BY EHAB LOTAYEF, SPECIAL TO THE GAZETTE
Jan. 25 marks the third anniversary of the Egyptian people taking to the streets to occupy Tahrir Square, in the heart of Cairo, to demand bread, freedom and social justice. For more than two weeks, the momentum kept growing until finally, on Feb. 11, President Hosni Mubarak stepped down after nearly 30 years in power.
And yet here we are three years later, and Egypt finds itself back to square one — or even worse.
Did the revolution fail?
It was only seven months ago that large numbers of Egyptians took to the streets once again, frustrated with the lack of progress under Mohammed Morsi’s first year of rule. Their main demand was a referendum on the president — or hastened presidential elections. Morsi rejected both.
One has to keep in mind that the lack of progress during the one year Morsi spent in power could not be all attributed to Morsi or his Muslim Brotherhood. The disastrous situation the country was in after the Mubarak years didn’t help, and neither did the lack of cooperation from the “deep state” (the remnants of the old regime that controlled the police, army, civil service and judiciary).
Last June 30, the coup started, with an ultimatum issued to the president by the minister of defence, General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi. On July 3, the coup was completed, the president deposed and detained, the parliament dissolved, the constitution suspended, and the country once again under military rule.
Many Egyptian politicians and public personalities sided with the coup at first. El-Sisi appointed a puppet president and instructed him to rewrite the constitution. An unelected and haphazardly assembled group of 50 was chosen to help him with this task. The result was a constitution that gives full immunity and independence to the army, one that does not give the president the right to appoint the minister of defence. It leaves in place the rights of an army that owns businesses controlling 30 per cent of the Egyptian economy. It allows for trials of civilians in front of military courts, à la Guantanamo.
And even if we disregard the contents of the constitution, accepting the coup remains, pure and simple, the main problem. Accepting the coup — regardless of whether one supported it or not, and regardless of what one thinks of the Egyptian political situation more generally — has made it harder to imagine real democracy ever coming to Egypt. If the president and other elected officials know that they can be deposed of anytime by the military, and by the economic interests that support the army, how could anyone have confidence in Egyptian democracy? Why would the people even want to turn out to vote?
Before this month’s vote on the constitution, the Muslim Brotherhood, the largest and most organized political movement in Egypt, was outlawed. Its leadership and many of its members were detained, as were many other liberal and progressive politicians. This followed the massacres of civilians last summer, after the coup. So as voting on the constitution approached, there was only one voice heard in Egypt: “Say Yes.” The farce reached its climax with the arrests of anyone who tried to hang a No banner.
Of course, the voting result was 98 per cent in favour of Yes, but the voter turnout reported by independent monitors was as low as 11 per cent. (The government claims 38 per cent.)
And so here we are today, three years after Jan. 25, 2011, that first day of occupation of Tahrir Square. Egypt is ruled by the military. Some may say there is no way out this time. But I don’t. The struggle for democracy can be a very long path. Remember what happened in Chile in 1973; despite that, democracy did return to Chile. And democracy will return to Egypt. There will be bread, freedom and social justice in Egypt, sooner or later, as long as people keep working for it.