The War for Tahrir Square

A year ago, I suspect the blogosphere was in fits over Egypt. The army had allayed the fears of those suspecting an army takeover and two candidates were in the run for the presidency: Morsi, sponsored by the Muslim Brotherhood, and Ahmed Shafik as the spectre of the Mubarak government.

Religion has a habit of screwing over the political spectrum. For many secular Egyptians, a vote for progress paradoxically became a vote for radical Islam; meanwhile Shafik bled nostalgia for the very system that the elections were intended to reject. What a caricature – a revolutionary is meant to be spoiled for choice!

There was a quiet wonder, though, which seemed to skip over foreign commentary like a pebble on the sea – waiting to drop. Morsi proved to be the first real triumph for Islamism, even by the eyes of the West; Sharia nestled into the ballot station, and it did so unarmed. It won a free election. But today the paradox proved to be unraveling.

The thousands marching in Tahrir Square and outside the presidential palace tells us that last year’s polar election was not as theatrical as we might be led to believe: it was not interpreted as a choice between theocracy and militarised oligarchy, but on principles which seem both secular and moderate. The army deflected Morsi’s Islamic dreams from the law and revealed his poverty of solutions to the economic crisis.

When people found poverty they did not turn to extremist Islam, but judged it by what it delivered and found it wanting. Islamism fought the election, and won; but then it realised it had chosen to answer questions on which it had little to say. Unsurprisingly, Morsi’s popularity has plummeted from 79% last autumn to a mere 32% today.

A lingering fear does of course persist: the Egyptian army now holds more authority there than Turkey’s did under Atatürk. Protesters in Tahrir Square demand Morsi step-down; it’s not the constitution to which they are opposed. Rhetoric, though, screams revolution – worryingly fitting given a military presence forced to live up to the expectations it has set itself. (There is currently speculation that the presidential palace is being left unguarded.) 32% is a low approval rating, but one not a lot lower than David Cameron’s in the UK.

So where does the revolution lie? In the pockets of benevolent army officials, the footsteps of Cairo, or the grim calm of the ballot office?

Everyone thinks they have power but only time will tell who is able to assert it.


4 Comments on “The War for Tahrir Square”

  1. liamnolan says:

    I find the parallels between the Iranian Revolution and the Egyptian Revolution fascinating. The Egyptian Revolution bore this huge threat of being a second Iranian Revolution, but this time the army has had an odd moderating effect. The potential dictatorship of the army is blocking the potential dictatorship of radical Islam. Neither can cease power because they have an equal amount of opposition and an equal amount of support.

    I would claim that the real revolution, at this time, is based in the inability of anyone to come out on top.

    • Mark says:

      I think that’s all very true. For the moment, the army seems to be working in favour of the people. It would be a real matter for concern, though, if it gets too comfortable deposing elected presidencies – even if it seems to be acting on the will of the people. Still, considering how some revolutions pan out, Egypt has had it relatively well.

  2. Tim Shey says:

    This is a well-written post. As Egypt goes, so does North Africa?

    “A Dream About Egypt”

  3. […] But another common factor, without which neither “coup” could have taken place, took it upon itself to promote the popular voice once again. As I said a few days ago: […]

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