The pro-democracy movement and June 30: Then and now
Courtesy: Laura Gribbon

Four years have passed since the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi on June 30, 2013, along with Muslim Brotherhood rule. Since then, Egypt has faced important political transformations that have translated into economic and social change. On the fourth anniversary of this crucial point in the country’s political history, we explore the various actors who made June 30, 2013 possible, including: Pro-democracy political forces, the Salafi political movement, Coptic communities and the Coptic Church and Al-Azhar. What did they want back then, and where are they today?

“When there is a vacuum in hegemonic power, you have to overcome that depression and make an ambush. But you have to be patient. This is politics. Politics means patience.”

I spoke to Fatemeh Sadeghi, professor of political science at the Azad Islamic University in Tehran, Iran, on the eve of July 12, 2013, a few days before the first-term election of Iranian President Hassan Rouhani. In comparison to his predecessor, Rouhani is known for his political moderation, and he is cautiously celebrated by some of Iran’s political dissidents.

Sadeghi spoke of those who have continued to struggle against Islamist hegemony over the state, politics, society and religion in Iran since the 1979 revolution. Back then, various political forces came together, although many were later marginalized as the Islamists alone took the trophy of political power.

The conversation with Sadeghi was also a few days before June 30, 2013, when many Egyptians, supported by different political forces and the military, protested the rule of Islamist President Mohamed Morsi. The flames of that day followed a fiery year of Brotherhood rule, after they had followed a similar path of political monopoly to their Islamist brethren in Iran.

June 30, 2013 may have been the ambush, the moment to grab, as Sadeghi put it. But whether it was a real opportunity or not is what I ask pro-democracy politicians who were part of the June 30 moment, a moment that saw their rise, and shortly after, their demise from a political process that is now exclusively managed by the former military commander and backed by the military institution.

An opportunity for real?

Mohamed Abul Ghar is a physician and founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, one of the earliest political entities that turned the momentum of the January 25, 2011 revolution into a structured political project. Abul Ghar describes June 30, 2013 as an “opportunity” in which military leaders listened to the demands and vision of democratic forces. But he also sees it as a wasted opportunity, because of a lack of planning and organization within the June 30 movement.

Abul Ghar speaks specifically about the National Salvation Front, which was formed in 2012 after Morsi issued a constitutional declaration expanding his powers. “The problem with the front is that it was a front of leaders. We did not have weight on the ground, and hence were floating in thin air,” he says.

There was also a weakness in decision-making processes, especially among those who became the faces of the front, like Mohamed ElBaradei, the founder of the Dostour Party — also one of the political entities that emerged after January 25, 2011.

“We had a plan to control the involvement of the military, but they too had a plan to control public space. The difference is they knew of our plans and we didn’t know of theirs.”

Abul Ghar reproaches ElBaradei for his reluctance to take organizational decisions that would have given the front a more solid negotiating power with the military. For example, there was a moment when Abul Ghar called on all party leaders to resign from their individual parties and join forces under one umbrella in a single national organization, using the Wafd Party in the early 20th century as his reference. ElBaradei, however, showed a lack of enthusiasm for the idea, or may have feared it, according to Abul Ghar.

Another problem he cites is a lack of political alignment between the different groups that took part in the front. “There were those who attended our meetings and then went to coordinate with the Brotherhood before June 30,” he says.

Hossam Moannis, spokesman for the Popular Current movement, founded by former presidential candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi in 2012, describes Aboul Ghar’s point as “a convergence of interests but not of visions.” The common interest was to see the Brotherhood leave, but there was no vision beyond this goal.

Unpacking this impossible alignment, Amr Abdelrahman, a political analyst and leader in the leftist Bread and Freedom Party, which was established towards the end of 2013, distinguishes between three components of the civil current that worked on ousting Morsi.

One component consisted of those who aspired to become the political representation of the old political elites, and who had attempted to garner an alliance with the military since 2011, at a time when the latter chose to collaborate with the Muslim Brotherhood before turning against them. He includes in this group business tycoon Naguib Sawiris’ Free Egyptians Party, and Mubarak-era minister Amr Moussa’s Congress Party.

The second component was what Abdelrahman calls Mubarak’s traditional opposition, such as the Wafd Party and the Nasserite parties and other groups and individuals marginalized by state institutions, including what he describes as the “old leftist intelligentsia,” such as ElBaradei.

And then there was the third component, formed by newcomers to the political scene post 2011, the protesting bodies who resorted to representation by the National Front of Salvation in 2013. “Because of this group’s tendency not to get involved in the process of building independent organizations, it could accept any player that adopted its slogans, even if they were hijacked for purposes that had absolutely no relation to democracy,” explains Abdelrahman.

“All of these components are responsible to varying degrees for what followed June 30, 2013. The first component through active engagement in trying to eliminate any democratic potential in society and continued attempts to call upon the military way too soon; the second component because of the rush to cooperate with the first component of civil elites, blocking any democratic discourse in the face of the Muslim Brotherhood,” says Abdelrahman. “And the third component, despite its fragility, for failure to independently express itself organizationally and politically, a failure that is not a result of tactical considerations or mistakes but is related to the positioning of such groups and their vision for themselves and the world.”

A hijacked project rather than an opportunity

Shadi al-Ghazaly Harb, then a leader in the Dostour Party, disagrees that there was no democratic political project in 2013 that went beyond the demand to overthrow the Brotherhood. He believes the opportunity available on June 30, 2013, was actually seized to impose an alternative political proposition. The problem, rather, in his opinion, was that this proposition struggled to penetrate the wide umbrella of civil political groups leading the June 30 movement.

Harb remembers a conference on June 22, 2013, “After the Departure,” which was called days before the June 30 demonstrations with the aim of mapping out a post-Brotherhood phase and thinking of ways to reduce the weight of the political institution in future governance.

He calls to mind the lack of enthusiasm from members of the National Salvation Front for the conference, which was organized in the presence of ElBaradei and Sabbahi, as well as others who took up positions in the first government appointed by the military after the overthrow of the Brotherhood. He also remembers how Tamarod — the protest movement that rose to prominence when it led calls to demonstrate on June 30, 2013, and with time was revealed to have close ties to the military — attacked the conference. This attack prompted ElBaradei to hold a meeting at his home after the conference, to which he invited some members of Tamarod.

“We had a plan to control the involvement of the military, but they too had a plan to control public space. The difference is that they knew of our plans and we didn’t know of theirs,” he says, casting doubt on whether there was any real opportunity.

“It was not possible for the military to make its move against the Muslim Brotherhood without the democratic faction. We were leading the scene since the moment of [Morsi’s] constitutional declaration in 2012. Suddenly [current President Abdel Fattah] al-Sisi jumped on the scene and his pictures gradually began to fill the streets before June 30. Still, he could not directly lead the scene politically and therefore there was a need for us,” Harb continues.

The actual side-lining of democratic forces started post-July 3, 2013, the day Sisi announced the overthrow of Morsi and appointment of a new government. Moannis recalls that the provisions of the constitutional declaration, issued by Interim President Adly Mansour on July 8, 2013, were not discussed with any of the democratic forces.

“Participation in this process through presidential or other elections only legitimizes the current path, although the status quo already has legitimacy.”

But the turning point that showcased Egypt’s new rulers’ lack of interest in the participation of pro-democracy groups in the process became evident on July 24, 2013, when Sisi addressed the people in a speech calling upon them to give the military a mandate to confront Brotherhood violence. ElBaradei had just been appointed vice president for foreign affairs and learned about this mandate via the speech just like everyone else, says Harb. It was another alarm bell of political exclusion.

Thinking about the lack of real opportunity for pro-democracy groups, Abul Ghar says, “The Egyptian state has not welcomed national organizations since 1952. The only organization the state negotiated with was the Brotherhood. The democratic faction is difficult to negotiate with because it is cultured and tends to embarrass the state.”

And now what?

Abul Ghar retired from politics and the leadership of his party last year. Harb also resigned from the Dostour Party because he felt a lack of internal ideological harmony, which he says weakened it.

While Harb thinks participation in the political process is no longer worthwhile, Abul Ghar is more unsure of what can be done politically.

“Reality forces us to recognize the current political process. Participation in this process through presidential or other elections only legitimizes the current path, although the status quo already has legitimacy,” Harb says.

He sees no alternative to reproducing protest movements like those that developed on the margins of previous regimes. “A disciplined mobilization,” he calls it, centered around threats to livelihood, national threats and other issues people can come together over; a mobilization that cannot be easily dismissed for being too chaotic and random. Harb adds that the ground is ripe for such a possibility because people’s political consciousness has changed after the 2011 revolution.

Moannis sees things a bit differently. He considers Sabbahi’s decision to run in the 2014 presidential elections against Sisi as a direct reaction to the marginalization of pro-democracy groups by the military in 2013. Until recently, he saw merit in pushing a democratic candidate for the 2018 elections.

But Sisi’s recent ratification of the maritime demarcation agreement with Saudi Arabia, by which Egypt has conceded the islands of Tiran and Sanafir to the Kingdom with the blessing of Parliament despite popular discontent and an opposing ruling by the Administrative Court, created a new perspective on what the future might hold.

“We now have a president who could be put to trial if he leaves power because of the case of Tiran and Sanafir, so I do not think there is any doubt that his rule will continue for a second term,” Moannis says.

Even so, he still sees the importance of forming a new front for those in the democratic faction that can build and rally around a political project to challenge the status quo.


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