The Tahrir Square illusion

Egypt's SCAF continues to rule not in spite of the citizens, but with their compliance.

February 1, 2012 21:28
4 minute read.
Egypt's Tantawi talking with journalists

Tantawi with journalists 390. (photo credit: REUTERS)


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Despite the media’s love affair with the anti-Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) activist movement, the Egyptian revolution has already been secretly decided.

After the tense buildup to the anniversary of the revolution, Egypt’s new ruling elite can breathe a sigh of relief. While tens of thousands of liberal activists swarmed Tahrir Square against the military leadership, they failed to reignite the nationwide anger which led to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak on January 25 of last year.

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It seems clear that after a year of political unrest, sectarian violence, civil strikes and economic turmoil, the majority of Egyptians have opted to ensure their security, even if it means forgoing the original goals of the revolution. This security has been achieved by the emergence of a new balance of power, carefully negotiated against the backdrop of parliamentary elections, between the Muslim Brotherhood and the ruling military council.

This shadowy agreement first became evident in November 2011, when liberal activists engulfed downtown Cairo in rioting, threatening stability before the onset of parliamentary elections. While the media flocked to Mohammed Mahmoud Street to capture romantic images of stone-throwing youth, Muslim Brotherhood leaders secretly met with SCAF officials to decipher a way to end the violence in a mutually beneficial manner.

It was during these behind-the-scenes meetings that the two parties allegedly reconciled their previous differences over the nature of Egypt’s constitution, agreeing in turn to each do their part to ensure stability in the country.

The Muslim Brotherhood would agree to support the SCAF’s timetable for transfer of power, pledging to refrain from contributing to any protest movement which might arise. For its part, the SCAF agreed to allow what would be a Brotherhood-dominated parliament to decipher the constitution while reportedly ensuring a presidential system which would ensure the military’s continued influence in government.

As reports of the agreement began to trickle in through local media, the Muslim Brotherhood staunchly denied their participation. However, the course of their actions since November provide a telling indicator that Egypt’s most influential faction is now in cahoots with increasingly unpopular military council.

When riots flared again in December 2011, the Brotherhood came out in support of the SCAF’s timetable for presidential elections, going against calls made by liberal politicians. Just as Egypt appeared divided over the SCAF-induced celebratory nature of the revolution’s anniversary, the Muslim Brotherhood openly held supportive rallies in Tahrir Square opposite thousands of secular and liberal activists who were calling for its removal from power.

Given the media’s fascination with Egypt’s seemingly continuous revolution, one would think that the Muslim Brotherhood’s support of the much-hated SCAF would detract from its popularity. The Brotherhood’s subsequent success in parliamentary elections and ever-growing popularity proves that the Egyptian reality is not consistent with the media’s portrayal.

In reality, the Brotherhood’s agreement with the SCAF did not draw the ire of the average Egyptian due to the simple fact that much of the population simply wishes for a restoration of security. The instability and uncertainty in the wake of Mubarak’s ousting has not only put many Egyptians out of work, but has also caused many residents to fear for their personal safety in a growing security vacuum. As such, the outrage of the educated liberal elite over issues like imprisoned bloggers has continuously failed to resonate with a population which is finds itself struggling to survive. In their eyes, the destabilizing violence caused by these groups’ pursuit of liberal-democratic governance has only contributed to their hardship, effectively becoming more of a nuisance than a legitimate struggle.

The Brotherhood, like the average Egyptian, still views the military as the only entity capable of keeping the country afloat. For a group which desperately needed such security for its rise to power during the lengthy polling period, an agreement to cooperate with the SCAF was clearly a well calculated move.

As Egypt moves forward into the second year since of its rebirth, liberal activist groups are likely to continue drawing media attention through colorful demonstrations in Tahrir Square. Outside of Cairo, meanwhile, the average Egyptian has reconciled with the idea that ensuring personal security under a military-influenced government is preferable to the prolonged instability that comes from pursuit of liberal democracy.

Since Mubarak’s ousting, the liberal activists who first took to the streets to spark the uprising have consistently claimed that the revolution has been stolen from under their noses. Embodying that sentiment is their latest protest on January 27, which has been dubbed “Friday of Anger.” Their anger, however, need not lie with the military government or the Muslim Brotherhood. As with any undemocratic regime, the SCAF continues to rule not in spite of the Egyptian people, but with their compliance.

Daniel Nisman works for Max Security Solutions, a geo-political risk consulting firm based in the Middle East. He specialized in North African and Egyptian affairs.

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