Monday, August 13, 2012

A Moment of Truth in Egypt

Much of the Egyptian left reacted to Morsi's election and his presidency with a mixture of snark, disgust, and conspiracy-theorizing.   Morsi is a buffon; Morsi is hand and glove with SCAF; Morsi is a rather sweet incompetent.   The reaction to his moves against SCAF has been anaemic.   Few seemed prepared to accept him as a lesser evil.   Fewer still seemed prepared to offer strong support.

Well, sorry, folks, politics is ALWAYS about lesser evils, because it's a bad world with only bad alternatives.   With Morsi there is hope.   With SCAF there is none.   Which will it be?

It does not matter if Morsi's moves were prearranged with the military; it does not matter if they were ok with Tantawi; it does not matter if  - which I'll argue seems unlikely - the change is not fundamental.   None of these things matter because they mean only that Morsi did not dare to go further.    With popular support, clearly manifested on the streets and not just in tepid 'statements', he can take additional steps and seal the defeat of SCAF.

Those who complain that SCAF's criminals have gone unpunished don't seem to get this.   OF COURSE they have.  Given Morsi's tepid support, he couldn't possibly have arrested anyone.  Only if he is stronger do the chances of bringing the torturers and murderers to justice improve.   This too explains why Morsi has praised the military and given Tantawi's bunch a garland of honours as well as meaningless 'advisor' posts.   It at least helps explain why he appointed General Sisi, the virginity tests creep, as commander of the armed forces.  He's making nice because he has to, and if anything it's surprising his concessions have not been more extensive.   That's no indication of what he'll do if SCAF really loses power.

Could Morsi's failure to go harder on SCAF indicate some cozy cosmetic arrangement?  It could not.  As everyone's saying, it comes right after the military's humiliation in Sinai.   Indeed it comes after more than that:  the trigger seems to have been Tantawi's hiring of those dismissed for their failures.   Nor can Morsi's move be written off as a mere personal spat with Tantawi.  It involves breaking the military's stranglehold on legislation - a crucial revision of the constitution in direct defiance of the judiciary.  This can only increase the exposure of the military to future prosecution.  Does that smell like a piece of theatre rather than a bid for fundamental change?   If fundamental change were not the goal, why all the drama in the first place?   This is a flat-out disgrace for a bunch of officers almost comically preoccupied with their 'honour'.

But what if supporting Morsi leads to an Islamist state?   Still, it is irrational not to support him.

With SCAF in power, resistance is not an option:  there is no chance of popular protests succeeding.   For one thing, this is not the pre-election scenario where the military could be held responsible for anything wrong with the country:  there is the civilian government to take blame for conditions in Egypt.   More important, with SCAF in control, the whole repressive apparatus, greatly reinforced by extensive feloul support, is intact.   No one has come within miles of defeating this power. 

With Morsi truly in power, necessarily, that apparatus is weakened or dissolved:   it loses its probably extensive hard core of anti-Brotherhood old régime partisans.   So Morsi's state is weaker than SCAF's state.   However little the chances of success are under his rule, they are substantially greater than under SCAF's.   The resistance becomes all the more plausible given that now, an Islamist will be responsible for all that is wrong with Egypt.   That means it's not just the prospects of resisting repression that improve.  It's also the prospects of weaning people away from their allegiance to Islamist parties, indeed from Islamist tendencies altogether.    Unlikely as this may be, it's the best chance the left can expect in the foreseeable future.

Some on the left may feel they should maintain their integrity, and not associate themselves with a basically conservative religious and political tendency.   Well, no one cares about your integrity, and no one ever will.    People care about things like jobs and adequate services.   If you want real change, the first step is to weaken the obstacles to change.   Moving from SCAF to Morsi weakens the obstacles because it weakens the repressive apparatus and exposes the Islamists to blame.   Recently its seems pretty clear that the public is very willing the blame the government even for problems it couldn't possibly have had the time or means to fix, so this exposure is very significant.  What more do you want?

It's not impossible that SCAF will just crumble and no action is necessary.   But since its position can only weaken if it accepts Morsi's changes, a swift and decisive reaction can be expected, a coup.   To guard against this possibility it's already late; instant support actions are essential.   Is this really the time to curate exhibits of revolutionary graffiti?

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