Time to throw Tahrir out

Spearhead Analysis – 29.07.2013

By Zoon Ahmad Khan
Research Analysts, Spearhead Research – Pakistan

The Arab Springs, defeat of the oppressive dictator, Revolution, and people attaining their right to self determination. Country after country, a massive domino effect was witnessed as dictators were toppled off their thrones after decades of oppression, and democratic change was witnessed. It was in this year, 2010, that Egypt’s Tahrir became a symbol of freedom and all things good and democratic. The World welcomed rule by and for the people. Till of course the people ushered in the Muslim Brotherhood. Once the Islamists, with a narrow margin, formed a government doubts started sinking in the international community. Still for those in a limbo, fighting oppression, Tahrir remained an ideal to aspire towards.

July 3rd 2013: the Muslim Brotherhood’s government was toppled by an army coup. The coup and the support that it has garnered in the international community, especially the West, leads us to question the change that these countries are looking for. Change in itself seems ambiguous. For Egypt this coup was very telling, and led the world to re-evaluate the meanings of ‘democracy’ and ‘coup’ that have long been considered two opposing ends of a spectrum. Once the ruling party failed to reach a compromise with the opposition within the imposed deadline, the Egyptian army stepped in. Since then American media outlets have attempted to make sense of what happened in Egypt, to answer the question: can a coup ever be democratic?

For Egyptians this debate isn’t just a rhetorical one. Much before the Muslim Brotherhood came into power and a few strong groups assumed the role of ringleaders at Tahrir, many Egyptians felt their revolution had been hijacked. And once Morsi became President it seemed like the West wasn’t too content with the outcome of a Spring that had long been idealized. Still the West tried to find a middle ground with the Islamist government, trying to make do with what they had. Democratically elected or not, the religious posture and hence ‘fanatic’ tendencies of the Muslim Brotherhood sprinkled suspicion. Moreover the Brotherhood failed to limit the President’s powers, abolish military trials of civilians or protect rights of minorities. Unable to break the military’s strength further pushed the Brotherhood into a vulnerable spot. For months before the coup the Egyptian government’s negative traits had been highlighted. So we knew democracy in itself isn’t a real goal.

Morsi became the Mubarak Egyptians had united against, with hundreds of thousands in the streets demonstrating against declining economic, political and social conditions and worsening unemployment. While Mubarak was unacceptable on ideological grounds, Morsi’s government seems to have failed to deliver. A fundamental question remains: can a nation’s first democracy after twenty years of dictatorship perform within two years? Especially with a narrow majority perhaps the government should have taken precautions. Simultaneously, a people oppressed under years of military dictatorship must know better, and exhibit some patience as their elected government grapples with governance and real issues, conveniently skipped in revolutionary settings like Tahrir.

But change now seems to be in the Egyptian blood, boiling and resilient. Millions called upon the army to correct their revolution, regretting their vote for Morsi. 22 million signed a petition for the removal of the President, tired of the Muslim Brotherhood’s propensity to exclude all forms of opposition. And in this hour of need they insist the military came to their rescue. For Egyptians therefore, unlike the Western World, a coup isn’t the opposing end of this imagined spectrum. Yet it is essential to re-evaluate the new-found change more critically. 22 million may have signed a petition but the Muslim Brotherhood came into power with a 51% majority. That means somewhere around half of Egypt’s population still does support Morsi’s government. Therefore the opposition, with the military on its side, is equally likely to suppress. In absolute terms both options seem to be at par.

As for the democratic versus dictatorship debate goes, it seems that the Egyptians as a whole all oppose dictatorship and support a participatory form of government. While democracy and dictatorship by virtue of their characteristics don’t have to be labeled good or bad, they certainly require support or fear to operate. Once the Egyptians united against dictatorship, spoon-fed or not, their aspirations led to a revolution that the World idealized. A passionate spirit gripped masses of many countries who perhaps had given up or didn’t know any better. But once a people decide to take the democratic path they must also learn from countries around them. Pakistanis for instance have learned the hard way. Coup after coup was supported when democratically elected leaders failed to perform within two years.

For Pakistan right now, with security issues escalating, economic turmoil, energy crisis at its worst, and the rupee falling against the dollar at a horrifying pace, this year was still the most celebrated. After five years of mayhem, Pakistan continues to struggle with her problems. For the first time in 66 years a government completed its five year tenure; And that by many if not most is considered to be our country’s biggest achievement. Likewise, if Egyptians have chosen a path towards democracy they will have to understand that elected governments will also at times be oppressive, irresponsible, bad decision makers and corrupt. Their failure to perform is not an excuse to overthrow them, but a test of endurance and a more promising next tenure. People will become smarter voters and institutions will evolve only if these breaks are not experienced. Good or bad, the democratic journey promises stability only in the long run.

Egyptians must learn these lessons before they further delay their transition to democracy. And they must be prepared for the sacrifices they will have to make. Change and revolutionary rhetoric all fall redundant when governments and people need to make real decisions. There are multiple ways to solve a problem; differences are hence bound to arise. If the revolutionary jargon isn’t thrown out, and Egyptians don’t learn to become more patient with the leaders they elect, they too will remain in a limbo that promises neither present nor future.