It was a bad week for players and fans of the so called Arab Spring. On Thursday July 25, Tunisian opposition politician Mohamed Brahmi was murdered in front of his house. He was shot with the same weapon that had killed Chokri Belaïd six months before.
On Friday July 26, Libyan lawmaker Abdelsalam al-Mismari was shot dead in Bengazi as he left a mosque after Friday prayers.
And in the night from July 26 to July 27, things got ugly in Egypt, again. In clashes between the Egyptian army and protesters from the disempowered Muslim Brotherhood, more than 100 people were killed. Some by sniper fire, some at close range, as witnesses have told.
What has happened to the spirit of the Arab Spring? What has become of the winds of change that blew through the Arab world in 2011? Do we already see the debris of an airplane that took off with high hopes in the spring of 2011, but never had enough fuel to make it to flight level?
You cannot outsource a revolution
Firstly, there were no real revolutions two years ago to begin with. This is especially the case for Libya and Egypt. In Libya, the revolution was actually outsourced. The regime of Colonel Gaddafi was forced from power only through a massive military intervention courtesy of NATO. Without the bombing campaign, we would have had a similar situation as in Syria today: the opposing forces are too strong to lose but too weak to win.
In Egypt, the army pulled off a hat trick worthy of a Las Vegas show. Hosni Mubarak had become too greedy for his own good when he planned to install his son as his successor. The generals of the Egyptian army were only too happy to give in to popular demand and remove Mubarak. That was all. The army never had the intention to go anywhere and give up power. And now the generals are back to where they never had left.
Secondly, authoritarian rulers like Ben Ali, Gaddafi and Mubarak may have been despicable men of might, having violated human rights on a daily basis. However, they were holding together countries and societies that are enormously difficult to control. Take the dictator’s lid off and the genies in the bottle will unfold their devastating magic. Heavily armed militias now dominate Libya, giving no room to a centralized authority to manage the future of this big chunk of land between the Mediterranean and the Sahara. After a short surge in 2012, the oil and gas exports from Libya are dwindling again.
Take the dictator’s lid off and Islamists will come to power, like the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. However, 40+ years as an underground movement don’t qualify you for taking on governmental responsibilities. The Muslim Brotherhood are not fit to rule Egypt, in fact they are not fit to rule any Arab country. Like free masons, their agenda is an international agenda, not a national program. Their first loyalty goes to their fellow Muslim Brotherhood organizations in other Arab countries. And to Qatar, who was financing most of the MB’s Egyptian campaign in 2012.
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Ben Ali, Gaddafi and Mubarak were a threat to few, but they had brought security to many and instilled a sense of nationalism in their estates.
Now here’s the downside of authoritarian rulers: they oppress any possible development of a political culture in their respective countries. And once the Prince is gone, the people are left behind in a void, with little or no skills how to conduct a political discourse. The consequences of an authoritarian type of governance are felt during its time, but mostly after these potentates have left the scene.
How to escape an airplane crash that is the political society after the pilot was pushed out of the cockpit? The international community seems to think that hastily crafted constitutions and quickly called elections are the solutions. This is wrong! A constitution must have a broad based support and represent all factions of society to make it through the first crisis. This was not the case in Egypt.
Elections are the start of a democratic process, not the end of it. An elected leader who got voted into office with 52% of the votes but reigns as if he had absolute power is even worse for his country than an authoritarian ruler. They both say that they act “for the best of their people”. But at least, the dictator doesn’t pretend that he is exercising a democratically legitimized governance over his subjects.
They have handed the keys to Tahrir back to the generals
Unfortunately, the reality is way more complicated. A crash is almost inevitable. Countries and societies will survive by either fighting hard and long through a possibly bloody mess until a new political balance is established, liberal and democratic as one may hope. Or by rapidly resorting to a new authoritarian regime that brings back stability and security.
As it looks now, Egypt has chosen the second way. The easy way out.
In a presentation in 2012, Bahgat Korany, professor at the American university in Cairo, summed up current Egypt as a struggle between the three M’s: the military, the mosque (the Islamists) and the masses (the secular protesters on Tahrir). No revolution can succeed without leadership and a program, Korany said. The masses lack both. They are weak, they are vulnerable. Even masses need a head.
In Egypt of 2013, the masses represented by the opposition movement Tamarod have chosen their old enemies – the Egyptian army – as the head of their new attempt forward. What a reversal of affiliation! How easily have the original protesters of Tahrir sold out.
A new democratic approach cannot start with a military coup – and that’s what it was – even if it was cheered by the Tamarod supporters. And it is doomed to fail when throwing a legally elected president in jail – even if it was the much-hated Morsi – charging him with fabricated accusations of murder and conspiring with Hamas. A new democratic effort cannot start with the army killing Egyptian citizens in a night of cracking sticks and live bullets. When Assad does the same in Syria, he is branded a terrorist.
And then also: is Tamarod the only “masses” that count in Egypt? Any next elections will probably be won again by the Muslim Brotherhood. Tamarod may be popular in Cairo and Alexandria, in cities with people savvy enough to sign online petitions. Outside the big cities, Egypt is a different story.
What does Egypt need? It needs a Mandela-like figure who is able to reconcile secular and religious forces and who knows that in order to march into a prosperous future one has to pardon the failures of the past.
In Egypt, the army and the Muslim Brotherhood do what they think they must do and know best: acting ruthlessly, acting from the underground, tending to their own vested interests. For the woes of Egypt today, the secular masses of January 25 must be blamed above all. They have failed to form a unified, disciplined political entity ready to steer Egypt through these difficult times of transition. They have handed the keys to Tahrir back to the generals.
You cannot outsource a revolution. When fighting for a free and fair society, that’s when leadership is most needed.
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