After former President Hosni Mubarak’s fall, non-Islamist political parties formed that self-identified as civil and democratic forces, and defined themselves largely in opposition against the interim military rulers and then President Mohamed Morsi’s government. But today, after Morsi’s ouster, these groups no longer find themselves in the comfort zone of the “opposition.”
United by a common adversary — the Muslim Brotherhood — groups like the Social Democratic Party (SDP), the Dostour Party, the Free Egyptians Party and the Popular Socialist Alliance stood next to the feloul (remnants of the Mubarak regime) in the June 30 protests that led to Morsi’s removal from office through military intervention on July 3.
Adly Mansour, the interim president appointed by the Armed Forces, has formed a government that includes both opposition figures, such as Nobel Laureate and reform leader Mohamed ElBaradei (who now serves as the vice president of international relations), as well as figures from the Mubarak regime, such as Adel Labib, a former police officer and governor who is currently the minister of local development.
This new arrangement has raised questions about the position of the forces behind and around the January 25 revolution that ousted Mubarak vis-a-vis the remnants of the very system they set out to topple. With the resurgence of key features of the old regime — such as the police, state security and certain government officials, all currently under the helm of the army — pro-democracy groups are faced with a need to restructure if democracy truly remains their end goal.
For some, however, this unison represents a marriage of convenience.
“There are attempts to reach a balance of power. It is in the interest of the old powers not to break this alliance, while the democratic forces know that they need to maintain a minimum amount of cooperation with the old regime,” says Akram Ismail, member of the Popular Socialist Alliance Party.
The presence of revolutionary figures in the government gives these parties legitimacy, while the old regime’s networks allow them to function, argue analysts like Ismail.
Furthermore, the government’s need for legitimacy empowers the pro-democracy groups in government, Ismail asserts. Because the withdrawal of revolutionary figures from the government would cause a major crisis, Ismail expects them to soon be able to impose their will.
Accordingly, the presence of reformist figures in government, like ElBaradei, has arguably influenced the Interior Ministry’s approach to ending the Brotherhood sit-ins, which have been going strong for over a month now as demonstrators demand Morsi’s reinstatement. The police, counter to recent history, have sent several warnings of an imminent intervention to the protesters at the sit-ins, announcing gradual steps that would be enacted before resorting to force, and assuring protesters that they would not be pursued if they left the sit-ins.
But the lingering crisis of an angry and marginalized Muslim Brotherhood has raised questions about the parameters that distinguish the old regime players from the January 25 revolutionary groups.
While human rights organizations criticize the use of force against sitting-in Muslim Brotherhood protesters — as they would condemn state violence against any group of protesters — some civil groups claim that the use of force is inevitable given what they describe as the violent nature of the Brotherhood’s protests. These groups argue that with alleged evidence of weaponry and torture practices at the Rabea al-Adaweya and Nahda sit-ins, and with repeated clashes between Brotherhood supporters and surrounding residents, state violence would be a natural reaction.
Moreover, when the military’s chief commander Abdel Fattah al-Sisi called on the people to take to the streets on Friday July 26 to give the Armed Forces a mandate to fight “terrorism”— a thinly veiled reference to Brotherhood violence — political parties like the SDP, Free Egyptians and Dostour Party backed him, calling the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group and welcoming state violence against it.
Ahmed Hawary, a founding member of the Dostour Party — largely composed of ElBaradei’s followers — says that the presence of weaponry at the Muslim Brotherhood protests and the aggression towards the rest of society lead civil forces to take an uncharacteristically lenient position regarding the use of excessive force. The Brotherhood, however, staunchly denies the presence of arms in its sit-ins, which it has repeatedly claimed to be peaceful.
“I wish I could condemn the security forces for using excessive force, but I can’t. I have no argument; this is not a peaceful demonstration or a political action,” he claims.
Hawary says that the Muslim Brotherhood is responsible for its own alienation by refusing to talk to other sides.
“The Brotherhood is not opposing Sisi or the government — it is opposing the people. There is no place for [the Brothers] in the Egyptian society unless they cleanse themselves,” argues Hawary.
But not all civil forces agree that the Muslim Brotherhood’s nature as a political player is enough to justify sanctioning state violence.
Politician Amr Hamzawy writes that by supporting the military’s interference in political life, liberal forces — defined for the purposes of this article as anti-Brotherhood groups espousing leftist ideologies — have given up on the civil nature of the state, and mired themselves in a crisis.
“The moral and political credibility of many figures that are considered Egyptian liberals has collapsed due to their double standards in matters of violations of human rights and freedoms, and the dehumanization of the religious right,” he says.
Hamzawy argues that in their deep conflict with the Muslim Brotherhood, liberal forces have accepted an unconditional alliance with the military, and followed the path it put forth without concern for adhering to democratic principles. He says that a social and political restructuring of Egyptian liberalism is necessary to end this crisis.
For those like Ismail who are critical of the Muslim Brotherhood, the military and old regime elites alike, it is necessary to bring about the former’s complete defeat — but not necessarily at the hands of security forces.
“When the police kill 80 [Brotherhood members], [the Brothers] are the ones benefiting. The democratic path should prove itself through political solutions rather than depending on a criminal state,” Ismail argues, referring to recent clashes near the Rabea al-Adaweya sit-in that left more than 80 Brotherhood supporters dead.
Ismail says that revolutionary policies leading to social equality and an improvement in the quality of life for the general population are what would bring about the Brotherhood’s fall, rendering the group irrelevant and winning the people over to the side of democratic forces.
However, it remains to be seen whether civil forces will succeed in reaching a place of power where they could have a say in policy making.
While some revolutionary figures are represented in the new government, like ElBaradei and Ziaad Bahaa Eddin, civil parties such as those mentioned above don’t consider themselves to be in power yet, and will determine their clout through their representation in Parliament.
With parliamentary elections scheduled to take place in four to six months, Hassan Abou Taleb — political analyst at Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies — says that so far, civil forces are falling into the same trap that deprived them of political gains before, i.e., distracting themselves with street action instead of preparing for the elections.
“We have tried before being immersed in the street movement, but the question is how to translate this ability to create popular zeal into seats in the Parliament. This is the most important thing,” he asserts.
Since 2011, civil forces have failed to make any significant gains in the polls, whether in presidential and parliamentary elections or constitutional referendums.
The competition in the parliamentary elections will not only be between the remainder of the religious bloc against the civil parties, but could also witness the strong resurgence of the feloul, who are now resurfacing on the political scene, as seen in recent government appointments.
Only with the outcome of these elections will it be known whether an arguably post-Brotherhood Egypt would revert to the historical status quo, or enter a new territory of democratic politics born out of revolution.