As I type events are moving at quite a fast pace in Egypt, and it is not clear what the outcome will be.
What is clear is that the next 24 hours are going to be particularly confusing, especially when the military’s self-declared ‘not-a-coup’ coup countdown ends.
Over the weekend the protests against President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood-led government have been awesome.
Awesome in the sense of sheer spectacle (with millions demanding his resignation) and in the sense of terror, especially when significant segments of the protesters appeared to applaud the military’s pro-coup statements.
The ‘Arab Spring’
I think it’s important to start off here by rejecting the notion of an ‘Arab Spring’.
The revolutionary movements have not been confined to the Middle East and North Africa (MENA).
The revolutionary movements have been present in Africa, China, in (particularly Southern) Europe (particularly Greece, Italy and Spain), Latin America (of which the Brazilian ‘Awakening’ is the most recent expression) and even within the Anglo-West, as perhaps best expressed by the Occupy Movements in the USA and UK, and even the Idle-No-More movement in Canada.
Attempts to define the revolutionary movements in MENA as a solely ‘Arab’ phenomenon is, I think, an attempt to divide and conquer (to prevent the various revolutionary movements form forging organic links and seeing the movements as a single interrelated movement).
By describing the revolutions as an Arab Spring, it prevents citizens in the West from understanding the revolutionary movements there as sharing common origins with revolutionary movements in the West.
Far from seeing the revolutionary movements as desire for realising a more substantive and participatory democracy with the hope of creating a better, more human, society, it is convenient to frame it instead in terms of Islamism versus Secularism, sectarianism, tribalism and a simple fight for liberal democracy against authoritarian dictatorship.
From Organic to Cyborg
I genuinely believe the revolutionary movements within the MENA have genuinely organic roots, stemming from genuine desires for a better world.
Nonetheless, I believe that most, if not all, of the revolutionary movements in MENA have been hijacked, largely out of the geopolitical interests and calculus of the West.
Libya has been balkanised by Western interests who desired the removal of an obstacle to greater neo-colonial efforts in Africa, as well as develop influence over Libyan resources and opening up a new consumer market.
Similarly, Syria has been balkanised, partly to remove an obstacle to Western dominance in the region (especially as part of a new, grander, version of the ‘Great Game’ for control of Central Asia, with Iran as the target), partly to further weaken Palestinian resistance to Israeli apartheid, and partly to further divide and conquer the region, diverting the genuinely organic desire for a better future into sectarian Sunni-Shia ‘war’.
The revolutionary movement throughout MENA risks being diverted into a fight between Sunni and Shia sectarianism and secularism versus Islamism, rather than its origins for a new organic democracy.
I don’t think President Morsi really ever had much of a chance.
The Muslim Brotherhood, although the most organised political force, was greatly inexperienced in governing.
And Mr Morsi even more so – an engineer by training, without much in terms of political experience – was faced with an actively hostile bureaucracy (especially the judiciary and security services), an economy still in crisis (predating and even helping trigger the revo against Mubarak), and hostile countries (particularly the Gulf monarchies, wary of the ‘threat of a good example’ of a Muslim Brotherhood government).
All of the above, compounded by a series of tactical and strategic errors on the part of Morsi’s government, have contributed to the current juncture.
Importantly, the situation of the Egyptian people has not improved since the initial revo.
Food prices are rising, inflation is at around 10%, there are concerns about food security, rising crime, rising unemployment and declining wages.
The continued problems, of which only a few are noted above, have been compounded by the breakdown of regular policing (leading to a sense of increased insecurity), continued instability (leading to problems for the tourism industry) and ongoing resistance from elements of the pre-revo regime.
Just as the chaos of the post-Soviet system led (and continues to lead) to nostalgic pro-Soviet sentiments in the former USSR (for authoritarian socialism rather than democratic socialism), so to does the current chaos in Egypt lead to some desire for the return of an authoritarian regime.
The military yesterday gave a 48hr countdown to a coup, threatening to oust the democratically-elected government of President Morsi and install a military-backed council to usher in a ‘new’ order.
That this has been actively supported by some of the protesters speaks to the deformation of the revolutionary movement in Egpyt, co-opted by elements of the former regime and external forces interested in seeing the revolutionary movement fail, thus undermining revolutionary movements elsewhere (be in the West or, particularly, elsewhere in MENA, notably Saudi Arabia).
As much as the installation of a liberal democracy, even an Islamist one, in Egypt can – and should – be seen as a failure (to date) of the revolutionary movement there, a military coup and subsequent military dictatorship (regardless of how ‘nice’ it dresses itself up for Western eyes) would be an even worse failure of the revo.
Bread, Dignity & Social Justice
The outcome of the revolutionary movement in Egypt will have profound effects throughout the MENA, and beyond.
It’s defeat, be it through an Algerian 1991 style coup (with or without a subsequent descent into a bloody, if asymmetric, civil war against the Muslim Brotherhood/Salafists), will help crush the revolutionary movements throughout the region and elsewhere (such as Brazil and Southern Europe).
If the revolutionary movement can instead deepen the movement, break free from the current impasse and forge a creative and novel democracy, a participatory society that seeks to develop a new vision of a better world, the revolutionary movements in the MENA and elsewhere may be reinvigorated.
The revolution, in Egypt and globally, is about ‘bread, dignity & social justice’ – about forging a better world.