ANYONE who knows Egypt will be extremely sad about the massacre that took place in Cairo this week.
For Egypt is a gift to the world in a way that no other country is. If you go there to see the pyramids, you don’t have to go to a museum to see them – they stand in the desert waiting for you to come and feast your eyes on them.
With their rich culture and tenacious approach to trade,as well as the full knowledge that it is foreign tourists who keep the Egyptian economy alive, the last thing the Egyptian people need is the sort of TV coverage the world was exposed to on August 14, 2013 – hundreds of people shot dead; thousands injured and carried bleeding into makeshift resuscitation centres; and many properties burnt or otherwise destroyed.
The cause of the troubles is easy to pinpoint: the Egyptian political system has run into an age-old dilemma: one section is the popular will of the people, as expressed through what might be loosely termed “The Tahrir Square Movement”, while the other is the best-organised political entity in the countryside, the Moslem Brotherhood.
The Moslem Brotherhood had existed in Egypt since 1928 but had always been suppressed (or half suppressed!).
Civilian protesters whose dissent ousted Egypt’s President Mohammed Morsi
Then the “Arab Spring” came to Egypt on February 2011. Crowds filled Tahrir Square. Spontaneously. They cried for the blood of Mubarak and his band of thieves, who had ruled Egypt for three decades. The Egyptian army was hesitant at first, but eventually, it supported the demands of the crowds and gave Mubarak his marching orders.
But the “Tahrir Square” crowds soon ran into predictable difficulties: they were largely unorganised; they had different views of what route Egypt’s future political course should take; they could not articulate coherently, the reforms they wanted to wrest from the Egyptian power structure which was led by the army.
Enter the Moslem Brotherhood. It had been waiting for just such an opportunity for 85 years. Now, normally, political movement can usually run rings around a crowd of demonstrators spontaneously thrown together in a loose alliance to attain relatively limited objectives. First, such a movement finds it relatively easy to infiltrate the unorganised elements, by shouting the same slogans as them. Then when, in the euphoria of the moment, what we might call the “spontaneists” accept them as people with the same objectives as themselves, they make high-minded calls for “democratic elections”. They do this because they know that in an election, the “spontaneists” will vote in maybe 100 different ways, whereas the organised body will vote in only one direction. And thereby win the largest number of seats.
That is precisely what happened in the Egyptian election of May 2012. The first result showed the votes split amongst a score or so of presidential candidates, and was predictably not conclusive. So, there was a “run-off.” The result of the run-off showed that the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Mohammed Morsi, had won by a narrow margin over Ahmed Shafik, the final prime minister under the deposed President, Hosni Mubarak. The electoral commission said Morsi took 51.7% of the vote versus 48.3% for Shafik.
Morsi against Shafik? What a choice. And therein lay the seeds of trouble: the Tahrir Square crowds felt short-changed. No wonder only 43% of the voters turned out. In fact, as many as 27 million registered voters – about half of the electorate – were so confused, or disgusted with the multiplicity of the platforms offered by the myriad of candidates, that they didn’t bother to turn out to vote at all. Mohammed Morsi, candidate of the best-organised, most-focused party, the Moslem Brotherhood, was declared President of Egypt.
But trouble reared its head almost immediately, however. For Morsi — again predictably — used the Moslem Brotherhood’s “victory” to enact a constitution that was taking Egypt from a secular to a Sharia (or Islamic law-based) state system.
If Morsi had been a perceptive leader, or even pragmatic enough to appreciate that in a country which had given him less than half its total votes, he needed to try and reach an accommodation with the rest of the populace that had denied him its votes — instead of trying to ram the Moslem Brotherhood’s sectarian programme down the throats of every Egyptian — he might have been able to contain the discontent that arose up against the Moslem Brotherhood’s undisguised agenda. After all, most Egyptians are Muslims, and although the Brotherhood’s agenda may be too extreme for most of them, they could possibly accept a modified version of it. But Morsi appeared unbending to them.
So Tahrir Square filled up again with crowds yelling for change. And the Egyptian army, which may well have planned its own secret anti-Moslem-Brotherhood agenda beforehand, used the opportunity to overthrow Morsi.
Morsi’s Moslem Brotherhood, of course, cried foul: “But Morsi was elected democratically! If it is crowds you want to see, we shall show you crowds,” they declared. And truly, they filled up mosques and squares with people, some of whom said they were ready to die for Morsi. They refused to disperse when asked by the army to do so. And on August 14, 2013, the Egyptian army opened fire on them, killing over 600 and injuring at least 2,000.
The infamy of that unjustifiable deed will live forever in the memory of the Middle East and Africa. In fact, some people think it was a trap deliberately set for the Egyptian army by the Moslem Brotherhood. Now (it is speculated) all radical Islamists throughout the Arab world will be mobilised, through the horror they have witnessed in Cairo, to rally to the side of the Moslem Brotherhood.. Whether the Egyptian army, backed by the “Tahriur Square” crowds, will be able to defeat this ‘grand design’ of the Moslem Brotherhood, cynical as it sounds, remains to be seen.
The lesson it teaches, though, is this: democracy is not only about votes. Votes are only a part of the mechanics of pursuing democratic politics,vwhose best definition is the art of the possible. Democracy, it has been seen from history, can be used (as by the Nazis) to impose tyranny by the majority. Or it can be used by a minority to impose tyranny on the majority (as when a party wins democratic elections and then abolishes any further democratic elections heneceforth!) Morsi, who was elected by a minority of the Egyptian electorate, sought to impose the religion-based programme of his minority Moslem Brotherhood, on the majority of Egyptians, who prefer secular rule. And he ran into the last brickwall of democracy — popular revolt backed by armed force, in this case, the Egyptian army.
In a truly democratic state, competing interests must be recognised and a compromise reached with them, which can bring stability to the nation as a whole. Those who live by unbending rules when faced with reasonable political demands, risk attracting to themselves, the designs of an element even more unbending than them – that of the armed forces. That’s what’s happened in Egypt. A new and probably even greater struggle for freedom therefore faces the Egyptian people, because (1) the Eyptias army could fracture and descend into civil war and (2) the Egyptian could turn fascist and brings the boot down on the crowds who are now milling in Tahriur Sqyare, urging the army to act against Morsi and the Moslem Brotherhood. And the sad thing is that Morsi and his Moslem Brotherhood cannot entirely escape the blame for that, in the sense that they are both the remote — and immediate — cause of the crisis facing Egypt today.