LSE’s Nabila Ramdani says that David Cameron and Barack Obama are helping to turn the clock back on the Egyptian revolution. This post originally appeared in London’s Evening Standard.
Among those celebrating the latest bloody twist in the Egyptian revolution is its erstwhile dictator, Hosni Mubarak. The imprisoned 85-year-old, toppled in 2011, personified the brutality and corruption of pre-Arab Spring North Africa; he is known to be quietly satisfied by the violence that blights his former fiefdom.
At least 11 murders resulted from the most recent outbreak of fighting between security forces and protesters over a referendum on a new constitution, which took place over two days, ending on 15 January. The result is not yet known but it has all the signs of being an attempt at keeping another military chief in charge. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who stands to gain most from the referendum, launched a coup against the elected Muslim Brotherhood president Mohammed Morsi last July.
Like Mubarak, who built his power base as the air force commander before running the country for 30 years, al-Sisi likes to deliver government at the end of a gun.
Now he is offering a new National Charter. The document is being put to the most populous country in the Arab world as an alternative to the Muslim Brotherhood’s constitution.
What this allegedly “democratic” mechanism actually represents is a move to legitimise the putsch that saw Morsi also ending up in prison. Morsi and many of his ex-ministers now face trumped-up charges including crimes against humanity. The Muslim Brotherhood itself has been deemed a terrorist organisation by the army-appointed interim government, with hundreds of supporters killed or jailed.
Al-Sisi, a former intelligence chief, said he would run for president later this year “at the request of the people”. The general insists that a strong Yes vote for “his” constitution would be a mandate for this.
Needless to say, the referendum has been boycotted both by the Muslim Brotherhood and Leftist groups. “No” activists have been arrested and there has been a massive state media campaign calling on everybody to vote Yes on “Judgment Day”.
The security situation surrounding the referendum will also have assisted in what looks likely to be a clear victory for al-Sisi. Some 200,000 police officers supported by 160,000 soldiers attended polling stations.
Thus in a reversal of the natural order of democratic change, a “people’s revolution” and the unseating of a despot have been followed by a military coup and an army-backed autocrat.
Meanwhile Western leaders who just three years ago were welcoming the jubilant scenes in Cairo’s Tahrir Square do nothing.
Whatever anybody’s view of Morsi and his notoriously cack-handed efforts to govern effectively, he was a democratically elected leader — one who had promised to bring justice and economic success to Egypt.
Mubarak’s lawyer, Fareed el-Deeb, admits that Mubarak is fully behind al-Sisi. “If he could vote, it would be a Yes for the new constitution,” he said.
By standing idly by without a clear condemnation as military strongmen emerge out of the chaos of post-revolutionary Egypt so as to take control, politicians like David Cameron and Barack Obama are effectively also calling for a Yes vote.
In doing so, they are helping to turn the clock back on the Egyptian revolution — ensuring that military autocracy, not representative democracy, triumphs.