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Thursday, 18 July 2013

Coup or Revolution. Does it matter?

Well yes it does.

The reason you differentiate sandals from sneakers is to know whether you need to tie laces. Likewise the distinction between coup and revolution defines how you react. So...

Was it a revolution?

Of course it was.

Millions of people demanding change took to streets all over the country with very valid grievances. Rising prices, fuel shortages, power cuts, government incompetence and a failing economy affected everybody day in day out. Criticism of the government was met with stubbornness and intransigence boding foul for the future. Furthermore, autocratic, power-grabbing measures including a November, God-like constitutional decree and a December divisive constitution were threatening everybody’s future and Egypt’s very identity.

The people on the street were not a homogeneous group and claims that felool or Christians or anti-Islamists led the fray are ridiculous.  Egyptians of different ages, income classes, religions, political affiliations and geographies were all present.

They had different drivers but shared a single goal, defined clearly on the Tamarud petition: changing the president through early elections.

Morsy and the MB failed to deliver on their campaign promises. More critically they failed to fulfil the demands of the January 25th revolution and therefore they needed to go. So much so, that for many, this is an extension of the original revolution. The streets again demanding change.


So yes, very clearly, this is a revolution.

Was it a military coup?

Of course it was. The Chairman of SCAF, Minister of Defense and Military Production, Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces unilaterally suspends the 64% approved constitution, removes the first ever democratically elected President in Egypt’s 7,000 year history, puts him, his family and advisers under house arrest, installs a new temp president, gives said temp God-like constitutional decree powers (ring a bell?), dissolves the elected Senate, shuts down opposition TV stations, arrests their owners and employees and detains some 300 of the President’s party.

The military had its reasons for taking all these measures, but none of these measures, with the exception of early elections, was a demand of the revolting millions on the streets. In the days that follow it becomes clear that the temp President is no more than a place holder and that all strings are held and pulled, by the military.

So yes, very clearly this is a coup.

Conclusion.  It was a revolution AND it was a coup. So how to react?

Only one way.

We must resist the coup as if there were no revolution and support the revolution as if there were no coup.

Resist the coup

The coup means the military has decided that civilian Egyptians are incapable of running the country in a way the military finds acceptable. It means we have been re-infantilized, our budding political processes nipped, our dreams of democratically running the country rudely awakened by the guys with the tanks. It means to recurrently press “pause” right at the moment when the late Omar Soliman reflects rhetorically and philosophically “Everybody wants democracy. But when?”

It means a quick return to – if you believe we ever left –the patriarchal control of the military and its less subtle nephew the police. It possibly means witch hunts for Islamists first then other opposition, whoever they may be. It possibly means human rights abuses galore (virginity tests anyone?) It likely means a setting back of the clock, hopefully to some year within this current decade and not much earlier.

This must be resisted in every non-belligerent way. Police brutality cannot be allowed to return. Corruption cannot be allowed to return. Those who for decades raped and pillaged Egypt’s economy and its politics cannot be allowed to return.

Our military must be preserved outside of the political game. Their preferred position seems to be above and beyond politics, which is not exactly the same thing.

Support the Revolution

On the other hand , a revolution as we have learned over the past 30 months, is a fierce but fragile creature full of potential and fraught with weakness.

We must learn from yester-revolution’s mistakes. Here are the main seven lessons.
  1. No piggy-backing. The old regime cannot be allowed to take credit for, or benefit from, this revolution. The clean slate the MoI claims is a glaring example, there are many others.
  2.  No infighting. As quickly as possible, and at serious signs of good will, all parties, including the MB, must be brought back to the table.
  3. BUT. No noble expectations this time. Nobody should be in any doubt that only promises which carry penalties and which we are capable of enforcing will be kept.
  4. The revolution must have a voice. A huge lesson here is the role of media. It cannot be ignored. Media creates perception. Perception is everything. The revolution must have its media. Not felool media. Not Islamist media. Not foreign media.
  5. No side-battles. It is imperative to maintain laser-sharp focus on our goals: Bread, Freedom, Social Justice and Human Dignity.
  6. We must build political parties around these principles. Parties that are well-financed and organized. Parties capable of winning elections.  
  7. We must identify and support new leaders who believe deeply in these values, leaders who are willing and able to inspire Egyptians
A Blessing. Optimism.

In a way, this coup-revolution revolution-coup is a blessing.

Everybody is learning in Egypt. At break neck speed.

The military are learning that massive change needs popular support and that power is tenuous.

The MB are learning that you just can’t do things this way. They must change. They need to open up and learn to trust and share.

The liberals are learning they have to actually work to get things done. That real power needs direction and leadership otherwise it is easy to have your efforts and even your ideals usurped.

We are all learning the power of media and the scarcity of truth. We need to individually and collectively create filters that are beyond personal preferences.

One of the biggest lessons that I am not sure has been delivered is that we are all here to stay. The MB are not going to all be hanged or jailed. The liberals aren't all going to run off to Canada. We’re all here to stay. 

Let us all not widen the gaps more than we can hope to bridge soon.

Optimistic? Of course I am. We have switched the lights on and commenced class. 
Not once. Twice.