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Egypt´s Revolution Stalls in Divide-and-Conquer Politics (WSJ) WALL STREET JOURNAL) By CHARLES LEVINSON and MATT BRADLEY CAIRO, EGYPT 06/16/12)Source: http://online.wsj.com/article/SB10001424052702303410404577466704119819824.html?mod=WSJEurope_hpp_LEFTTopStories WALL STREET JOURNAL WALL STREET JOURNAL Articles-Index-TopPublishers-Index-Top
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 agenda.

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 military class.

"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 revolutionaries.

"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 rule.

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 electoral politics.

The rival campaigns on the proposed amendments turned into a religious struggle, opening the first rift in the revolution´s Islamist-secular unity.

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. Ghazali Harb.

The amendments won 77% of the vote in the March 2011 referendum, setting up a tumultuous transition that left the military in complete charge.

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 stronghold.

As the Islamists grew more menacing, the secular revolutionaries began to splinter, with growing tensions between Islamist and Christian members.

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 profile.

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 Coalition.

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 the races.

"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. Mahdi said.

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 ticket.

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 attended.

"He seemed confident that he could win without them," said Essam Shibl, a member of the centrist Islamist Wasat Party who mediated the meeting.

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 strategic failure."

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. Abdel Hamid.

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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