The news of Tunisia to pass the new constitution comes parallel with the news of General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi promoted as “Field Marshal” and mandated by the Supreme Council of Armed Forces to run for presidency. Following the headline news of Tunisia, social media users in the Arab world drew comparison between the two North African countries raising questions about why Tunisia succeeded to pass a draft by consensus, while Egypt relapsed to a brutal police state.
Tunisia Embracing Democracy
The moment that was described as ‘historic’ by then UN Secretary General Kofi Anan – of signing the new constitution by outgoing Islamist premier Ali Larayedh, Speaker Mustapha Ben Jaafar, and President Moncef Marzouki during a ceremony at the National Constituent Assembly, came before the Tunisian flags were unfurled and assembly deputies embraced and danced celebrating a finally ‘inclusive’ charter.
Parliament deputies (liberals, seculars, Muslim Brotherhood, Conservative Islamists, and Christians) stood together chanting ‘if, one day, a people desires to live, then fate will answer their call. And their night will then begin to fade, and their chains break and fall…’
What did Tunisia do that Egypt did not?
In Tunisia’s North African counterpart, however, the scene is far from harmony or unity. What is happening on the ground in Egypt reveals that Egypt is still light years away from democracy. Tear gas continues to cover the sky while live ammunition is being fired at crowds as witnessed on the third memorial of the 25th January 2011 revolution.
Egypt’s constitution drafts were never approved by consensus. Under the regime of the ousted President Mohamed Morsi, the ruling party attempted to pass a constitution that was opposed by many opposition figures and parties. When the military gripped power from Morsi, the military-backed government passed a constitution by a whopping 98.1% after a two-day referendum on January 14th and 15th. Anti-coup activists boycotted the referendum; Islamists and several activists from the Strong Egypt Party – which includes liberals and moderate Islamists – were arrested for campaigning against the constitution. The action was condemned by Human Rights Watch, which noted that; “Egyptian citizens should be free to vote for or against the new constitution, not fear arrest for simply campaigning for a ‘no’ vote.”
The secret in Tunisia’s success was in the concessions made by the Islamists to overcome any obstacles that can lead to a political deadlock. With the sinking popularity of the Turkish Prime Minister Tayyip Recep Erdogan and the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, Tunisia learnt the lesson and pushed ahead towards ‘peaceful’ reconciliation. The blood bath that started in Egypt was definitely a motivation for Tunisians to overcome their differences for the sake of their country. Yet, it is no secret that the military’s non-intervention in Tunisia saved the country from division resulting in a drama similar to Egypt.
While the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt blamed their failure on the immaturity of the opposition, they were also accused of exhibiting extreme stubbornness and showing no flexibility or willingness to negotiate moderate solutions. Failing to comprehend that compromise is part of politics; Morsi offered no concessions and refused to agree to hold early elections. When asked why the Muslim Brotherhood did not come to an agreement with their opponents like Tunisia’s Islamist ruling party in an interview with Al-Jazeera Mubasher Misr (Egypt Live), Gamal Heshmat – a leader in the Freedom and Justice Party – asserted that the Muslim Brotherhood were not as bad as the media portrayed them but it was rather the opposition who failed the country. Heshamt claims that the Brotherhood offered many positions in the government during Morsi’s regime to opposition figures but they turned their back on them to create a political crisis.
Taking a closer look, it was the media that added fuel to the fire. The media played a drastic role in spreading a state propaganda and campaigning against the Islamists. Egypt’s well-known and most influential television presenters and opposition figures worked hard to circulate rumors and exaggerate the pitfalls of the Brotherhood in an attempt to incite hatred towards the group. Social media to dehumanize the Islamist ruling party used labels such as ‘sheep’ and humiliating caricature extensively. Nonetheless, for many people, it was also the use of radical religious discourse by pro-Brotherhood preachers, and attributing loyalty to the group to religious devotion that turned them against Morsi. Statements about ‘jihad against the idolators’ eventually triggered a wide-scale movement demanding Morsi to step down.
A Phenomenon of Sisi-mania:
Shortly, the growing hatred towards the Brotherhood was employed in paving way for the emergence of a new leader who gripped power from the elected government. Polished by the media and portrayed as a knight in shining armor, it was no surprise that General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi would be ‘mandated’ to become the President. “Congratulations, Al-Sisi will run for Presidency”, Nevine – a 38 year-old house wife – leaned over her friend Reem to kiss her as she was delivering the news. Nevine and Reem are two women among thousands of women who are in love with Al-Sisi who is “fighting terrorism for the sake of the people”. Many women act more hysterically when it comes to Al-Sisi and some have gone as far as asking to be Al-Sisi’s ‘sex slaves’.
Banners with photos of Al-Sisi hung in most of the streets in almost all the cities of Egypt and the popular song ‘blessed your hands’ (which praises the army for the military coup) played in most public places do not merely show this man’s popularity more than reveal Egyptians’ love for the image of a powerful leader. Since the death of the Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1970, Egyptians have been looking for another charismatic leader with strong nationalist sentiments.
“He is the chosen one” and “who is better than him?” can be the immediate responses you hear if you walk down the streets and ask anyone why they think Al-Sisi should be President. The idea of ‘democracy’ does not sound appealing anymore to most Egyptians after witnessing the political strife between the different parties after President Hosni Mubarak stepped down. While the media can still use the term ‘democracy’ to cover up the military coup, pro-Sisi are not ashamed to admit that they prefer dictatorship to “a democracy to bring the Muslim Brotherhood to power”.
Is Egypt Destined to be Under Military Rule?
The mandate coming from the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) provoked many activists who criticized the SCAF for continuously intervening in politics. Many social activists tweeted after the news of the mandate, ‘will the SCAF become a political party?’
On January 25th, 2014, pro-Sisi affiliates were celebrating the third memorial of the revolution against Mubarak while at the same time the security forces were brutally chasing protesters and shedding the blood of anti-coup protesters. The scene was confusing as pro-Sisi gathered in the streets chanting and cheering for the ‘police’ and ‘security forces’ who are regarded today as the ‘guardians’ of Egypt but were the ‘perpetrators of violence’ against the peaceful protesters during the revolt against Mubarak. Now the roles have been reversed, as the police became the ‘heroes’ of the revolution whereas the ‘protesters’ turned into the villains.
The revolution never came any close to achieving its objectives – ‘bread, freedom and social justice” and the same problems of unemployment, food and fuel shortage, extreme poverty, and horrible infrastructure remain unsolved. Oddly enough, people instead of complaining about their living conditions and calling for their rights, they blame it all on the Muslim Brotherhood.
It is the same old story of Ramsis the second (known as the Pharaoh of Moses). Ramsis the second tortured and killed the ‘descendants of Israel’ upon the mandate of his people who saw them as a threat to their nation. Some political thinkers – who have been banned from any public appearance for embracing ‘anti-coup’ views – see no sign of any political resolution except perhaps the hope of a new ‘Moses’.
Article by Yasmine Mahmoud Fakhry
This article has been extracted from the Strategic Outlook website with the permission of the author and the respective organisation.