Immediately after the 25 January revolution, national and independent papers have witnessed a werewolf-like transformation, with headlines reading, “Egypt on the verge of famine,” “The collapse of the stock market” and “40 days until wheat reserves run out.”
A more alarming campaign followed, specifically last May, and focused on Salafis. News about Salafis wanting to destroy the Hussein mausoleum and having destroyed dozens of others started circulating; Salafis have in fact been regularly demolishing mausoleums for two decades in rural areas and local wars unknown to most of us.
And a story came up about a Copt whose ear was cut off. Then there was the constitution-first campaign, which sought to have the constitution drafted before holding the presidential election.
What we have really witnessed in the months following the uprising is the public representation of the revolution, through the media, sidelining the popular socioeconomic demands, which were the foundations of the uprising.
Starting last March, some “independent” channels implemented an unwritten protocol with the army as the protector of the revolution, under which they blocked the almost daily news on labor and “professional” protests. Instead, the public has been bombarded with rumors and news that has managed to instill fear and threaten their identities.
With nonstop press campaigns about a wheat shortage, and Salafis destroying the abodes of the saints, some of those phantasms turned into a reality on 29 July last year.
On that day, Salafis conquered Tahrir Square in a unique scene, swarming in from Egypt’s poor neighborhoods. They chanted “The people want Sharia implemented” and pledged allegiance to Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, the head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces. I went to Tahrir that day and saw hundreds of thousands of poor and simple people whose only defense was their beards.
If the same crowd had chanted for revolution, demanding social justice and freedoms, but without beards, and without raising the banners of Sharia and endorsing Tantawi, Air Force Chief Reda Hafez would have likely struck them with his old Soviet-made Ilyushin air jets.
Indeed, that day Salafis imposed themselves on the revolution. With their chants for the implementation of Sharia and their endorsement of Tantawi, Salafis sent across a loud and clear message to Tahrir’s proud, urban, revolutionary youth, namely that the latter’s demand for democracy was doomed. Around this time, ultraconservative Salafi lawyer Hazem Salah Abu Ismail shot to stardom. And at that moment, we can comfortably say that the revolutions’ socio-economic demands were deliberately marginalized by the overriding secular-religious polarization that has hijacked the public’s consciousness ever since.
The Muslim Brotherhood did not remain silent about this all-out chaos. It faced a nation on the loose: crowds of people insisting on social justice as a natural right for the first time in the history of the country, a woman posting a naked picture of herself on her blog, and Dokki-raised Abu Ismail pledging a dignified life, after thousands of youth rallied in support of him. This sudden tumult put the Brotherhood face to face with the tragedy of having to bear the sins of their own torturers.
The Brotherhood has been a party both enslaved and expulsed over the past three decades. It could only fully emerge on the political scene after having dovetailed with the state established by the July 1952 revolution.
The regime has oppressed the Brotherhood systematically. But, having accepted being the regime’s chief opponents and cooperating with the regime under humiliating conditions for about 35 years, the Brotherhood should only expect to inherit a corpse of a regime.
The Brotherhood’s solid core and some political rodents are currently trying to form a coalition to rejuvenate the regime, under the pressures of duty and responsibility. The Brotherhood and its power coalition will create stability for a while, but the group is bound to fail.
This is particularly true because society will have to force its agenda on the coalition in power and demand its socioeconomic rights.
What will the heirs of that dead body do when faced with the inevitable war of attrition launched by society? They have many options. But, my knowledge of them drives me to think they will pick the worst scenario.
The Brotherhood will likely resort to abusing religion to undermine the civil state, hoping to rescue the state’s lost prestige through religion.
Power could lure the Brotherhood into adopting a stance similar to that of former President Gamal Abdel Nasser before he launched his final coup in March 1954, when he said that “this nation has to learn a lesson.”
If the Brotherhood indeed decides to teach the nation a lesson by stepping over the civil identity of the state, the bourgeoisie will have much more to lament than just the loss of its lifestyle, for the loss will be graver than their imaginations can fathom.
Therefore, despite the limited time and the difficulty of the mission, Egypt’s democratic forces have to organize themselves, even if only to ensure their survival.