Egypt´s Revolution Stalls in Divide-and-Conquer Politics (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By CHARLES LEVINSON and MATT BRADLEY CAIRO, EGYPT 06/16/12)
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CAIRO—Early Friday, 16 months after ousting former President Hosni
Mubarak from power, Egypt´s young revolutionaries huddled with
leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, once close allies, and pleaded for
help to save the revolution.
A pair of Supreme Court rulings a day earlier had dissolved the
Parliament—which had been filled this year through free elections—and
returned legislative powers to the Egyptian military. The rulings
came a day after the declaration of martial law, which those at the
meeting agree had amounted to a military coup.
The revolutionaries urged the Brotherhood to withdraw their
presidential candidate, Mohammed Morsi, from this weekend´s election
and instead join street protests, according to three people who
attended the meeting at the Muslim Brotherhood´s Cairo headquarters.
The Brotherhood representatives refused. "It´s the end of our
relationship, they´ve made catastrophic choices," said Rabab El-
Mahdi, a Marxist political science professor and activist who had
mediated between the Brotherhood and the revolutionaries.
Egypt´s Arab Spring revolution, which toppled Mr. Mubarak in 18 days,
has stalled in a quagmire of divide-and-conquer politics, leaving the
country´s revolutionaries splintered and disillusioned.
On Friday, there was little visible reaction to the court rulings. A
small evening protest drew no more than a few hundred people.
The unity between Egypt´s secular and Islamist forces drove the
uprising. But growing rifts between the conservative, religious
Brotherhood and the largely liberal, secular revolutionaries now
appears one of the most damaging cracks in Egypt´s revolution.
The Muslim Brotherhood had long preferred backroom deals with the
regime over street protests. Egypt´s secular opposition, meanwhile,
grew suspicious of the Brotherhood´s political ambitions and Islamist
The generals who have ruled Egypt since Mr. Mubarak relinquished
power on Feb. 11, 2011, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, were
initially dismissed as bumbling neophytes struggling for a grasp on
national politics. They now appear as master tacticians who shrewdly
derailed a movement that had seemed unstoppable.
Egypt´s 2011 revolt had coalesced around a group of about 15 young
political activists who represented a broad swath of political
ideologies. Calling themselves the Revolutionary Youth Coalition,
they were instrumental in plotting the demonstrations that unraveled
the regime. Their ability to bridge deep political divides—uniting
Islamists and secularists, in particular—led to the ouster of Mr.
Murbarak who held power for 30 years.
The generals who took over Egypt hosted the young activists at the
military´s marbled intelligence headquarters in Cairo´s leafy
Heliopolis neighborhood two days after Mr. Mubarak stepped down.
"They said, ´You are our children, you are so very brave,´" recalled
Ahmed Maher, a member of the Revolutionary Youth Coalition whose
April 6 Movement was instrumental in organizing the protests.
"We were so stupid," said Shadi Ghazali Harb, another member of the
coalition. "We thought, ´Oh swell, they´re really good people,
they´ll help us.´ "
Mssrs. Ghazali Harb and Maher and their fellow revolutionaries
demanded sweeping democratic changes that reached Egypt´s privileged
"They smiled and told us, ´We´ll discuss the details at our next
meeting," said Mr. Maher. That never happened.
The unraveling of Egypt´s revolution began soon after Mr. Mubarak
quit, with the Muslim Brotherhood seeking greater accommodation with
the new rulers.
The military in February 2011 set up a committee of legal scholars to
draft constitutional amendments—the pivotal first-step in shaping
post-Mubarak Egypt. It was stacked with Brotherhood sympathizers, not
"They knew how to play the game," Mr. Ghazali Harb said of the
Brotherhood. "They were cutting deals, while we were banging our
fists on the table."
The Muslim Brotherhood supported amendments that called for holding
elections first. The victors would lead Egypt´s democratic
transition, including the drafting of a new constitution. The
Brotherhood said the amendments, which also set term limits and
reformed election laws, would provide the quickest exit from military
The young revolutionaries were opposed. They wanted to draft a
constitution first, arguing it was better to design the rules of
Egypt´s nascent democracy before getting bogged down in divisive
The rival campaigns on the proposed amendments turned into a
religious struggle, opening the first rift in the revolution´s
The Revolutionary Youth Coalition, which included members of both
camps, urged their respective leaders to find common ground. The
efforts failed. "This was the moment it all went wrong," said Mr.
The amendments won 77% of the vote in the March 2011 referendum,
setting up a tumultuous transition that left the military in complete
At the end of July, Islamist parties flexed their new political
muscle with a call for a demonstration dubbed "Sharia Friday."
Egypt´s revolutionaries scrambled to respond, knowing such a
demonstration would tug further on the coalition´s fraying unity.
Islamists and revolutionary leaders spent three days negotiating
principles they could all support at a coming Friday demonstration in
Cairo´s Tahrir Square. They reached agreement and the revolution
seemed back on track.
"It was the perfect moment," said Ms. Mahdi, "a huge achievement."
But hours before the demonstration, hard-line Salafi Islamists began
adorning the square with the black-and-white flags of jihad and
banners calling for the implementation of Islamic law. Ms. Mahdi made
frantic calls to Brotherhood leaders, who told her there was little
they could do.
Egypt´s non-Islamist opposition pulled out of the demonstration.
Instead of heralding the revolution´s recaptured unity, the day was
dubbed Kandahar Friday, a reference to the Taliban´s Afghan
As the Islamists grew more menacing, the secular revolutionaries
began to splinter, with growing tensions between Islamist and
Prominent revolutionaries, such as Google executive Wael Ghonim,
disappeared from public view. Mr. Ghonim, whose account of his arrest
by security forces during the revolution won the support of millions
of Egyptians, has recently returned to politics but kept a low
Fresh whiffs of old regime tactics appeared in the summer of 2011.
New coalitions sprouted with military-friendly positions: the
Revolutionary Youth Assembly, a Revolutionary Coalition of Youth, and
the Revolutionary Youth Union, which is supporting presidential
candidate Ahmed Shafiq, an ex-Air Force Commander and Mr. Mubarak´s
last prime minister.
The April 6 movement, one of the most powerful grass roots activist
movements within the coalition, suddenly splintered in June when a
faction turned against the group´s leadership.
Longtime opposition activists said the emergence of regime-friendly
revolutionary parties and the splintering of influential opposition
groups recalled Mubarak-era political tricks.
"Suddenly, the military started saying, ´You´re not the only voice
speaking for the revolution,´ " said Mr. Maher.
In late July, the military started to go after the revolutionary
leaders they once praised. They issued Decree #69, accusing the April
6 movement of sowing discord. State media branded movement leaders as
foreign-funded agents. April 6 activist Asmaa Mahfouz was charged
with assaulting a state employee. She was acquitted last month.
Another coalition member, leftist labor activist Mustapha Shawqi was
sentenced to two years in prison for joining in a Christian
solidarity protest before Mr. Mubarak´s ouster.
"Everyone thought the military were idiots. They weren´t," said Josh
Stacher, a professor at Kent State University in Ohio who spent 15
years in Egypt studying the Mubarak regime´s ruling tactics. "The
revolutionaries didn´t understand how the system works and they
miscalculated again and again."
In November, on the eve of parliamentary elections, the military-
backed cabinet issued suggested principles for a new constitution. It
included provisions that would guarantee secular governance, as well
as protections of military privilege. The document infuriated the
Muslim Brotherhood and split the secular opposition, drawing support
from revolutionaries angry with the Islamists.
"If your goal is to splinter the opposition, you couldn´t draft a
more perfect document," said Mohammad al-Qassas, a former member of
the Muslim Brotherhood and member of the Revolutionary Youth
The Brothers, after refusing protests for months, returned to the
streets for one day in November and were joined by young
revolutionaries. But the Brothers went home that night. Security
forces attacked the protesters who stayed.
Dozens died in the week of clashes that followed. The Brotherhood
refused to come to the revolutionaries´ defense or support their
demands that the military relinquish its grip. Parliamentary
elections were days away and the Brotherhood was poised to dominate
"I screamed at them, ´Why are you selling us out and running to the
military, don´t you realize they will eat you alive in the end?´" Ms.
The Brotherhood won control of Egypt´s 508-seat Parliament in free
elections that ended in January.
The two Revolutionary Youth Coalition members who won seats accused
Brotherhood lawmakers of siding with the military against them. One,
Basem Kamel, pushed a bill banning military trials for civilians and
requiring independent prison monitors to prevent torture. The
legislation was stalled by Brotherhood lawmakers, raising accusations
they were burying bills to appease the ruling generals
In early February, days after Parliament was seated, the military
next went after nongovernment organizations, arresting 43 senior NGO
workers, including 16 Americans. The targeted NGOs gave legal support
for activists, pushed voter education and provided more than 25,000
election monitors during the Parliament elections.
The Americans were allowed to leave the country, but the Egyptians´
criminal trials are continuing. The arrests had a chilling effect and
dried up funding, the groups said.
Egyptian NGOs have mustered just one-third of the vote monitors for
this weekend´s presidential elections that they employed in the
Parliament elections. All but three international monitoring groups
are staying out of the presidential vote.
As Egypt headed into presidential primary elections earlier this
year, the Muslim Brotherhood rallied behind Mr. Morsi.
Egypt´s revolutionaries were split between moderate Islamist Abdel
Moneim Aboul Fotouh and opposition activist Hamdeen Sabahy. Both men
had solid revolutionary credentials. The Revolutionary Youth
Coalition preached unity but failed to persuade them to unite on one
Both candidates lost. Together, their vote totals would have given
them an easy victory.
"They both thought they could win without the other," said Moaz Abdel
Kareem, a member of the Revolutionary Youth Coalition and former
member of the Muslim Brotherhood. "It was a bad decision."
Mssrs. Morsi and Shafiq, the two candidates least supportive of the
revolution, made the presidential runoff, which begins Saturday.
The Revolutionary Youth Coalition kept trying.
On June 4, they attended a meeting of Mssrs. Morsi, Aboul Fotouh, and
Sabahi at a five-star hotel along the Nile River in Cairo to broker a
deal. They wanted Mr. Morsi to appoint non-Islamists to prominent
government positions, as well as equal representation on the
committee to draft the new constitution, in exchange for the support
of Mssrs. Aboul Fotouh and Sabahi.
Mr. Morsi wasn´t eager to compromise, according to several people who
"He seemed confident that he could win without them," said Essam
Shibl, a member of the centrist Islamist Wasat Party who mediated the
One activist, Nawara Nagm, stormed out in protest. "All of you just
negotiate for days and then no one ever agrees in the end," she
shouted as she left, according to those present.
The Brotherhood didn´t offer the guarantees. Mr. Aboul Fotouh agreed
to endorse him anyway. Mr. Sabahy refused.
Following the rulings by the high court this week, the Brotherhood´s
strategy of cooperation with the military seems failed.
Some Brotherhood leaders now acknowledge miscalculations.
Mohammed al-Baltagi, a leading Brotherhood lawmaker, called "the
Brotherhood´s preoccupation with politics as opposed to revolution…a
Egypt´s revolutionaries made a last-ditch effort overnight. Four
members of the Revolutionary Youth Coalition huddled with three
senior Brotherhood leaders from 1 a.m. until 3 a.m. early Friday in
Cairo. Pull out of the election and rejoin the secular revolutionary
forces, they told the Brotherhood representatives.
But the Brothers said they were convinced Mr. Morsi would win the
presidency. Their national polling showed Mr. Morsi with a two-to-one
advantage over Mr. Shafiq, they told the revolutionaries, according
to Mssrs. Abdel Hamid and Ghazali Harb, who were at the meeting.
If Mr. Shafiq won, they said, it could only be through fraud and they
would then rally their forces, according to those present.
"I told them, ´Let´s assume Morsi wins, what kind of power will he
have?´ The military has the keys to the whole process," said Mr.
The revolutionaries argued: If you lose and mobilize after the vote,
the regime will portray you as sore losers, and it won´t work.
No deal was struck. (Copyright © Dow Jones & Company, Inc.) 06/16/12)
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