Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has locked down Cairo. On Thursday, the fear of demonstrations on the third anniversary of the coup resulted in the closure of Tahrir Square, the symbol of the 2011 revolution. The only celebration is for the president, who allowed his supporters to take to the streets and the television networks, praising the coup that deposed his predecessor, Mohamed Morsi.
Since then, the popular Tamarod movement, which in 2013 allowed the military to seize power from the Muslim Brotherhood, no longer exists: The barbaric violence of state repression, which began just a month after el-Sisi’s rise with mass killings of Islamists, devastated the country for two years until last spring, when the protests have exploded once again. What can be done? We discussed this question with Tamer Wageeh, director of the Economic and Social Justice Unit at the Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights.
In an analysis by Mada Masr, she talks about the events of April as the first step toward the birth of a new opposition. Does it have potential?
The counter-revolution of July 2013 won thanks to the mobilization of millions of people: They defeated the revolution with popular support. The use of force came later. First [el-Sisi] exploited the fear of the Brotherhood and the revolution itself. But in the last year and a half cracks have appeared in the apparently granitic popular support and political alliance between the counter-revolutionary forces and the state apparatus. They re-opened spaces for criticism, not because the state has become more lenient, but because more and more people have begun to hear alternative voices skeptical of the regime. In April this criticism took to the streets, an important step. But it should not be seen as a definitive victory for the opposition. The regime reacted immediately, and the movement is temporarily paralyzed. But its strength remains: We are moving forward, even if in a zigzag.
Who are the members of the current opposition movement?
The nature of the opposition is the central question. It has two levels intertwined but at the same time apart: activists and politicians on the one hand, the masses on the other. Among the former, the “conscious political movement” is made up of three layers: The first are the hard-core revolutionaries, people who were critics of the regime from the very start. Although some were initially excited about the coup of 2013, these are the “January people,” participants in the Tahrir revolution. The second layer is the new generation, young people who because of their age did not participate in the uprising of 2011, but have joined in the following years: a major category that gives freshness to the revolution. Tens of thousands of people throughout Egypt are resisting, guided by January ideals. The third is composed of the old professional politicians, including the opposition parties who largely supported the coup and only since then have expressed disagreement with its atrocities.
This movement was reactivated with the sale of the Tiran and Sanafir islands to Saudi Arabia, but it is politically fragmented. The revolutionaries do not trust the maneuvers of politicians; politicians are judgmental toward the immature revolutionaries. In addition, there is a problem with the Islamists: The Muslim Brotherhood has been active since the first day of the coup, yet the new movement has no clear attitude toward them. There is contempt. But the Islamists, despite popular isolation, attacks from the state and internal dissenters, are stronger in certain lay movements.
And the second level, the popular masses — what is their role?
The base is formed by sectors of the population tired of the status quo because of rising prices and the economic crisis. Workers and civil servants, students and street vendors, but also entrepreneurs, no longer willing to tolerate this situation. But the old and new parts of the opposition movement are too self-referential and little interested in building ties with the masses. Sometimes they end up “hating” the masses because they are said to have betrayed the revolution. The revolutionaries come from the lower-middle class: high ideals but poor ideological maturity.
Why has el-Sisi been safe for so long? The protest in April was the first since the summer of 2014, when he was elected president.
Because of the popular support he enjoyed at the beginning and the inertia of the counter-revolutionary sentiments of sectors of the population tired of instability. Because of his military power and regional support from the Gulf.
You define el-Sisi’s regime as ‘neoliberal militarism.’ It is now in danger?
The Egyptian ruling class force fed us neoliberalism for 40 years, but it is a failed project. Times are changing, and it is militarizing because we’re politically led by a military dictatorship and we’re economically based on the armed forces, the country’s main capitalist. Like Putin’s Russia. The centers of capitalism align with the centers of security and give life to a state oligarchic whose main interest is to steal and corrupt. This form of distribution of power in the hands of the army and intelligence services not only deprives the state of the vital role of representing society’s interests and resolving territorial feuds and litigation, but it also reflects the government elite’s lack of strategic vision.
Will the new opposition organize itself like it did in 2011?
One factor is an obstacle: The memory of the revolutionary years is still alive, and people ask, “Why move yet? What will be different this time?” To respond positively to this question, one should see a real alternative, which is lacking today. The only response is that riots do not have the ability to develop a revolutionary movement.
Can protests in the press be a catalyst?
Definitely. The state besieges the movement and the movement is in decline. But the trade union activists — doctors, journalists, engineers — are catalysts of the struggle. Although they seem to be failing, they are continuous explosions that push for change.
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