The road to Morsi’s victory

June 25, 2012

The Muslim Brotherhood's Mohamed Morsi was named the official winner of the runoff election for the presidency against Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister under dictator Hosni Mubarak and candidate of the old regime. Egypt's election commission reported on Sunday that the margin was 51.7 percent to 48.3 percent, about the same as unofficial results reported a week before, after the two days of voting on June 16-17.

The announcement of the winner was delayed for days, while rumors swirled that Egypt's military rulers, led by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), would try to declare Shafiq the victor--possibly as a pressure tactic to get Morsi and the Brotherhood to accept a military power grab carried out before and after the vote.

On June 14, the Supreme Constitutional Court, which is still filled with men appointed by Mubarak, not only confirmed Shafiq's place in the runoff, but invalidated one-third of the elections for parliament held in December and January. The court ruled that its decision would mean dissolving parliament, where the Muslim Brotherhood predominated. The Interior Ministry also reintroduced large parts of the Mubarak-era emergency law, including giving the military the right to arrest civilians.

Then, even as vote-counting started on Sunday night, the SCAF released an "addendum" to the interim constitution declared last March, with the support of the Brotherhood. The new "annex" took away the president's powers to control the military, handed legislative and budgetary authority to the SCAF until a new parliament is elected, and gave the military effective veto power over the writing of a new constitution.

The court decision prompted anger, but few protests before the runoff. But starting on Tuesday, June 19, masses of people returned to Tahrir Square and the streets of other cities, answering calls by the Brotherhood along with radical organizations at the heart of last year's revolution to protest the military's constitutional declaration and the threat that Shafiq might be declared president. The square remained filled until the Sunday announcement of the result, when throngs cheered Morsi's victory and Shafiq's defeat.

Now the question is whether the Brotherhood leadership--which at a number of points since Mubarak's downfall has aligned itself with the SCAF against pro-democracy protesters--will continue to support mass mobilizations to challenge other aspects of the military's power grab, such as dissolving parliament and stripping the presidency of its powers. Left-wing groups that all along stood up to the military have called for Morsi to take a number of actions in defense of democracy and real social change.

Mostafa Ali, a member of Egypt's Revolutionary Socialists and longtime contributor to, gave his perspective on the battles leading up to and after the election in an interview with Alan Maass. The interview took place on Friday, June 22, as the biggest mobilization yet was taking place, but before the announcement of the result.

THE EVENTS of the last few days and weeks have been so intense and volatile. Can you describe the background leading up and immediately after the first round of voting on May 23 and 24--when Morsi and Shafiq came in first and second, though there was a much larger collective vote for candidates associated with the revolution, like Hamdeen Sabahi?

A MONTH ago, before the first round of the elections, if you looked at the surface of things, the feeling you would get--from the mainstream media and also from the fact that those who supported the counter-revolution were absolutely confident and outspoken--was that the revolutionary momentum had been broken. Not only that, but that the majority of people in the country had either turned against the revolution or become so exhausted that they were willing to let things return to normal and accept the return of the Mubarak regime.

The outcome of the first round of the elections was quite a surprise, not only to the right, but to those who supported the revolution. The millions who supported the revolution believed they were really a small minority, and that they were going to the polls to make a last statement for history, but that the whole thing was over. It was a shock that the majority of the people voted in the first round for candidates who were, in one way or another, pro-revolution candidates.

Thousands celebrated in Tahrir Square when Mohamed Morsi was declared the winner of presidential election
Thousands celebrated in Tahrir Square when Mohamed Morsi was declared the winner of presidential election (Jonathan Rashad)

That really was quite significant. Then, in the weeks between the first round and the second round, what became absolutely clear is that the mass support among people for the revolution was not finished, and that what actually happened in the last few months was a process of polarization in the country between those who supported the revolution and those who were amassing on the other side to finish it off.

There was a process of political regroupment of various social and political forces, in which many of the liberal groups and some left forces that nominally supported the revolution all along had finally broken and crossed to the other side, and decided under the guise of countering the rise of the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood to line up behind the military council and all the counter-revolutionary forces that supported the Shafiq candidacy.

So you had this extreme polarization, with a regroupment of forces and a hardening of positions. That was the period leading up to the beginning of the military council starting the process of a military coup. They felt that they had a good half of the country on their side. They had many liberal and even left forces behind them in what they wanted to look like a power struggle between the military and the forces of a civilian state on the one hand, and the Brotherhood on the other.

The situation reached a point where the balance of forces in general was in favor of the military council, but not yet in a decisive way. Sometimes in this situation, one side has to make a move in order to finalize the change in the balance of forces. It's at that moment that the military counsel decided that the situation of impasse couldn't continue forever, and that it must actually step in to drive the final dagger into the heart of the revolution.

So they started by preparing the ground legally for a military coup that would be enforced on the ground through the use of sheer physical force. There was the dismantling of the parliament, which was one of the very few advances of the revolution, and they gave themselves the right to apprehend and arrest civilians engaged in protests or strikes. And then they moved on to issue a new constitutional declaration that would actually formalize the SCAF as a force above everyone in society.

And in the midst of all that, they released the top security officers from the old regime--they were exonerated and the ground was prepared for the eventual exoneration of Mubarak himself, or at least to move him out of prison and to a military hospital, which they did in the last few days.

WHAT WAS the response of the different forces to the military's power grab?

IN TERMS of the reaction, the Brotherhood on the one hand and sections of the revolutionary forces, on the other, which have hardened in their support of the revolution over the course of the last few months, understood that the laws the military passed were not simply repressive measures, like what they had done all along, but that they were qualitatively different.

This was preparing the ground for an outright military coup. This was not going to be a soft coup, but the beginning of a serious military offensive to finish off the revolution once and for all--that was the initial reaction.

On the other side, counter-revolutionary forces now lining up behind the campaign of Ahmed Shafiq and liberals backing the military council declared their support for the constitutional declaration. So the country was seriously divided as it became absolutely clear that a military coup was on the order of the day.

You could see it on the ground--in the last few days, the army has moved tanks around the country, installing armored vehicles around all the major institutions and establishments of the state, under the guise of protecting them from possible disturbances and riots in case Shafiq was declared president. The army was moving tanks in order not just to defend the establishment, but to be able to intervene to crush mass demonstrations in the case that they decided that Shafiq was going to be president--to use that as a pretext to declare full and complete martial law.

This was the situation about three or four days ago, right after the election--the feeling in the air was that the military coup was rolling, and it was only a matter of days before they could make the final move. The situation changed dramatically in the course of just a few days. The military seemed to have the upper hand and the momentum. They seemed intent on pushing Shafiq to become president, and they seemed ready for a major confrontation.

Then, all of a sudden, the balance of forces on the ground changed in a dramatic manner. The Brotherhood, for one, realized that the military council was serious about conducting a coup, and that they were using the power struggle between the SCAF and the Brotherhood as a cover for carrying this out. The Brotherhood also understood that this was a question of life or death--that if they didn't take a strong stance against the military coup, they would be finished off in the not-too-distant future.

Sections of the left, such as the April 6 Youth Movement, the Revolutionary Socialists and other independent revolutionaries, also shared the same assessment and began to issue statements and mobilize for the demonstration against the military coup. So last Tuesday, June 19, two days after the election, thousands of members of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, but also thousands of independent revolutionaries were in the square in Tahrir and organizing demonstrations around the country.

In the last two or three days, the depth of the anger against the steps that the SCAF has taken and the depth of the appreciation of the imminent danger of a military coup has pushed more and more people to Tahrir and to organize demonstrations around the country.

WHAT WERE the demonstrations like when the Brotherhood put its call together with left-wing groups?

IT'S QUITE significant that for the first time since the revolution, you have tens of thousands of supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, not only back in Tahrir Square, perhaps for the very first time since February 11 when Mubarak fell, but this time on a significantly different basis, chanting alongside secular leftists and revolutionaries against the military council. The slogan is "Down, down with Military Rule."

This is a very significant development. The leadership of the Brotherhood did an all-out mobilization, realizing that this was a life-or-death battle at the moment, and its supporters responded. This is despite the fact that the leadership is still ready to make a deal in the future with the SCAF if the military coup is defeated.

But you really have a sea of change in terms of consciousness. You see it in the square, where for the very first time, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and other Salafist groups--who have denounced revolutionaries like the Revolutionary Socialists and the April 6 movement over the course of the last year in the confrontations between these revolutionary groups and the SCAF--are actually leading chants. The chant yesterday and the day before, during the de facto sit-in in the square, was: "Liberal, secular, Islamist, revolutionary--all one hand against military rule."

This is very important. Many of the Muslim Brotherhood supporters, who did not mobilize to defend revolutionaries in previous confrontations against the SCAF, such as in the battles in the fall on Mohamed Mahmoud Street and the Cabinet building sit-in, were appreciative of the role that the Revolutionary Socialists and April 6 Youth Movement have played in mobilizing against the military coup. The Brotherhood supporters are talking to these forces on the ground for the very first time since Mubarak fell on February 11.

So what you have is hundreds of thousands driven to take to the streets and people realizing that you need to build a united front at this moment of all political forces who support the revolution in order to stop the military coup.

That changed, I think, the balance of forces very quickly. It's possible to argue that this has suddenly made the military coup, which seemed quite imminent, stumble, and has opened the possibility of forcing the SCAF to make a serious concession in terms of the presidential elections--in terms of respecting the unofficial count which shows the Brotherhood candidate winning the election. I'm not saying this for certain, but the mobilizations have probably made them think twice about whether to carry out a full-scale military coup, Latin America-style, with tanks in the streets facing masses of people or attempting to crush hundreds of thousands of protesters.

The further point is that many of the people in the square, including some of members of the Muslim Brotherhood, don't want their leadership to reach a compromise with the SCAF at this point. This is really a decisive issue, and it's a big discussion: Will the Muslim Brotherhood leadership once again compromise with the SCAF? Will they betray the mass mobilization in the square? Will they accept the terms of the deal that has been set by the SCAF? Will they be willing to live with the new constitutional declaration? Will they be willing to live with the dismissal of the parliament?

There's obviously sections of the leadership of the Brotherhood who want to reach some sort of compromise with the SCAF. They're clearly talking with the SCAF, but there are pressures from below on the Muslim Brotherhood leadership. And more importantly, there is the realization that they might reach a compromise, but it can't be a compromise that will still leave the door wide open for the crushing of the Muslim Brotherhood in the near future. They realize that they have to score some sort of clear victory in this battle to stop the military coup if they want to save the future of the organization.

So it's a very complicated situation, and the Muslim Brotherhood leadership is wavering as it always has done. At one moment, they say, "No compromise whatsoever, under any conditions, under any circumstances," and then other leading members of the organization say, "No, we are willing to reach a compromise, we could renegotiate the status of the parliament." They say that Morsi could take the oath of office, if he wins the presidency, not in Tahrir Square, but in front of the Supreme Constitutional Court, which actually is controlled by the SCAF.

So there is constant wavering and vacillation. You can sense it from different sections of the leadership of the Brotherhood. But at the end of the day, I think they have to draw a line in the sand in order to stop the coup at this point. And the mass outpouring of tens of thousands of people into the streets is giving them a strong negotiating tool. It provides them with leverage in the ongoing confrontation with the military council.

I think this mass mobilization makes it likely that the SCAF will allow the Muslim Brotherhood to win the presidency, as they've actually done at the polls. They have delayed the official announcement of the result of the elections to Sunday, instead of Thursday, to buy time and probably to put more pressure on the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood to exact more concessions.

Another point is that this mass mobilization against the military coup has given sections of workers, once again, the confidence to begin to go out on strike. We haven't seen any significant strikes for two or thee months, really. There has been mass demoralization among big sections of workers in the last few months. But suddenly, as this political confrontation takes place on the ground against the military coup, sections of workers have gone out on strike once again--we've seen five big and significant strikes in the last 72 hours--and are gaining confidence. This is opening a new front of economic struggles against the SCAF.

We on the revolutionary left are arguing that we have to bridge this gap. We have to build a united front of all revolutionary forces against the coup, but we also have to overcome the division between the political struggle on the street for democracy and the economic struggles of the working class.

That would be absolutely significant and pivotal to the success of any political confrontation against the SCAF--first, to stopping the military coup, and second, to rebuilding a united revolutionary movement, where the Egyptian working class would be a significant part of a struggle that could combine both democratic political demands and economic demands in weeks to come.

LET ME ask you a question about the response of the Brotherhood after the military's power grab was clearly underway--with the court decision that dissolved parliament, but before the runoff. The Brotherhood didn't call for protests right away, did it?

THERE WERE two critical decisions that came out on Thursday. One basically gave military intelligence and the military police the right to arrest protesters, strikers, dissidents and anyone who poses a so-called threat to state security, and then hand them over to the civilian state security forces. This clearly meant they were preparing for the mass arrests of thousands of cadre of the Muslim Brotherhood--and, of course, sections of the leadership. The second one was the dissolving of parliament, which was the jewel in terms of the achievements of the Brotherhood, from its victory in parliamentary elections in December and January.

Now you would think that the Brotherhood would immediately call for mass protests. But they didn't. Their first instinct is never to go to the masses or rely on the mobilization of their base, because they don't know whether they will be able to keep full control over a movement from below. Their first instinct is always to try to figure out a way of negotiating with the military council and with the ruling class in general--some type of settlement.

The presidential elections were only two days away, and they didn't want to rock the boat. They were confident that they would win the presidential elections 48 hours later, so they made a conscious decision to wait until they won the vote before they would take any step towards calling for protests.

This is important to recognize because this is going to happen at every step of the struggle. The Muslim Brotherhood leadership's first instinct won't be to mobilize an all-out confrontation with SCAF and the remnants of the old political order. It will be to wait and try to hope for a negotiated settlement--and only if you have to do you try to go to your base, to mobilize the masses. That's only the last resort.

This has always been the mode of operation of a group like the Brotherhood, which, in my opinion, is a conservative reformist group, but with a mass base, big sections of which are within the working classes and the poorer sections of the middle class.

Even now, every day, they will continue to waver. But they also understand that they have a power base, and that they can rely on the mobilization of their base in order to reach a better deal at the negotiating table. If we keep that in mind, we'll understand a lot of their back-and-forth gestures, both to the left and to the right--constantly alternating between appealing to the revolutionaries and to the people in the street on the one hand, and at the same time trying to use that to reach a compromise that would avoid an all-out confrontation with those above.

IF THE SCAF is forced to accept Morsi's victory, what happens then? The military has already taken a lot of power away from the president, and it's blocked the parliament from meeting since the court decision. What's the dynamic in a situation where Morsi could gain the presidency, but in a situation where he has so little power against the SCAF?

THE FIRST thing is that if the SCAF backs down and allows Morsi to be president, that would mean they're backing down from going through with the plan for a complete military coup. It will be seen as the bigger victory.

In the eyes of many people in the square and those who support the revolution, this won't simply be that "we got our man to become president." It will be, first and foremost, that we stopped the military coup. This is really the sense in the street. The question of the Morsi presidency is symbolic for many, many people. The key question really is that we have to stop the military coup.

That's the first point. The second point, as I said before, is that the first instinct of the Muslim Brotherhood will be to figure out a way of sitting down and negotiating a settlement with the SCAF--on the question of parliament, the powers of the president and on who will write the new constitution. I think that would be the first thing Morsi would do if he's allowed to assume the presidency.

At the same time, it will be a major boost of confidence for people who, as I said at the beginning, believed just a month ago that it's all over and their vote would be a statement for history.

The Brotherhood will also go back to the street and use the power of mass mobilization when necessary to pressure the SCAF, but their first move will be to try to reach a settlement with the SCAF in order to avert the possibility of mass confrontations on the streets that would destabilize the system. This is always their biggest concern. They don't want to destabilize the system. They said that before the final results are announced--that we're ready to reach an agreement as long as long as we're treated with respect at the negotiations table.

HOW HAS the runoff election and the mobilizations since the runoff affected people's outlook on what happens next?

LET ME give you a flavor of the mood, and not only for the 52 percent of people who voted for Morsi. Don't forget that there are a few million people who didn't vote in the runoff election who would have voted against Shafiq, and who would have voted for Hamdeen Sabahi. One shouldn't just look how close the election was.

Many people were genuinely, and for very good reason, disappointed with the Brotherhood and devastated by its betrayals over the past year. Not everyone who abstained from the vote equated the Brotherhood with Shafiq, or said that the Brotherhood are fascists and just as bad as the SCAF. A significant number of people didn't vote because they felt genuinely betrayed by the Brotherhood. A lot of these people, and not only those who voted for Morsi, felt ecstatic after the unofficial results of the election came out, and after it became clear that if there is no rigging of the vote, Shafiq will be defeated.

So the mood is much better on that level. This gives people a lot of confidence in those around them. It shows them that there's a deep reservoir of support for the revolution. This explains the confidence and the hope that even a close defeat of Shafiq is giving to people. This confidence has translated into the mass mobilizations that we've seen. You could not have had that without people realizing that Shafiq could be defeated, and that the military council could be defeated.

This is one thing that worked in our favor and made it possible to see the huge numbers of people coming back into the street--not just for one demonstration, but for a big mass mobilization that turned into a sit-in for days in Tahrir Square.

So the mood is more optimistic, with renewed hope that we can defeat the counter-revolution. It's going to be a long war, but the most immediate battle right now is to try to figure out a way of stopping the immediate plans of the SCAF in terms of going through with a military coup.

Transcription by Courtney Smith and Karen Domínguez Burke

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