Saturday, October 13, 2012

Morsi and Egypt: A Plea for Cynicism

150 injuries in Tahrir.  Why?

Many of the thousands who gathered in Tahrir Square were angry at this week's court ruling that acquitted former officials charged with ordering a camel-and-horseback charge on protesters in the uprising that ousted Hosni Mubarak last year.
But even before that ruling, Mursi's opponents had called for protests against what they say is his failure to deliver on his promises for his first 100 days in office.

So Morsi had opponents who had a demonstration planned, and nothing was going to be more important - especially not an improper move against the old régime:
Even some political groups who wanted Mahmoud out questioned the way Mursi had done it. The liberal Free Egyptians Party said changing the prosecutor should be an independent judicial move.
And for some, Morsi could not be supported because he might as well be the old régime.  As one activist put it,

"Now I regret [having voted for Morsi to prevent former Mubarak loyalists from winning] because they are just two faces of the same coin," Waleed said. "Morsi has done nothing for the revolution. I want to say I am so sorry for bringing in another repressive regime."
These regrets rest on a dubious assumption.  No one has brought in another 'regime'.  Whatever Morsi's ultimate agenda may be, there is no régime yet.  There is a President attempting to establish executive authority and a judiciary attempting to prevent him from doing so.  There is no valid constitution, only a bunch of past documents.  These documents, the products of an undemocratic, unjust past, can't possibly be seen as legitimate in the eyes of anyone claiming to be a revolutionary.  There is no consensus on how to obtain a new constitution.  His control over the police and the military is problematic. Above all, there is no legislative branch.  Anyone fighting a Morse 'regime' has mistaken a work-in-progress - one that isn't going all that well - for a settled reality.

This isn't surprising, because there are aspects of the reality that many secular  liberals don't want to recognize.  Those who have fought for democracy need to concede that Morsi is the people's choice.  It doesn't matter if you add up various parties in the last election and get more votes than Morsi.  Morsi got a plurality; that's how it works.  His presidency has more legitimacy than any other institution in the state.
That doesn't in itself oblige anyone to support him. There are certainly moral and even political principles of justice and liberty that don't yield to an election.  But these principles themselves cannot be invoked to justify actions that militate against them.  That's what seems to be happening in recent days.
What a spectacle!  Liberals defend 'the independence of the judiciary'.  What independence? the judiciary is the tool of the old régime forces.  One might even ask, what judiciary?  These are not simply the appointments of some past régime.  They are the appointments of a dictatorship so unjust, so cruel, so hated that Egyptians in their hundreds of thousands braved snipers, beatings, prison and torture to destroy it.  Now would be a good time to remember the words of Sara Carr:

The real problem is that The Former Regime is spoken of like it is an inanimate object, some lurking monster growling in the corner when in fact - and this isn’t breaking news - the regime is the people themselves.

Apparently this applies even to some of most outspoken secular liberals.  Why else would they speak of 'the independence of the judiciary'?  It is as if Russian people, having overthrown the cruel Tsarist régime in 1917, were somehow obliged to respect the decisions of the judges who had, on a regular basis, done their utmost to legitimate torture, repression and murder.  The comparison is almost too exact.

Better some moderate cynicism than this grotesque idealism.  Morsi took a crucial step to destroy the most deeply entrenched elements of a régime still capable, as if from the grave, of torture and murder.  Who cares what it says in, I don't know, the constitution of 1923?  Who cares if you had some nice demonstration all planned to protest some maneuverings around the drafting of a new constitution?  How does that justify fighting - literally fighting - an attempt to remove perhaps the chief remaining obstacle to adopting a constitution of any sort?  Yes, for all I know, Morsi may be on the way to establishing an extreme fundamentalist theocracy.  But this is only a theory, only a possibility, only one spectre among many.  It cannot be addressed until the groundwork of the revolution is at least close to completion, and that requires destroying, not defending, the old judicial apparatus.  Less abstractly, it requires bringing to justice the bastards who killed many  innocent people, all to preserve the privileges of an élite who still manage to act with virtual impunity.

Morsi is not going to be stopped by a few thousand liberals fighting with a few thousand Islamists.  If the liberals turn out in force to oppose his attempts to get rid of the old régime, how is that supposed to make Islamist domination less rather than more likely?  How is it supposed to strengthen the liberal forces?  Rather than espouse this mystifying strategy, why not help rather than hinder his attempts?  Rather than leaping to the defense of the very people who tortured, murdered and imprisoned liberal activists, why not have a little less faith in baleful predictions about theocracy?  It's not a good sign if "but we had a nice demonstration all planned!" turns into a protest whose net effect is to support the remnants of the old order.  Maybe it would be better to pay less attention to constitutional maneuverings and more attention to present realities.  Bad timing can ruin even the most admirable political agendas.


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