Tuesday, July 2, 2013

When Democracy Dies to Roaring Applause

Apache Helicopters Circling Downtown Cairo.
Photo By Nav S'okay
Last night, five helicopters circled over downtown Cairo, flying the Egyptian flag and the flag of the armed forces as I sat on my balcony. The victory parade of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF).  Every time they passed over head, the whole neighborhood erupted into cheers. In the distance, the sound of  honking horns and the pops of fireworks were audible. All of Cairo seemed to be celebrating the eminent end of a single year of semi-democratic rule and the downfall of the Muslim Brotherhood. The SCAF had just announced that were giving President Morsi 48-hours to find a solution to the current political crisis or they would impose there own road map. Few people are using the word coup d'état in Egypt. In spite of this, it clearly appears that we are only days away from the military toppling an elected but extremely unpopular government. And people are ecstatic...

My Egyptian friends went down to Midan at-Tahrir to celebrate the news, counting down the hours until Morsi is gone. I keep hearing over and over again that people trust the military and that it will protect the people's interest. In their minds, anyone is better than those "thugs," the Muslim Brotherhood. A friend promised to take me to Midan at-Tahrir when the government falls to celebrate.

Headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood
It was the end to an whirlwind of activity over the previous 16 hours. The morning thad started with the ransacking of the Muslim Brotherhood offices. No one seemed quiet what to expect next after a day in which thirteen million people demonstrated around the country.  Developments in Egypt almost all happen in the evening so the days are largely long, hot waiting games. The news that a series of ministers had resigned in response to the demonstrations trickled in over the course of the later afternoon and then came the announcement by the military at around 6pm. Twitter and social media exploded...

At around 7:30, I went for a run with two colleagues around Dokki and into Zamelak. The announcement of a possible coup may seem like an odd time to take a jog but you quickly learn that life goes on in Cairo even as the political future remains uncertain. We had spent much of the two days before cooped up watching events unfold on the television and just wanted to get outside. The streets were live and a carnival-like atmosphere prevailed around Cairo. Cairenes drove in circles honking their horns and the street was a sea of waving flags. I seem to be the only one around me both standing with the opposition but with serious reservations about these events.

Midan al-Galaa
It may be too early to tell exactly what is going to happen or what the SCAF plans to do if and when they take power. However, recent as well as historical memory seems rather short among those around me. After the January 2011 Revolution, the SCAF ruled Egypt for 18 months, before the Muslim Brotherhood, without great success. They oversaw the trial of  journalists and protester in closed military trials as well unleashed violence against protestors that included the massacre of 20 Coptic Christians in October 2011. For women in Egypt, the period of military rule was more than a bit problematic with the 'Blue bra girl' atrocity and virginity tests preformed on female protests coming to mind. This history has been swept away in a wave of enthusiasm. Besides the most recent history, Egypt, like many countries in the region, has its own legacy of coups and military rule that failed to bring about democratic reforms and set the stage for the crisis that is unfolding around me.

People's excitement has yet to dissipate today although things are significantly more sober than last night. The biggest question seems to be what will Morsi do next. He has yet make a public appearance since the military's announcement. His few remaining allies seem determined to defend him and I somehow doubt that the Muslim Brotherhood will slink off into the shadows. Big demonstrations are expected this evening and clashes remain a possibility. In spite of this, a take over by SCAF seems like a foregone conclusion.

My greatest fear is that the military plans to take power and keep it, ending Egypt's short lived experiment with democracy. Regardless of what criticisms I have of the Muslim Brotherhood and the seriously flawed nature of the elections that brought Morsi to power, this seems to set an unfortunate precedent for the construction of pluralistic, democratic future. This is no revolutionary government that is taking power but the same entrench interests of the Mubarak era, who sought to divide the revolution after its original success. In this sense, I feel like the prophet Cassandra, doomed to see the future and not be believed.  

I hope that I am wrong. The SCAF will face the same challenges as the Morsi and clearly does not have any solution. Egyptians' patience is running short. This is not 1952 and the military will not be able to ignore the Egyptian people after the outpouring of popular opposition seen over the last couple of days. It seems increasingly unlikely that they can hold power alone. However, this does not mean that the coalition of forces that come together will not represent the same entrenched interests as the previous regimes. I hope that this is just the next step towards building a system that serves the people's interest and not the end of Egypt's unfinished revolution. The obstacles seem even greater than they did before June 30th.

The revolution continues for now.  At this point, the only thing to do is wait and see...