By Nervana Mahmoud
Quick glances at the events that lead to the 30 June protests and the subsequent army take-over on 3 July are enough for any observer to understand that Sisi’s success resulted mainly in his ability to garner a wide coalition against the Muslim Brotherhood. This support included a wide section of the political elite, police, media, judiciary, artists and the general public.
The police and army are now coordinating their moves for the first time since January 2011 and are unleashing their coercive forces to subdue the Muslim Brotherhood and their alliance. Does that mean that the non-Islamists are winning, or even thriving within “Sisi’s coalition?” The simple answer is no. This comes about for various reasons.
For a start, it is not a homogenous coalition. In fact, the opposite is true, and the subgroups are only united by their anti-Muslim Brotherhood stance. When considering all else, they have different visions and intentions. While some aspire for democracy, equality, and freedom, others are illiberal and are willing to welcome autocracy as a small price to regain their pre-25 January Revolution comfort zone.
The resignation of ElBaradei was an early sign of the fragility of this coalition. The disputed protest law is another indication. This law has generated widespread opposition from parties that were previously united on 30 June, from the 6th of April to Tamarod, and even reaching groups in the right wing. All have expressed their opposition to the Protest Law, and in a way have started to re-establish some common ground with the Muslim Brotherhood. This common ground may not be enough to heal past enmity, but is enough for the Brothers to feel—and claim— that they are not alone.
Secondly, old habits die hard. Instead of learning from past mistakes, the non-Islamist, secular-leaning parties have continued with their failed pre-30 June approach. They mainly focus on talk show discussions, instead of doing the tougher work of building support at a grassroots level. The elites still prefer their cities and beach resorts, and are not keen on taking tedious trips to southern Egypt or rural areas where the support for ex-president Morsi is still high. ElBaradei’s Dostour Party continues to struggle with divisions, a non-surprise after their leader left Egypt following his fallout with the army.
There is no evidence that other parties, such as the Wafd or Tagammu, are gaining any additional popularity after 3 July. The inability of the non-Islamist party to reform and their failure to reach out to non-urban provinces will continue to hamper their ability to benefit from a Muslim Brotherhood defeat.
Third, the social void continues. Thus far, neither the interim government nor non-Islamist political parties are willing to draft a plan to counter the Brotherhood’s social network, the core base of its political success. It is one thing to officially ban the Brotherhood’s charitable organisation; it is another to provide the beneficiaries with a viable alternative. The lack of strong civil society that supports the poor and the needy will always allow the Brotherhood to maintain their links with their loyal grassroots supporters.
In fact, I am not aware of any non-Islamist public figure or politicians who have visited Dalga, Kerdassa, or other tense areas, even following the end of the security operations there. The burned churches in the south are in desperate need of attention from those who rail day and night against sectarianism in the local media. Poor and impoverished villages around the country are crying for attention, yet no one from those who applauded the decision to close the Brotherhood’s NGO seem to be interested in finding ways to fill the void.
The rise of general Sisi’s popularity is partly due to his own appeal among the public, who see him as someone with the leadership skills that are necessary to rule Egypt at this crucial time. It is also very indicative of the weakness and the fragility of non-Islamist groups and the parties that want to hide behind the strongman to conceal their own inability to capitalise from the Muslim Brotherhood’s downfall.
The weakness of the non-Islamists in Egypt is quiet spectacular, considering how their Islamists opponents insist on perpetuating their own self-defeating policies, continuous protests and disruption, and the absence of any articulation of a “clear-end-point.” In fact, they have even rejected mediation efforts by Professor Kamal Abu El Magd, whose suggestions could have provided a true reconciliation path.
Are non-Islamists truly committed to fulfilling the aspirations of the millions who protested on 30 June? If the answer is yes, then they must have a serious look at their dismal performance post-30 June, and understand that Army Chief General Sisi will not save their political careers. They must stop their lazy approach to politics, put in sweat and labour at the grassroots level, fight against repression, injustice, radicalism, and rebuild a new, strong civil society; otherwise, Egypt will remain subdued by regressive forces fighting over its ruin and wreckage.