more often than not overseen by local Mafiosi billionaires and their networks overseas.

Yet ours was not an "orange revolution" of the kind so favored by global capitalism; if it has any color at all, it is the deep red of the blood of our martyrs, no less than as a reflection of the centrality of the social at its very heart. Egypt's revolutionary banner back in January 2011, as it is today, proclaims: "Bread, Freedom, Social Justice, and Human Dignity."

As predominant dogma would have it, the political, social, cultural and economic behavior of Arabs and Muslims could only be understood by reference to Islam, wherein, supposedly, "freedom" has little or no place.

Tens of thousands of words have been written pontificating on this theme; Mr. Huntington created his absurd little meta-theory of "the clash of civilizations," the very thrust of which was to presumably explain Arab/Muslim "exceptionalism"; Mr. Fukuyama grudgingly admitted that Muslims may indeed be the globalized world's single exception to his "end of history," constituted by neoliberal economic policy and oligarchic liberal democracy.

On one occasion during these fatuous decades, I had to suffer through a lecture by an intensely postmodern American scholar in which he argued that Islamism in the Arab and Muslim worlds was the Muslims' equivalent of the feminist and gay liberation movements in the West. This mind-numbingly boring drivel was thankfully delivered in English, and to an American University in Cairo (AUC) audience, who lapped it up. Had it been delivered to real, as opposed to "fashionable," Islamists, the young postmodern scholar would have been hard put to escape the lecture hall bruise-free.

Needless to say, this predominant rubbish was shared and upheld as jealously on our side of the Atlantic/Mediterranean as on theirs. The policy ramifications were simple: Arabs and Muslims could be governed only by "semi-secular" police states or Islamist regimes, preferably with some form of "representative, electoral" political system (even if the Iranian variety could be dismissed, purely arbitrarily), and even more preferably, based on an accommodation between generals and mullahs--to which U.S. ambassador in Egypt Anne Patterson seems particularly wedded.

I've spent the best part of the last 30 years critiquing this predominant paradigm, at a stage of our history, which I had come to describe as the "Arabs' age of ugly choices." Today, on July 2, 2013, having just returned from Tahrir, it is with joyous glee that I thumb my nose at the literally thousands of pundits, academics, commentators, politicos and postmodern fashionistas, even as I, most humbly, bow to the indomitable spirit and love of freedom of my people: Thank you, Egyptians.

First published at Ahram Online.

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