Perhaps one of the biggest changes we’ll all felt since Jan 25, 2011, is – the euphoria and the burden of – choice. Will you go down? What for? Will you risk your life? On which issues? What is the best choice today? What will it lead to tomorrow? Is this what I want to do? What kind of president do I want? What kind of constitution?
Yet – in retrospect, and to some along the way – it seems like we’ve had no choices at all –
A referendum in March 2011, which asked, or so the Military Council and the Media, and the Islamists would have had you believe – whether you wanted us to proceed according to ‘a’ plan, or whether you wanted CHAOS.
So Egyptians chose…you know, the non-chaos option.
Then we had elections. Humdrum. Okay.
Arguably, even the Morsi win could be attributed to a choice towards stability. Everybody knew that all hell would break loose if Mubarak-Regime Candidate Ahmed Shafiq had won. If not because of the Muslim Brotherhood, which some claim had explicitly threatened violence had they lost, to the millions of revolutionaries for whom the martyrs were still fresh, to whom the battle was still raging, and for whom the dream was still palpable.
The story in Egypt, of course, is that Morsi won ‘by the lemon,’ beating his opponent only because even people who hated him ‘squeezed a lemon’ – and gave him their votes so as not to ‘betray the revolution.’ This was odd, since, on the whole, many people had already accused the Muslim Brotherhood of doing just that – betraying the revolution by colluding with the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces and referring to Tahrir Protesters as ‘thugs’ and ‘whores’ while those protesters were, literally, getting murdered by the state.
Choice Again –
The 2012 Constitution – the question this time was slightly re-phrased. Not only would a “YES” bring stability, but it also magically make the entire country more pious, despite the blatantly sectarian murders taking place on the ground. CHAOS, of course, would be warded off forever, with the blessing of both the army (which got all it wanted from the MB) and GOD.
So yeah, sure. Stability & God scored 64%.
Which isn’t really how to see even that, because…I’m tempted just to say, “Because…Egypt” – it’s a quick, lazy way to get a chuckle, but it’s also cheap. The real reasons are more complicated and not at all trivial. Most referendums that we’ve been having in Egypt aren’t about what they claim to be about – this “re-purposing” of the referenda is sometimes spear-headed by the public and sometimes spearheaded by the media. It’s possible that it was by the popular mind that the 2012 Constitutional referendum became not about the constitution, but about the “Ikhwan” – the more popular, now become an almost derogatory, label. It’s also clear that the media tried hard to market the last referendum as a measure of now Field Marshal El Sisi’s popularity. In fact, if you watched some shows, the referendum was presented as an early ‘poll’ for a potential Sisi presidency.
So, sure. Stability & the Army scored 98%.
Or was it 97%?
In conversations I’ve had in the last week with people who think it’s a ‘good idea’ for Sisi to become the president, certain things have become clear:
People know it’s not the “right” thing.
When you talk to them, they also pre-phrase all their justifications with “in the current situation,” “given the current conditions,” “in this climate,” “with all the terrorism,” etc. When you ask them the question in the abstract, “Ignoring context – do you regard it as a good idea to have another military leader as president?” – the answer is almost always no.
People understand that yes, it does, inherently, turn the Military into an armed political party.
They initially claim he’ll resign and be a civilian. This is the first and most pathetic defense, and they know it, and a quick raised eyebrow will usually get them to the second line of defense; we need a military man because we have a security situation. This sounds almost logical until you point out that you don’t vote a plumber into the presidency because you have a plumbing problem. More to the point, the insinuation that security people won’t do their work unless they are in charge amounts to nothing short of security blackmail.
People know that the inflammatory tone throughout the media is deceptive and state-serving.
Yes, most people still understand that it’s not a good strategy to label approximately 5 million Pro-Morsi supporters as ‘insects,’ ‘terrorist’ and that it certainly doesn’t reduce fighting and sure as hell won’t bring any of them to the table with you to “talk it out.”
People believe that El-Sisi is, ipso-facto, making most decisions in Egypt right now. One of the reasons that keep coming up is that people also want him to be accountable.
During a conversation with an older friend, he conceded that these were the wrong ways to try to do the right thing. However, he still maintained that he couldn’t see a better option right now – I asked him how he could think that we’ll get to the right result when we’re quite consciously doing the wrong thing…?
His response was revealing.
Quite rhetorically, he asked, “Are you just trying to depress me?”
In all, Sisi might not have as much slack as people think he does. It took only (it seemed like a long time then, but now we know better) nine months for people to turn against Tantawi’s Council. It took that long without Tantawi being president (despite a couple of admittedly comical attempts to appear as a civilian) and without people having already felt betrayed by the army once (to most people, 52-54 doesn’t count, because Mohamed Naguib who…?)…
If El-Sisi does disappoint these people, the flip will be fast.
The biggest threat all politicians have chosen to try to leverage against Egyptians is chaos. Not murder, because they have seen how we react to brazen threats (we go out, and we throw our bodies at them, and we get killed, they change figureheads…), not poverty (been there, still there), not a disease (because, well, Hepatitis and you know, everything), but…chaos.
They can’t even threaten us with failure anymore because that is literally all we see – so they threaten us, they threaten Egyptians with chaos….every….time.
It’s like threatening a fish with water.