Egypt: Back to the future?
Following the military takeover in Egypt last week, many circles have already declared the end of the “Arab Spring,” arguing that we are back on the starting point. This argument is totally groundless since “spring” had not arrived in the region in any case. What we have been witnessing in the last two years has been an “Arab Awakening,” which has certainly not come to an end at all. The recent coup in Egypt only indicates that Egyptians will not give up on democracy till “spring” arrives.
Most of the 14 million people who were on the streets in Cairo on June 30 were liberal and secular revolutionaries, chanting “neither shariah nor coup d’etat.” They called for President Mohamed Morsi’s ouster and new elections. Unfortunately, their call was picked up by the Egyptian army, which evicted President Mohamed Morsi from office on the first anniversary of his election as president. Egyptians took to the streets to struggle and fight for democracy. And the military takeover was the end result, not their intention. Secondly, masses chanted after Gen. Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi’s announcement of the military takeover to celebrate the fact that they had been able to remove Morsi by demonstrating and expressing their demands. They had spoken out and their request got fulfilled.
Here lies Egypt’s biggest dilemma, which was also articulated in a New York Times article on July 2. Although the people on the streets asked for democracy, demonstrations resulted in the military intervening, subverting the very essence of democracy by ousting a democratically elected president. Yet, this still does not mean that Egypt has come to the end of its democratic journey. Regarding the pattern of the progress in the country so far, this was only the end of the first scene in Egypt’s democratic evolution.
When Egyptians took first to the streets in 2011, they were revolting both against their dictator Hosni Mubarak and radical Islam. Arab nations had been so far forced to choose between “either Bin Laden or Ben Ali,” the then Tunisian dictatory president. Now they were rising for “neither Bin Laden nor Ben Ali.” And they made it. Egyptians rejected both categories and managed to end decades of dictatorship and start operating democracy in their country. Morsi won the presidency through free and fair elections by convincing many secular and religious but non-Islamist Egyptians that he would be inclusive and pluralist. Yet, he did not fulfill the expectations of the masses and put Egypt on a democratic course. This is why Egyptians took to the streets again, this time not against a dictator and anti-democratic despotism, but against a democratically elected president and authoritarian democracy. Hence today they demonstrate for not only democracy, but for more democracy. In the next scene they want to join the modern world and live in an open society under the rule of law.
Slavoj Zizek had written with regard to the Arab uprisings that Arabs are feeling alive for the first time in their lives. Apparently Egyptians managed not to fall asleep. As long as they keep that spirit alive, democracy will certainly take root in the country.