Egypt’s opposition dumber than Lanka’s

Obfuscated "revolutionaries" who threw away the Arab Spring


Kumar David

The years since January 2011 in Egypt and May 2009 in Lanka have little in common, except the crass stupidity of the opposition. But this is worth probing since political leaders, if they think at all in historical terms, may pick up a tip or two and that could benefit us all. Let me state my case up front: In both cases, the opposition has lost sight of the whole for the part and proved incompetent at reaching alliances and compromises for the greater good. Individual self-interest, sectarianism and dated ideology have prevailed over long-term values. I offer Ranil as an example of self-interest pushing aside general interest; the petty obstacles to trade union unity as sectarianism; and the JVP’s harebrained notions about Tamils, India and revolution as moribund ideology.

My focus will be Egypt and mostly I will leave readers to draw their own parallels. The underlying premises are that arresting military rule is the bottom line in Egypt, while turning back the drift to dictatorship, defeating rampant power abuse, and crafting a democratic constitution, represent the common political good in Lanka. The difference is that in Egypt the revolution won and then frittered away its gains; the voyage of its life was drowned in shallow waters of sectarianism (the radical opposition) and bankrupt ideology (the Islamists). In Lanka, conversely, the masses thirst for harmony with the established power and acquiesce to the worst regime since independence. In Lanka as in Egypt, the people and their leaders have been their own worst enemy, but in different ways.

Egypt: A quick recapitulation

A revolution of the millions ousted Mubarak in January 2011 and forced the interim military controllers to hold elections. Islamists won the January 2012 parliamentary poll and one would have thought the democratic-radical-secular (DRS) opposition would have learnt a sobering lesson. But no! Come presidential elections in May, a dozen DRS pretenders vied in the primary and so splintered the vote. Though these candidates together garnered 15 million votes, their leading candidate Subbhai was third behind the Brotherhood’s Morsi (5.8 million), and Shafiq (5.5 million) of the establishment. This disqualified the DRS from the run-off in June and terminated its ascent. After this it staggered from one blunder to another. The first was calling for a boycott of the run-off which may have allowed Shafiq to creep through, except that Egypt’s people were smarter and ignored them, pushing Morsi through, though not by a large majority; second, the DRS is now bungling, stupidly, after the July 2013 coup.

It is not the DRS alone that deserves condemnation. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have been insufferable and intolerant Islamist fundamentalists, incapable of constructing consensus. They stuffed every office with Islamists, packed the constitutional assembly with bigots and rammed through a charter that embittered Christian and Shia minorities, horrified democrats and demeaned women. Egypt is no primitive Mohammedan fiefdom; you can’t do this without infuriating young people, the educated classes and the cities. To compound it, the government was incompetent in managing the economy, so unsurprisingly, where Morsi has lost most support, his popularity rating plummeting from 80% to 30%, are the poor Cairo neighbourhoods which have been Brotherhood strongholds for decades. The economy has buckled, there is a fuel shortage, youth unemployment has rise to 40%, and malnutrition is rising.

It was a medley of blunders, by a menagerie of clowns, all initially anti-Mubarak, that has landed Egypt in a no-win situation with nowhere to turn. Likewise, the muddle in Lanka’s opposition is that the UNP does not know which way it is pointing (yes Ranil is not a financial felon unlike the regime’s leaders, but his cosy relationship with Rajapaksa is not trusted by anyone); SLFP dissident Ministers, and Hakeem, Douglas and Thonda though aware they are hitched to a carcase know not how to disentangle; and the left in the UPFA and the JVP are all at sea. The worst is still to come; how will these befuddled bodies align themselves in the next election cycle?

The DRS and the June 2013 coup

The driving force behind the 10 million strong 30 June 2013 protest that brought Egypt to a standstill was the democratic-radical-secular (DRS) opposition. The leader was Tamarod (Rebellion), the youth movement which galvanised Tahrir Square; backing it was the National Salvation Front (NSF), a bourgeois alliance led by Mohamed El Baradei, former head of UN watchdog, International Atomic Energy Agency. All were thrown together by the bigotry and intolerance of the Brotherhood ramming political Islam down the throat of constitution and society. Morsi and the Brotherhood, in power, were so small-minded that they left the enlightened classes no option but rebellion. The rebels, in turn, landed themselves and Egypt straight in the lap of the military. Tragically, these are the limits of populist street democracy sans revolutionary strategy and perspective; that is sans Lenin.

But Morsi does remain the duly and democratically elected President of Egypt. But is he stupid? Yes, but still the stupid duly elected president ousted in a military coup d’etat, a reactionary power grab. That the army took cover behind an outraged mass of radicals and liberals makes no difference to raw historical truth. Now the military is foist with Islamic backlash and the Brotherhood refuses to compromise or negotiate till Morsi’s presidency is restored. Why should it; if it wins the next election who can guarantee this won’t happen again? It says: "Democracy is bollocks; if you win its fine; if we win it’s a military takeover; no more charades please". To this I have heard no credible or rational reply.

Now Tamarod has turned against the special powers arrogated by Adly Mansour, the military puppet alias interim president, and the NSF has denied any hand in the decrees proclaimed by the post coup regime (Sic; El Baradei though is a military appointed Vice President!) These fools are trying to disentangle themselves after first cheering the military power grab and impairing the people’s power movement. Islamist and al-Qaeda linked movements have taken control of some towns and chased out the army in the Sinai Peninsula. Things may quieten if the military stranglehold tightens, otherwise events will spin out of control. My hunch is that the army will not be able to hang on for long and will have to relinquish power; the current timetable is a referendum on a new constitution in four months and parliamentary and presidential polls early next year. But as I said, the Brotherhood asks: "What for?" An election boycotted by the largest party is meaningless.

The military’s self-serving minimum demands are first an amnesty for the generals who grabbed power (in law they are traitors who should hang from lampposts), and second protection of the vast business empire of generals and ex-generals. Morsi shielded the army and police, preventing prosecution of those responsible for killing thousands during the revolution. Instead he encouraged Islamist thugs, and arrested and harassed young revolutionaries on trumped up charges. He has been duly repaid by the army, which massacred 50 supporters protesting against his detention on 8 July!

There is bewildering confusion on all sides as developments spin out of control. Terminating Morsi’s presidency by constitutional means or crushing him and the Brotherhood at the next elections is what the Tamarod cum liberal democratic build up should have been about; never about paving the way for a military coup.

Obama, his Middle East policy in tatters, sent an envoy who met a blank wall and returned empty handed. In any case there is suspicion the Americans gave a green light for the coup. The military now seems unable to take effective control; it must climb down and get back to the barracks, otherwise mayhem is unavoidable.

The murky waters of the Nile

The rich annual flooding of the Nile made possible the rise of one of mankind’s two oldest civilisations 6,000 years ago. The Nile is Egypt’s lifeblood, a threat to its waters is a death sentence, and recently the angel of death has descended in the form of the Grand Millennium Dam on the Blue Nile in Ethiopia. Though the White Nile, from beyond Lake Victoria is much longer, about 70% of the waters of this great river are contributed by the Blue Nile originating in Lake Tana in Ethiopia. The dam, a massive $5 billion project financed by China, will cut downstream flows on the Nile by 20% in the long-run and much more at the beginning when the reservoir is filling. A 1929 British mandated agreement awards Egypt 90% control of Nile waters, but Ethiopia was not consulted.

The mood in Cairo has been black for many months and even military intervention has been considered; ‘All options are on the table’ is terminology American belligerence bestowed on the global vocabulary. The dam is forty km from the Sudanese border, so the distance is large and entails over-flying Sudan, or a manoeuvre down the Red Sea and then across Eritrea. It will be an ordeal and it is doubtful if Egypt has the military capability of surmounting Ethiopian resistance. But hark, an adventure serves another purpose!

A desperate government will resort to nefarious stratagems to distract people from its failures. For Rajapaksa it has been the ‘Tiger behind every palmyrah thatch’ and ‘the spectre of 13A’. The army in Egypt, with its back to the wall, has a card to play for "national unity against dreaded evil"; that damned Ethiopian waterhole. A few bombs could even transform the armed forces into heroes; so let’s see how all this pans out.

animated gif
Processing Request
Please Wait...