Mastering the art of revolution

Protests have continued at various flashpoints over the two years since the 25 January Revolution, suggesting that not enough has yet changed in Egypt – Published on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Rasha Sadek, Feb 23, 2013.

TAHRIR: Cairo’s Tahrir Square has been the iconic home of the revolution since its eruption on 25 January 2011. During the 18 days of revolt before the ousting of former president Hosni Mubarak, Tahrir voiced the demands of all strands of revolutionary opinion, with demands for bread, freedom, social justice and the toppling of a decadent 30-year-old regime being common chants. People from across the social, political and economic spectrum gathered at downtown Cairo’s epicentre, at times in their millions. They were determined. They were united … //

…  When the Muslim Brotherhood candidate Mohamed Morsi was announced president on 24 June, 2012, with a slight margin of 49 per cent of the vote, the Islamists rushed to Tahrir Square to celebrate. Morsi also showed up in Tahrir, swore himself into office in front of the public and announced that “the goals of the revolution are finally being achieved.” The revolutionary forces, liberal and otherwise, stood on the sidelines of the scene, mourning what they called the “death of the revolution.”

On 22 November 2012, Tahrir Square regained its zeal. People once again converged on the home of the revolution, angrily denouncing Morsi’s constitutional declaration which granted him dictatorial powers and put him above the law. The declaration also shielded the Islamist-packed Constituent Assembly in charge of drafting the new constitution and the Shura Council against lawsuits contesting their legitimacy, and it illegally forced the country’s prosecutor-general, Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, from office, instead appointing the Muslim Brotherhood-leaning Talaat Abdallah.

A sit-in was immediately in place, with around 250 tents set up in and around the square. More than 30 political parties, together with civil and revolutionary movements and unions from across Egypt’s governorates, joined in the sit-in. Even individuals and groups with no political affiliation took part. At least 1,500 protesters set up camp in Tahrir Square, with this figure doubling when the security attacks intensified, or after million-man rallies like 30 November’s “Friday of the Dream of the Martyr”.

The protesters were further enraged when Morsi gave the Constituent Assembly, from which civil society representatives, the Church and Al-Azhar had withdrawn in protest citing concerns at Islamist hegemony, a period of two months to continue drafting the new constitution in order to give a chance to the withdrawing parties to reconsider and rejoin the assembly. However, within 48 hours the Constituent Assembly had announced it was done with writing the 236-article constitution, severing all hopes that forces other than the Islamists could contribute to drafting the nation’s new charter. Immediately, Morsi called for a referendum on 15 December, ignoring non-Islamist demands to postpone the referendum until a public consensus had been reached.

This political climate was the fuel that re-energised the protesters in Tahrir, who were unanimous in their demands: either Morsi scrapped the constitutional declaration and put off the referendum, or he left office. However, these demands fell on deaf ears. The referendum was held on time, and the constitution passed with 63.8 per cent of the vote.

Today, the protesters are still sitting in Tahrir Square. And Morsi is still giving them the cold shoulder … //

…  THE JUDICIARY: The Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) building overlooks the Maadi Corniche. Regarded as the highest judicial authority in Egypt, the SCC enjoys worldwide respect, but it is seen by Egypt’s Islamists as an institution that has maintained its loyalty to Mubarak. The SCC swore Morsi into office on 30 June 2012, but to the dismay of the Islamists the following month it ruled that parliament, which they dominated, should be disbanded. Since then, the Islamists have seemed bent on a confrontation with the SCC. This started on the night of 1 December — the day Morsi called for a referendum on the constitution.

During what the Islamists claimed was a “million-man protest” in Giza’s Al-Nahda Square — an area containing no more than 50,000 people, according to the Giza governor — and which was a show of power under the pretext of supporting the president and his decisions, Islamist leaders called on their followers to sit-in at the SCC before the court issued its ruling the next day on two momentous lawsuits: one contesting the constitutionality of the law governing the elections to the Shura Council — dominated by the Islamists — and the other challenging the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly that on 29 November had hammered out and hurriedly voted on the draft constitution — after civil and Christian forces and Al-Azhar had withdrawn in protest at the dominance of the Islamists.

Tens of Islamists heeded the call at once, but they were followed by thousands on the morning of 2 December before the court was to adjourn. Despite the presence of police forces, the SCC judges couldn’t enter the building, the entrances of which had been blockaded by Islamist forces, with some of them climbing over external fences. The SCC described that Sunday as the “the judiciary’s blackest day on record”, and for the first time in its history the court decided to suspend its work for an indefinite period, saying that it “would not reconvene until its judges could operate without any psychological or material pressures”.

Meanwhile, in front of the court building, the Islamists were celebrating their “victory” with chants lambasting the judges and opposition forces. One such chant was “Morsi give us the cue, and we’ll bring them in a keg for you.” Carrying pictures of the president, they described themselves as the “true revolutionaries” and Morsi their true representative. From the Islamists’ viewpoint, the court should have dropped the two cases immediately after Morsi’s constitutional decree which shielded the Shura Council and Constituent Assembly from any legal contestation.

The judges began an immediate strike, following the example of other judges and prosecutors who had stopped work in protest at the presidential decree which according to them “undermined judicial authority”. The Judges Club, a union with 9,500 members, joined in solidarity and announced that it would not oversee the constitutional referendum. Judicial circles were already dealing with much turbulence on this front, especially after Islamist forces held protests in front of the Supreme Judicial House calling for the toppling of the Mubarak appointee prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, who was later ousted by the 22 November declaration. Political researcher Amr Hamzawy commented on the SCC sit-in by saying that “the president and his group are leading Egypt into a period of darkness par excellence… He has made a dictatorial decision to hold a referendum on an illegal constitution that divides society, and now he has put the judiciary under siege in order to terrorise it.”

While the Islamists eventually got what they wanted, they didn’t leave the site of the SCC. Tents were erected around the security cordon enforced by the police, with a few hundred Islamist members determined not to leave in order to make sure that the SCC would not reconvene. After 24 days of sit-ins, the result of the referendum on the constitution was announced, with 63.8 per cent voting yes. Only then, and after celebrating the result in situ, did the Islamists pack up and leave.

The last time Egypt’s judges announced a general strike was during the 1919 Revolution, when they joined the popular uprising against British colonial rule … //

…  THE JUDICIARY: The Supreme Constitutional Court (SCC) building overlooks the Maadi Corniche. Regarded as the highest judicial authority in Egypt, the SCC enjoys worldwide respect, but it is seen by Egypt’s Islamists as an institution that has maintained its loyalty to Mubarak. The SCC swore Morsi into office on 30 June 2012, but to the dismay of the Islamists the following month it ruled that parliament, which they dominated, should be disbanded. Since then, the Islamists have seemed bent on a confrontation with the SCC. This started on the night of 1 December — the day Morsi called for a referendum on the constitution.

During what the Islamists claimed was a “million-man protest” in Giza’s Al-Nahda Square — an area containing no more than 50,000 people, according to the Giza governor — and which was a show of power under the pretext of supporting the president and his decisions, Islamist leaders called on their followers to sit-in at the SCC before the court issued its ruling the next day on two momentous lawsuits: one contesting the constitutionality of the law governing the elections to the Shura Council — dominated by the Islamists — and the other challenging the legitimacy of the Constituent Assembly that on 29 November had hammered out and hurriedly voted on the draft constitution — after civil and Christian forces and Al-Azhar had withdrawn in protest at the dominance of the Islamists.

Tens of Islamists heeded the call at once, but they were followed by thousands on the morning of 2 December before the court was to adjourn. Despite the presence of police forces, the SCC judges couldn’t enter the building, the entrances of which had been blockaded by Islamist forces, with some of them climbing over external fences. The SCC described that Sunday as the “the judiciary’s blackest day on record”, and for the first time in its history the court decided to suspend its work for an indefinite period, saying that it “would not reconvene until its judges could operate without any psychological or material pressures”.

Meanwhile, in front of the court building, the Islamists were celebrating their “victory” with chants lambasting the judges and opposition forces. One such chant was “Morsi give us the cue, and we’ll bring them in a keg for you.” Carrying pictures of the president, they described themselves as the “true revolutionaries” and Morsi their true representative. From the Islamists’ viewpoint, the court should have dropped the two cases immediately after Morsi’s constitutional decree which shielded the Shura Council and Constituent Assembly from any legal contestation.

The judges began an immediate strike, following the example of other judges and prosecutors who had stopped work in protest at the presidential decree which according to them “undermined judicial authority”. The Judges Club, a union with 9,500 members, joined in solidarity and announced that it would not oversee the constitutional referendum. Judicial circles were already dealing with much turbulence on this front, especially after Islamist forces held protests in front of the Supreme Judicial House calling for the toppling of the Mubarak appointee prosecutor-general Abdel-Meguid Mahmoud, who was later ousted by the 22 November declaration. Political researcher Amr Hamzawy commented on the SCC sit-in by saying that “the president and his group are leading Egypt into a period of darkness par excellence… He has made a dictatorial decision to hold a referendum on an illegal constitution that divides society, and now he has put the judiciary under siege in order to terrorise it.”

While the Islamists eventually got what they wanted, they didn’t leave the site of the SCC. Tents were erected around the security cordon enforced by the police, with a few hundred Islamist members determined not to leave in order to make sure that the SCC would not reconvene. After 24 days of sit-ins, the result of the referendum on the constitution was announced, with 63.8 per cent voting yes. Only then, and after celebrating the result in situ, did the Islamists pack up and leave.

The last time Egypt’s judges announced a general strike was during the 1919 Revolution, when they joined the popular uprising against British colonial rule … //

…  ALEXANDRIA: The Mediterranean city has played an integral role since the onset of the revolution. Al-Qaed Ibrahim Square on the city’s Corniche echoed Tahrir’s chants and demands. It has maintained its revolutionary spirit during the past two years, not taking the side of any one particular faction. The goals of the revolution, and preserving its moderate equilibrium, were the only voice heard from Al-Qaed. That is, until Islamist supporters held a rally there in support of Morsi’s decree two months ago.

Alexandria had its fair share of skirmishes with the security forces during and after the revolution, and with thugs and Islamists. On 1 December 2012, in Sidi Gaber Square thugs attacked a protest held by a number of civil movements in solidarity with the Tahrir sit-in and against the Islamist draft constitution with birdshot, knives, rocks and broken bottles. The Central Security Forces managed to defuse the clashes. The Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party denied it had sent its followers to the site of the protest. On 5 December, and as protesters in front of Al-Ittihadiya palace were being attacked by Islamist militias, Alexandrian demonstrators quickly assembled at Sidi Gaber to denounce the violence of the Islamists in confronting their political rivals, raising the banner “the people want true democracy. Bread, freedom and the disbanding of the Constituent Assembly.”

On 21 December, clashes erupted in front of the Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque on the Corniche between supporters and opponents of the draft constitution. The fighting started after preacher Ahmed Al-Mahalawi urged worshippers to vote “yes” in the referendum on the constitution, stating that “it will usher in long-sought-after stability”. According to eyewitness accounts, a worshipper stood up chanting, “down with the rule of the supreme guide”. He was then apparently beaten up and detained along with two of his friends inside the mosque by members of the Muslim Brotherhood. Outside the mosque, bearded men affiliated to Islamist groupings were fighting with protesters. The bearded men were carrying swords, knives, Molotov cocktails and rocks. Nine people were reported dead and hundreds injured.

The following Friday, dubbed the “Friday of Protecting Mosques and Preachers,” Islamists from different governorates arrived at Alexandria’s Al-Qaed Ibrahim Mosque bent on fighting the opposing camp. They prevented people not affiliated to the Islamist groups from praying inside the Mosque. After the prayers, clashes erupted between the two factions, but the Islamists, mainly from the Salafist Hazemoun group, were outnumbered by the protesters. Street fights lasted the whole day, and at night when the Islamists had escaped to neighbouring side streets the protesters set fire to their buses.

Until last week, skirmishes were ongoing in Alexandria. On 19 January, protesters and martyrs’ families clashed with police in front of the Manshiya Court Complex during the trial of those accused of murdering Alexandria’s revolutionaries. Tear gas bombs were fired at the protesters.

Retribution for those killed during the revolution is another demand that it has thus far failed to achieve.

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Links:

An end to Brotherhood hegemony? A new report has predicted an all but even split of the 2013 parliamentary seats between the regime and opposition …, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Dina Ezzat, Feb 20, 2013;

Refurbishing the presidency: President Mohamed Morsi is expected to announce a new team of adviser, on Al-Ahram weekly online, by Reem Leila, Feb 20, 2013;

Voters Reject Austerity In ‘Tsunami’ Election, on ZNet, by Chris Thomas, February 28, 2013.

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