Published in Ahram Online on July 21, 2013
In focusing on the Muslim Brotherhood’s fascist tendencies do we not risk losing sight of the largest elephant in the room — the perils of army intervention in the name of protecting liberty?
In March, I wrote an article here in response to an article written by Wael Abbas, author of the blog Misr Digital, in which he had warned of the threat of a spread of armed militias belonging to different groups, from the Brotherhood to the Ultras to thugs, expressing apprehension at what he viewed was the rise of militarism and fascism in Egypt. Abbas concluded his article with a comparison between our state a year ago (when the article was written) and the state of Germany in the last days of the Weimar Republic in the 1920s, on the eve of the Nazis coming to power.
In my own article, I mentioned that a comparison between the Brotherhood and the Nazis might be disturbing, yet it might also be useful if used to analyse and understand the current moment. And I argued that there are many differences between the Brotherhood and the Nazis, most importantly the fact that the Nazis had already exercised effective control over the institutions of official violence — the military and police — before they gained political power, while the Muslim Brotherhood lacked control over these two key institutions even after being voted into office.
And I believe that the Brotherhood’s record in power clarifies how this factor, i.e. their inability to control the army and the police, rendered their leaders paranoid and anxious. In light of the ongoing revolution and daily protests against their policies, the Brotherhood felt a need to reach an understanding with these two institutions. And indeed, in every incident of street confrontations between protestors and the police, the Brotherhood sided against the people.
Brotherhood MPs denied that the police had used live ammunition during the interior ministry clashes; they turned a blind eye to the dire transgressions committed by the police in the events of Port Said II, and the Hisham Qandil cabinet aborted every serious initiative for security sector reform, all the while flirting with the police to the extent that Mohamed Morsi even thanked them for their role in the January 25 Revolution!
The Brotherhood’s relationship with the army was no different. They forbade their followers to chant against the military; after Morsi had launched his presidential term by forming a fact-finding committee to investigate human rights violations that took place under the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, he refused to make the results of the report public after finding out that it was strongly critical of the army; awarded Field Marshal Tantawi and his deputy, Anan, with the highest accolades, the flirtatious attitude towards the army culminating with the constitution maintaining all the economic, social and political perks that the army previously enjoyed, and even added some more.
And after they thought that they had succeeded in neutralising these two key institutions, the Brotherhood dedicatedly sought to control the public domain. Thus, they drafted laws to control civil society organisations; to control demonstrations; to gerrymander electoral districts in favour of their candidates; and to control the judiciary, all in the shadows of a constitution that they drafted in an exclusionary and flawed manner.
Due to all that, in addition to the nauseating discourse systematically waged against Shia Muslims and Copts, the people finally rose in one large uprising on 30 June. In this revolution, Egyptians strongly expressed their rejection of the Brotherhood’s project, a project that was seen as restricting the public domain and clamping down on the people’s hard-won liberty. On 30 June, Egyptians from all walks of life rose to oppose a group that was steadily undermining the principles of their revolution while holding on only to the narrowest definitions of democracy, that which reduced it to ballotocracy.
And after the Brotherhood had refused to revise their policies in the wake of the 30 June revolution, and after their leaders had incited their followers to violence, and after such violence had indeed erupted in Manial, Bein El Sarayat, Sidi Gaber, and Ramsis, I understand the apprehension of many towards allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to continue to exist in the political scene except if the group fundamentally revised its philosophy, its self-image, its message and its practices. I also understand the necessity of holding Brotherhood leaders legally accountable for their inciting to violence. And I understand further the demand of many to ban Brotherhood leaders from running for or assuming public posts, similar to the ban imposed on leaders of the ousted National Democratic Party.
And yet do we not, by focusing on these demands, ignore the elephant in the room? Are we not ignoring the army and its blatant intervention in the political process since 3 July?
In the article I previously mentioned, which I wrote in response to Wael Abbas, I tried to warn that our concern about the Muslim Brotherhood’s fascist tendencies should not distract us from the risks we face when dealing with the military. I concluded my article, which was titled “Weimar Republic or 18 Brumaire” with an allusion to the coup d’état conducted by Napoléon Bonaparte and his nephew Louis-Napoléon Bonaparte in the years 1799 and 1851, respectively, and ended by saying that “my fear of the validity of our comparison (between our current state and the state of the Weimar Republic) is not exceeded by anything other than my fear that the more accurate comparison is not that between the Brotherhood and the Nazis in 1933, but rather between our situation today and the status of France on the eve of the eighteenth Brumaire.” And unfortunately, my fear was valid. The army’s intervention on 3 July sent a confusing message to the Brotherhood. Instead of the clear message sent to them by millions on the street, which said, “You have failed; you must leave,” the army’s message effectively said, “You are victims, and we will always persecute you.”
What complicated matters further was that the public, which throughout SCAF’s rule chanted against the military, is now flaunting General El-Sisi’s photos and is taking him to be their prophet and saviour. The people forgot, or decided to forget that the army, whose jets they now dance under in Tahrir Square, is the same army that conducted virginity tests on female protestors, trampled the “blue-bra girl”, abducted and tortured protesters in the Egyptian Museum and the Cabinet headquarters, performed surgical operations on protesters in military hospitals without anesthesia or sterilisation, and above all, has run, and continues to run, an economic empire that is estimated to be equal to a quarter of the country’s GDP.
This revolution erupted for the sake of liberty and it was able to topple Mubarak and to end his rule that had humiliated and impoverished the people. And on 30 June we revolted once more when we felt that the Muslim Brotherhood was slamming the door of liberty in our faces. We will not allow the army to steal away our revolution yet again or to oppress us and exercise its will over us in the name of protecting our liberty.