Egypt’s Costly Marriages of Convenience
Bessma Momani on why young Egyptians suffer most when marriages between political parties end in divorce.
Professor at the University of Waterloo’s Balsillie School of International Affairs and a CIGI senior fellow
Twice in the past two years Egypt’s young democrats endorsed a marriage of convenience between the military and a new ‘saviour’ government ─ mistakes that will only harm Egyptians in the long run.
When the April 6 movement of youthful liberal, secularist-leaning activists promoted their cause to oust the Mubarak government in the revolution of January 25, 2011, they epitomized the democratic ideals of Egypt. Camped out in Tahrir, they wrote their own progressive demands for what the Egyptian state ought to look like, including a draft constitution. Some might say they were dreamers or idealists with little understanding of the realpolitik within their country ─ a situation of deeply entrenched interests among Egypt’s economic elite, military, and Mubarak’s political cronies. But as true revolutionaries, the movements demanded no less than real change. They wanted more than cosmetic musical chairs between Mubarak and regime remnants (or felouol).When the military rolled in and took over the square after the ouster of Mubarak, most Egyptians dismissed these brave young people. The nation’s saviour had arrived, leaving no need for the April 6 movement. Many Egyptians yearning for a return to some economic normalcy, dependent on tourism and a stable currency, asked the April 6 movement to go home and let the military begin a post-Mubarak transition. This realism of incremental change (or the hope for it) came at the expense of the revolutions’ raw idealism, and arrived in the form of an elected Muslim Brotherhood ─ an 80 year old institution flanked with old guards marred by dated mindsets at war with the state.
With a decaying ideology, this old guard and its spare tire of a leader, President Morsi, was worse than Mubarak. The new buffoon-like president who rambled, failed to inspire, and embarrassed his citizens, made little to no progress on almost all socio-economic indicators.
In the summer of 2013, Tamarod, another young people’s movement, took to the streets with many of the same goals as the April 6 movement: a return to a respectable liberal-democracy. But unlike the April 6 movement, they were happy to accept the old guard as Egypt’s saviour once again. In cahoots with the military, Mubarak-era cronies, large financial and elite backers, and the aging liberal secular elites like Mohamed El Baradie and technocratic members of the interim cabinet, the Tamarod movement used its bottom-up signature collecting campaign to overthrow Morsi and the Brotherhood.
The next marriage of convenience we can expect in this saga will come with the inevitable and intensified crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood encampment. Vilification and implicit criminalization of the Muslim Brotherhood by the military has started with accusations of them having weapons, stand-by martyrs, child hostages and terrorist links to Sinai radicals. And Egypt’s military will act like it has time and time again: intolerant of too many protests that ‘spoil’ the international image of the nation-state. Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins throughout Egypt’s capital are an international embarrassment that will keep away tourists, much needed foreign capital and investment. With them in place, normalcy will not return to the country and so, we can expect Egypt’s military to be cheered by fed up citizens.
However, Egypt’s liberal secular elite will at some point soon withdraw their support from the military’s heavy handedness. We already see Nobel Peace Prize laureate ElBaradie call for the release of Morsi and reject violence in the military’s attempt to stop Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins. Moreover, it’s important to not forget that current Prime Minister Bablawi quit his post as finance minister in the immediate post-Mubarak government when the military cracked down on protestors. After Egypt’s ‘revolution reset’ honeymoon, it’s only a matter of time until the country’s liberal secularists see the ugliness of the country’s military junta.
And so the reality now, as in all loveless marriages of convenience, is to expect a divorce. And with violence, death and dismay to follow, those to be hurt most will be the kids.
The future of Egypt, with a majority of young people under the age of 30, have been pawns in elite deals ─ the April 6 movement endorsed neither the coup nor the Muslim Brotherhood. While Egypt will be a strong state when these impassioned citizens come of age politically and financially, it is them who will pay the price when their country returns to a state of military-backed rule.
In spite of their democratic ideals that have caught the world’s attention, these kids ─ the true revolutionaries who sought real change ─ are the ones who have and will continue suffer in Egypt’s loveless marriage and impending divorce.