The past two weeks, since Morsi announced his Hitler powers, have been the bleakest since the revolution began.
The day after Morsi’s Constitutional Declaration, the attorney general held an emergency meeting and opponents of the decree gathered outside the high court, where they were attacked by mystery plain-clothed attackers using teargas moments after the police quietly withdrew. When I arrived some 20 minutes later the air was still pungent with the gas and riot police had returned, and were facing off against furious anti-Morsi protesters who surrounded them on both sides. It ended peacefully, for once.
I was filled with an indescribable fear when Islamists announced that they would be protesting in support of Morsi in Tahrir, where anti-Morsi protesters are currently holding a sit-in. It was a decision as terrifying as it was brazen and stupid. The crude binary (Islamist/pro-Morsi vs. “secular”/anti-Morsi) that was produced by last year’s referendum is now at its most pronounced – as is inevitable in a context of long suppressed (political and religious) identities and fear mongering about The Other.
Campaigning between the two camps has been reduced to who can mobilise the most bodies in one place. On Tuesday the seculars organised a huge show of force in their old stomping ground Tahrir Square. Islamists responded by holding an equally impressive rally outside Cairo University.
The two rallies couldn’t have been more different. Now that the opposition movement is going after Morsi it has attracted the Ahmed Shafiq/Omar Suleiman/Amr Moussa crowd, people like some members of my family who aren’t necessarily felool (pro or affiliated with the Mubarak regime) but who have a morbid terror of the Muslim Brotherhood and political Islam generally. I have a pro-revolution aunt who supported Hamdeen Sabahy in the first round of the presidential elections and then switched to Shafiq in the run-offs when Sabahy lost.
Not all of this group are affluent or from chichi neighbourhoods, but the ones that are were prominent on Tuesday, furiously marching from Zamalek in their velour tracksuits and ugg boots and manicured nails, holding forth in Arabic, English and French about the outrage of it all.
Their appearance has added a new dimension to the binary, with the pro-Morsi camp accusing the opposition of being dominated by felool and atheists who engage in lewd acts in Tahrir, while some members of the anti-Morsi crowd respond with equally vile slurs, calling Islamists uneducated peasants, or sheep unable to think for themselves.
As usual El-Baradei is a convenient shorthand for Islamist criticism of their enemies, especially given his recent visibility, actually in Egypt and actually in public. He popped up in Tahrir on Friday, bustled on to a stage looking uncomfortable as usual where he gave a barely audible speech through the evening’s murk. I’m still undecided about whether he played a shrewd game by being absent, and above, all of 2011’s political yuckiness and base shenanigans. Supporters laud him for not compromising on his principles and for his consistency, but it is easy to do that from the nosebleed seats.
ElBaradei’s name was bandied around at the Islamist rally, too, protesters reminding him and Sabahy that Morsi was elected president and not them.
My friend Adam and I got talking to a man, Mahmoud, at the Morsi rally who said that the president’s political opposition are necessarily against any decision he takes, no matter how prudent, because they reject his Islamic project. Mahmoud was dressed in a neat plaid shirt and casual weekend jacket with the telltale just too short trousers, his chin adorned with a wispy candy floss-like beard. He held a sign above his head demanding the implementation of Sharia, and on the subject of Sharia said that it has never been implemented in the modern age but that the Taliban came the closest to doing so. He added that the media misrepresented the Taliban. He later gave me a polite lecture about how I must think more about God and Islam and that hopefully this will make me want to wear the veil and follow the correct path.
Interestingly, he also said that the Muslim Brotherhood had promised Salafis that they would implement “their” i.e. the Salafi version of Sharia rather than their own version (which Mahmoud described as incorrect). This promises to be an interesting, if messy, showdown in the future.
What was most confusing about the rally is that demonstrators spent much time going on about and defending Sharia when this was a rally ostensibly in support of Morsi, his decree and the draft constitution i.e. to quote Tina Turner, what’s Sharia got to do, got to do with it. Also, many of their political opponents resent the Islamists’ claiming a monopoly on Sharia and point out that they too are Muslims and have no problem with its implementation (but remember that there are different interpretations of what Sharia means).
While I was at the rally looking at placards saying things such as “Islam is light and the Quran is my constitution”, “what have you seen from God in order to hate his law?” and “the people support the president’s decisions” I again, for the 726th time this week, considered my own decision to vote for Morsi in the presidential election run-offs having wasted many bloody hours thinking about it before the actual vote.
The thought that I may have contributed to voting in this avuncular yet megalomaniac individual backed up by an army of devotees is an uncomfortable feeling to say the least, and the word “Ermächtigungsgesetz” keeps flashing before my eyes.
People like me who voted for Morsi not out of conviction but to keep out Shafiq are predictably the subjects of considerable vitriol at the moment, perhaps justifiably.
Here comes a however.
HOWEVER, for what it’s worth, I think I made the right decision as someone non-partisan who doesn’t have any qualms about aligning myself with people I vaguely disagree with against people I strongly disagree with. I voted exclusively to keep out Shafiq and remain convinced that had he been elected we would have been shafted good and proper and absolutely nothing would have changed.
Now as we have discussed above there is an enormous amount of shafting going on at the moment and lots of change what with there never being a dull moment with Dr Morsi. I am anxious about the future, but there was an inevitability about Muslim Brotherhood rule at some point in Egypt’s history and unfortunately, I am alive to experience it. The only positive thing about the Muslim Brotherhood in power is that they are spectacularly shit at it. Just like the Egyptian army and their foray into direct rule they have used up almost all their store of good credit with non-MBers in an incredibly short amount of time.
Every day that passes puts another dent in the legend of this 80-year-old group with its dazzling powers of organisation and moderate Islamic vision and familiarity with the Egyptian street. Snort. Morsi is a dull cheating husband who misbehaves and attempts to make amends by offering surprise dinner invitations after he beats his wife up, where his wife is the Egyptian people you understand. The MB itself are a glorified soup kitchen with excellent logistical skills that end at distributing food to the poor and organising large rallies. They are a charity organisation with a militia that finds itself in charge of a country and which seems to think that its decisions do not need to be backed up by reason or say, the rule or law, but can rely entirely on the Egyptian people trusting Uncle Morsi.
This was most evident in the Constitutional Assembly debacle. Virtually all members of the political opposition – and most crucially minorities (women and Christian representatives) -walked out of the Assembly. Those that remained produced a mess of a constitution, but its proponents see no problem in its having been drafted by a largely homogenous group of males. The thinking seems to be: we have faith in God so have faith in us.
The Muslim Brotherhood are doing what the National Democratic Party did for thirty years, albeit without the God element. The NDP also depended on consolidating their own position by deliberately misrepresenting their opponents, making the law fit their decisions rather than the other way around, a fondness for thuggery* and a paternalistic form of governance that reduces the public’s role in politics to box ticking. The only difference is Morsi’s tedious penchant for moralising (e.g. Morsi suggested that Egyptians go to bed early so they can get up and pray the dawn prayer). The moralising would be tolerable except that they are failing to do anything about the million everyday problems blighting ordinary Egyptians’ lives (despite Morsi’s election grandstanding about making considerable improvements in 100 days) while they have the temerity to think that they can thrust a dictatorship on us because God is on their side and they know best.
All this is very Mubaraky. Good luck to the MB if they think it will work.
* re. the link: The NYT reports that the judges were telling fibs. I have seen one example of the thuggery however when MB supporters attacked protesters in Tahrir Square.