As soon as the Egyptian military asked President Mohammed Morsi to step down and dismantle his Muslim Brotherhood regime, millions in the streets of Cairo and other Egyptian cities and towns celebrated the end of what they felt was a dangerous fascistic regime. But despite overwhelming popular support for the ousting of the Ikhwan (Muslim Brotherhood) from power, some U.S. leaders, starting with President Barack Obama and later joined by Republican Senator John McCain, expressed their rejection of the move because they argued it was “directed by the Egyptian military against a democratically elected Government.”
Awkwardly, the United States executive branch, along with some of its supporters in the legislature, sided with the Muslim Brotherhood, known to be hard core Islamists, against a wide coalition of democratic and secular forces which called on the military to help them against what they perceived to be an oppressive regime. Observers both in the Middle East and in the West have asked how this equation can hold.
Why would Obama and McCain end up backing the Ikhwan while the liberals and seculars forces of Egyptian civil society rise against the Brotherhood? The chaos in Washington has several roots but one global fact is clear: U.S. Foreign Policy has lost momentum in the Arab Spring.
The first waves of the revolution in January 2011 were launched and inspired by secular and reformist youth, as I had projected in my book The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East published in 2010, before the upheavals. The first Facebook page of the “Egyptian Revolution” attracted 85,000 “likes.” Many of these early online supporters hit Tahrir Square and drew up to a million citizens from the middle class, from labor, students, women, and minorities. The revolution was the baby of moderate, secular, and democratic segments of Egyptian civil society who have never spoken in public or taken action on the streets. Once the U.S. and international community recognized them as peaceful demonstrators, the Muslim Brotherhood rushed in and created their “quarter” inside the Square.
From there on, the Ikhwan maneuvered between the military and the youth, pitting one against the other and taking full advantage of the Obama Administration’s vigorous support. In June 2012, Mohammed Morsi won Egypt’s presidential election. This election was praised as “democratically held” by Washington and Western chanceries. While vastly questioned by the Egyptian opposition, the results were accepted as a democratic fact, internationally. Morsi was “democratically elected” in as much as the opposition was not able to draw any attention from a U.S. influenced Western coalition. The sour reality was more of a Washington endorsement to the Ikhwan, trusting their ability to change things for the better, than a truly popular representation. All observers agreed that half of the Morsi voters were not even members of his party, but were rather simply opposed to the other candidate, a remnant of the Mubarak regime.
Morsi then used the next twelve months to deconstruct every aspect of the democratic achievements of the initial Egyptian revolution. He issued a Presidential “constitutional decree,” modifying the constitutional basic rights of Egyptians with major setbacks for women, minorities, and seculars, and without consultations with the opposition. On those grounds alone, Morsi had committed a breach in constitutional and human rights of Egyptians. He then attempted to transform the leadership of the Army and security forces into Ikhwan extensions; he also appointed extremist governors throughout the country, including a member of a terrorist group as a governor of the Luxor district, a target of the group’s terror strikes in 1997.
In parallel, the Brotherhood regime allowed Islamist militias to grow across the country and opened a dialogue with al-Qaeda linked groups in Sinai. In foreign policy, Morsi stood against the African campaign against al-Qaeda in Northern Mali; consolidated ties with the ICC-indicted head of Sudan’s regime, General Omar Bashir; hosted terror group Hamas in Cairo; and aided the Nahda Party in Tunisia as the latter reduced women’s rights in their country and established cooperation with the Jihadi militias of Libya (one of whom was responsible for the Benghazi attack against the U.S. consulate). In 2013, Morsi presided over a rally to support the A-Q affiliated al Nusra Front in Syria and backed suicide fatwas issued by his allies.
On the economic level, the Brotherhood regime mismanaged the country’s fledgling finances while at the same time receiving significant funding from the United States, Europe, and Qatar. The social disparities already monumental under Mubarak became epic under Mursi.
The Ikhwan regime, though democratically elected, had deconstructed the democratic legitimacy of the one-time election process by becoming an isolated, oppressive elite ruling the country at the expense of all other citizens. One election rendered Morsi a legal President, but by his anti-democratic actions, the legitimacy of his presidency was lost.
Unfortunately, Egypt has no recall process or impeachment mechanisms. Besides, the Brotherhood had secured as much power as the national socialists and fascists had in pre-WWII Europe after being elected at the helm of the legislative and executive powers by the power of “brown shirts.” Egypt’s democratic forces had no choice but to resort to demonstrations and free expression. They staged marches after marches since the end of 2012, but the U.S. and Europe were silent, hoping Mursi would survive the tremors. The Ikhwan took the deaf-ears policy of the West as an endorsement to their agenda and applied more violence against their opponents. The liberal opposition appealed to the Army for months, to no avail. It was only when civil society revolutionary groups such as “Tamarod” (rebels) mobilized the masses against the Brotherhood suppression that Egypt was closer to its second revolution. Revolutionizing the Arab Spring, “Tamarod” called for a national popular demonstration to vote with their feet for the removal of Mursi on June 30, 2013.
Very few in the West paid serious attention to Tamarod and its bottom-up uprising. The second wave of the Arab Spring was boosted by the shocking practices of the Islamist regime in Cairo. On Sunday June 30, more than 22 million Egyptians marched in their capital and in other cities. Statistically, this was the largest demonstration in history, topping the Cedars and Green revolutions of Lebanon and Iran combined. What was morally left of Morsi’s regime was shattered by this mega referendum. The demonstrators were three times the total numbers of his voters one year ago. A petition calling for his resignation gathered another 22 million signatures. But Morsi refused to resign and ordered his followers via a live speech, to mobilize for “Jihad till death.” Responding to a nation gathered on the streets, the Egyptian Army stepped in to prevent a civil war and to end a regime-coup against its own people. The shock of removing Morsi reverberated worldwide, particularly across the petrodollars web of influence backing the Ikhwan. The people’s revolution in Egypt was the accomplishment of the real Arab Spring, at last. The overwhelming majority of Egyptian citizens that took part in the second revolution prompted the country’s armed forces to remove the Muslim Brotherhood and contain the Jihadists across the country.
Sadly, the Obama Administration resisted the popular revolt, arguing Mursi was “democratically elected,” forgetting that he governed oppressively. Some international media also endorsed Morsi and his followers as armed Islamists roamed throughout Egypt, killing and maiming. The second Egyptian revolution is now facing and will be confronting for a long time the counter revolution forces including a non-repentant Ikhwan and a myriad of dangerous Jihadi Terrorists. Egypt will have to fight this cancer for years, but thanks to its courageous civil society, it has already survived the extremists’ yoke. Egypt will not be Iran. The millions who took to the streets formed a Nile of democracy that will flood the Jihadists of Egypt. It will be long and hard, but the Egyptian Spring is now, finally, in progress.
Dr. Walid Phares is the author of The Coming Revolution: Struggle for Freedom in the Middle East which in 2010, predicted the Araab Spring and its evolution. He serves as a Co-Secretary General of the Transatlantic Parliamentary Group on Counter Terrorism.