Revolution 2.0 or revolution in reverse?

By: Bjørn Olav Utvik, University of Oslo.

Many Egyptians, and many of their foreign friends, are jubilant these days at the prospect of Muhammad Mursi and the Muslim Brothers falling from power. The unprecedented strength of opposition demonstrations on 30 June, and the collection of incredible 22 million signatures, both with the demand for Mursi’s departure and early presidential elections, has thrown the country into turmoil.

The reasons for jubilation are easy to point to. Again the ability of the Egyptian people to mobilise in the streets has shown itself. The active engagement of broad sectors of the populace across ideological dividing lines is potentially a very positive factor in moving from the current strife towards building a better Egypt. And one may hope that a lesson has been taught politicians of all hues that being democratically elected is not in itself enough to create effective legitimacy, if one is not willing to rule in an inclusive and cooperative manner and deal effectively with the problems acutely experienced by the common people.

Yet translating the energy from the demonstrations into a positive cooperation in building a new order is no given, as developments since February 2011 has amply demonstrated. And there are a number of warning signs to be read carefully.

This is not Revolution 2.0. If Mursi goes, it is the first popularly elected head of state in Egypt’s history that is forced out by the power of the street aided by the military. Whatever the reasons for critique of Mursi’s performance this is a dangerous game in several ways:

– It throws away the measure of civilian institutions of elected power precariously extracted from the military since Mubarak’s fall.

– It sets a fateful precedent in ignoring the legitimacy of the ballot box. If (and it is an if of course) the return of the military is followed by fresh elections, those now forced from power may return to mobilise the street for the overthrow of the next president if economic problems and police corruption and brutality is not resolved within half a year.

– With the Ikhwan out of the way: who knows where the balance of forces is? Many and very heterogeneous forces have come together to topple Mursi. The mainstream of Tamarrud are certainly not remnants of the former regime, fulul. But those remnants are certainly very happy now. And the most important remnants: the untouched army, the unreformed police, and many wealthy businessmen have a lot of resources on their side, to put it mildly. Many protesters want the military controlled, the police reformed and justice established vis-à-vis the Mubarak regime. It would hardly seem that a post-Mursi balance of power would be favourable for those wishes to be realised.

– What should add pessimism is the fact that the politically divided opposition for the last year has devoted its energy to blaming the Mursi administration for all that is wrong in Egypt, and not to developing a programme for how the problems should be solved.

The Muslim Brothers has contributed to bringing this storm upon itself, primarily through its inability to create a climate of cooperation in building the new Egypt, and its tendency, especially at the grassroots level, to play the religious identity card in its electoral campaigns, thereby further alienating the opposition. But the opposition also carries a heavy responsibility for the current polarised situation, through its often vulgar demonisation of the Brothers and failure to develop a constructive opposition which could have channelled the social and political contradictions into parliamentary competition, thus consolidating elected civilian rule.

Egypt’s revolution has powerful opponents in the elites entrenched under the sixty years of dictatorship. It has moved forward whenever the main forces of civil society came together. The extreme polarisation has sapped the ability of the Mursi government to push reform, and it threatens to turn the possible fall of Mursi into a backlash.

I most certainly hope I am wrong.