The democracy of the streets

July 14th, 2013

Published on Socialist Worker.org, by HANI SHUKRALLAH, July 8, 2013.

Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi was ousted by the military on July 3 in the wake of demonstrations against him that were perhaps the largest in world history. Yet Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood–along with the Western media–question whether he was removed “legitimately.”   

In an article written for Ahram Online, Hani Shukrallah–one of Egypt’s most respected journalists who was removed as editor of Ahram Online late last year under pressure from the Brotherhood–argues that democracy is the expression of the active will of real, living people.

THE U.S. government, a substantial section of mainstream Western media and the ousted Muslim Brotherhood all seem to agree: what took place in Egypt in early July was a military coup, a setback for the country’s alleged “transition” to democracy.

Irrespective of the variety of vested interests involved, what the three detractors of one of the most potent popular revolutionary upsurges in modern history share is contempt. Twenty-two million signatures (nearly 50 percent of the nation’s adult population) are collected demanding the ousting of the president; the same demand is made by some 17 million people (nearly 30 percent of the adult population) as they hit the streets throughout the country on June 30, in what has been described as the biggest demonstration in the history of mankind; they do so against a barrage of threats and predictions warning of June 30’s “rivers of blood,” and stay there.

Unprecedented it may be, yet not really worth seeing–the Washington Post persisted in speaking of “rival demonstrations” between Morsi supporters and the “opposition.” It is not democracy; it is the army and the “deep state.” Nothing short of the most profound sense of contempt for these very people could explain such utter blindness.

For the Muslim Brotherhood, the contempt is deep-seated within a doctrine that constructs the leaders of the Gama’a [Egypt's Islamists] as the ultimate interpreters of God’s will on earth, and as such owed blind obedience, and a lot of hand-kissing, by their “flock.” Little wonder then that a rebellious Egyptian people have come to call them “sheep.”
From the Western side of the above equation–and I am still dealing here with ideological perspective, rather than crass interest–it is the equally deep-seated conviction that such people as Arabs and Muslims are incapable of insisting on the sort of “liberties” that “Western man” takes for granted … //

… IN HIS final, customarily incoherent address to the nation, the former president (and don’t you just love the prefix “former” attached to the title of two presidents in a little over as many years?) repeated the word “legitimacy” literally dozens of times.

But here is a little reminder, Mr. Former-President: You were actually in prison when your predecessor, the “legitimate” president of the country, voted into his fourth term in what your American and other Western allies then hailed as Egypt’s first multi-candidate presidential elections, was illegitimately unseated. (There was nothing in the Egyptian Constitution then in force that allowed the president to cede his powers to something called the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, or SCAF.)

We do not know the real story behind your escape from prison, whether it was the people in charge who broke you out of it, or a Hamas contingent imported especially for that purpose, as has been suggested in recent months. And frankly, I do not care. Morsi and other Muslim Brotherhood leaders were political prisoners, and in a revolution, setting political prisoners free is right and proper, even if “illegitimate.”

The thing is, of course, that since the revolution, the powers that be in Egypt, hijackers all, have been juggling “revolutionary legitimacy” and formal, legal legitimacy as stipulated by the Constitution and the law of the land, willy-nilly, arbitrarily–and always in ways best tailored to suit their immediate ends. The SCAF did so, over and over again, and so did the Muslim Brotherhood.

The starkest and most flagrant example of this was the “elected” president’s flaunting of constitution, law and democratic norms, by issuing, in November 2012, a constitutional declaration immunizing his decisions against judicial review, immunizing as well that mockery of a legislative body, the consultative Shura Council (the third of which members are appointed by the president, the other two-thirds scornfully voted in by a measly 7 percent of the electorate), and vesting it meanwhile with full legislative authority, and immunizing furthermore a Constituent Assembly, which had been transformed into a closed club of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Salafi and Jihadi allies. Both these institutions had been facing imminent rulings of unconstitutionality by Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court.

And what was Morsi’s justification of such draconian measures that clearly aimed at perpetuating the Muslim Brotherhood’s sway over the country until such a time as humanity meets its maker? “Revolutionary legitimacy!”

Well, Mr. Former-President, this is exactly what is called being “hoist by your own petard,” with the added qualification that yours was that of a hijacker, while the people who unseated you derived their revolutionary legitimacy from a real, living revolution, historically unprecedented by virtue of 22 million signatures, by virtue of millions on the streets.
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