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Protesters, opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, wave the Egyptian flag and shout slogans against him and members of the Muslim Brotherhood at the Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo's Moqattam district July 1, 2013. (AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/REUTERS)
Protesters, opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi, wave the Egyptian flag and shout slogans against him and members of the Muslim Brotherhood at the Brotherhood's headquarters in Cairo's Moqattam district July 1, 2013. (AMR ABDALLAH DALSH/REUTERS)

Evan Hill

Egypt’s anti-Islamist uprising: How did it come to this? Add to ...

The November crisis awakened the opposition to a harsh reality: they were going to keep losing this game, and the Brotherhood was not going to stop playing. The only solution was to change the rules. They united, for the first time, under the banner of the National Salvation Front. Their faltering effort to boycott and then vote down the new constitution failed, but the unexpectedly tight result convinced them that Mr. Morsi’s base was shrinking. Soon after, the NSF declared that it would boycott upcoming parliamentary elections unless many of the rules -- written by the nearly wholly Islamist upper house -- were changed. Improbably, despite being filled with inflated egos and parties highly opposed to one another, the NSF held its front.

In December, after Morsi supporters ransacked a small sit-in outside the presidential palace and sparked deadly street battles, a more extreme wing of the opposition began to wield influence inside the coalition. They argued that Mr. Morsi had lost all legitimacy. He would have to go, voluntarily or by force. Violent anti-Brotherhood protests became the order of the day. Instability worked in the opposition’s favour. The economy was nose-diving, and security forces -- becoming more openly vocal in their disdain for the Brotherhood government -- could not or would not do their jobs. Social media and independent television stations lit up with images of Brotherhood members beating away protesters. Newspapers openly mocked Mr. Morsi’s government for its inability to right the ship. Rumours and anonymously sourced news reports spread about the Brotherhood’s ambitions to Islamize the army and police and carve off critical swaths of sovereign assets, such as those along the Suez Canal, to sell to benefactors in Qatar. Mr. Morsi – one of the more deeply uncharismatic leaders in modern Arab history – proved incapable of rallying anyone outside his base.

The Brotherhood’s majoritarian behavior had, by then, convinced many secular-minded Egyptians that Mr. Morsi and his administration would not engage in any meaningful negotiation. The goal for many in the opposition became the end of the Brotherhood’s entire project itself.

Ministries were in quiet bureaucratic rebellion. Lower-level employees stalled paperwork. Mr. Morsi and the Brotherhood had, by now, almost fully retreated to their core supporters. He held a sectarianism-fueled stadium rally where he severed relations with Syria’s Bashar al-Assad – after his administration had encouraged Egyptians to go fight in the war.

As the swamp of a long summer and economic decline loomed, the NSF waited. Then, in June, came Tamarod.

The Tamarod (“Rebel”) campaign has publicly put into simple terms what many in the political opposition have been thinking for months: Morsi is the target, he must go. And when he goes, the Brotherhood project ends. The constitution is rewritten; the country presses the reset button on the transition.

Egypt is more polarized than at any point since the revolution. Figures from the old regime – Omar Suleiman’s aide, the son of one of the Nile Delta’s longtime Mubarak power brokers – have re-emerged to rally supporters against the Brotherhood. The irony is not lost on many of the most dedicated revolutionaries, who wonder whether their causes have been hijacked and their voices marginalized once again. Others have set aside such concerns, saying the Brotherhood represents the more clear and present danger. The enduring legacy of Mr. Morsi’s presidency, if he does not survive his four-year term, may be his inadvertent facilitation of the counter-revolution.

If Mohamed Morsi falls or steps down, millions of Egyptians will view it as a victory. Perhaps he could be succeeded by a salvation government, and some kind of stable progress will ensue, though the Brotherhood can hardly be expected to quietly allow their project to dissolve around them, and it would likely mean the return of the army to a guiding role.

Revolutions come with chaos. History teaches us that many years may pass before a country comes out of such upheaval with a working government, satisfactory justice and reconciliation, and a consensus about national identity. But even in such a positive scenario, it is hard not to view the first two and a half years of Egypt’s revolution as a series of squandered promises.

Evan Hill is a Cairo-based journalist. He tweets at @evanchill. A version of this article was first published on tahrirsquared.com.

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