A few days ago, the pro-Muslim Brotherhood prosecutor general pressed charges against a number of iconic youth revolutionary figures. The allegations were related to the recent clashes that took place near the Brotherhood’s headquarters in Cairo.
For many, it became clear that the country’s new rulers are using the same old tools of political oppression of opponents. The revolutionary forces are facing an elected authoritarian regime that uses its electoral majority to suppress the meager liberties that Egyptians managed to secure following Hosni Mubarak’s ouster.
Indeed, a look at the recently ratified Constitution and the laws and regulations passed under President Mohamed Morsy is sufficient to raise fears about the reproduction of an authoritarian order that is even worse than its predecessor, as it is more legitimate by the virtue of being elected. For the revolution to continue, the way out is clear: The Brotherhood’s authoritarian project has to be aborted, even if this means driving the newly elected president out of office.
It has become hard to defend the Brotherhood’s case. This new ruling class has shown an astonishing combination of ineptness, recklessness and authoritarianism.
Those who choose to defend the Brotherhood have been employing an extremely formalistic and instrumental conception of democracy, in which winning elections is the only criterion for legitimacy. These people simply ignore that modern history is full of elected dictators, including Adolf Hitler himself.
Accordingly, many see the way out as a coup through which the military steps back into politics to depose the embattled president. Within revolutionary circles, flirtation with the coup scenario remains limited.
However, several so-called civil or secular politicians, who are directly or indirectly related to the revolution, have been openly calling upon the military to save the country. Furthermore, many anti-revolutionary interests that are being threatened by the rise of the Brotherhood have been promoting the military as the way out.
But is that so?
A military coup can hardly be the solution. The return of the military to politics is not likely to create a stable regime that does not rely on wide, severe and sustainable repression.
The military has shown little skill in the management of the country’s troubled economy and dysfunctional bureaucracy. Furthermore, the international community on which the Egyptian economy is reliant will not tolerate an old-fashioned coup, as the Americans believe it is the short-cut to even more chaos.
To cut a long story short, not only will a military coup preclude any chance of establishing a genuine democracy, but also it is not tenable given the many domestic and international factors standing against it.
The call upon the military to move against the Brothers dramatically demonstrates the historical dependence of the Egyptian middle classes on the state. Such dependency can be traced back to the era of former President Gamal Abdel Nasser, when the entire project of the Free Officers was based on the emptying of the public sphere and the uprooting of politics.
Ever since, for significant strata among the bourgeoisie and middle classes, politics itself became an undesired object.
The January revolution forced politics back. And it seems that as uncomfortable as this may be, there is no way to restore the status quo ante.
One may safely state that the bet that any single organization or institution, be it the military or the Brotherhood, can contain the current sociopolitical mobilization and fluidity, either through repression or elections, will be proved wrong.
While most attention in the last few months has gone to the protest movement on the ground, a few have noticed the results of the student unions and professional syndicate elections. These recent polls have shown that the Brothers are not invincible, despite their great organizational capital.
Student unions and professional syndicates have been the historical sources of middle-class support for the Brotherhood since the 1970s. Even though these elections can hardly serve as indicators for the coming parliamentary elections, they definitely show that there is room for the opposition in an open system.
Emphasizing the importance of elections is not to imply that protest, such as that which followed Morsy’s constitutional declaration, is irrelevant or anti-democratic, as some pro-Brotherhood writers claim. The Brothers’ authoritarian inclinations show that they can barely be trusted to maintain free and fair elections in the future.
Let’s not forget democracy is not just about elections. Protest is a powerful tool against deeply entrenched authoritarianism.
Hence, the lesson learned from the ongoing crisis is that the political sphere that succeeded Mubarak’s one-party system is a public good for all political forces and not just for the Brotherhood. An open political system must be defended against any reversals or attempts to re-establish authoritarian methods as the way out for the ensuing upheaval.
The Brotherhood has done little to open up the current political sphere as the revolution has proven to be far ahead of the capacity, imagination and skill of the leaders of the mammoth organization. What is most important is that an open political sphere — one that is maintained both through elections and protests together — will outlive the Brotherhood as soon as a new political class forms.
The ancient Greek proverb says: The mills of God grind slowly but surely.
Amr Adly is a postdoctoral research fellow at the Social Sciences Cluster at Stanford University in the US.