Egyptian “Rebel” Movement Shows Democratic Progress

I was pondering the Egyptian “Rebel” Movement which aims to remove the Muslim Brotherhood President Morsi from power and replace him with a rapid Presidential election.  The movement is clearly well-funded and well-organized, as evidenced by the fact that they have already traveled throughout Egypt and reached rural and poor areas that are typically  bypassed by the Egyptian political elite.  So far they have already collected 7.5 million signatures for their petition campaign, and they are even targeting Egyptians abroad as part of their effort.

Personally I agree with their goal of removing Morsi from power and I am also gratified to see that they are using peaceful means to achieve their goals such as petition campaigns and non-violent demonstrations.  I think the fact that they are using non-violent methods to challenge the Morsi regime symbolizes the incremental but significant level of democratic progress that Egypt has made even amid the chaotic past two years since the fall of the Mubarak regime. The Muslim Brotherhood is clearly threatened by the movement, as evidenced by the fact that volunteers collecting signatures were physically assaulted in the Helwan neighborhood of Cairo.

The movement has gained the endorsement of leading political opposition groups such as “April 6th Youth Movement, Free Egyptians Party, Popular Current Constitution Party and the Egyptian social democratic party.”  Leading opposition politicians such as Mohamed el Baradei, Hamdeen Sabahi, and Amr Mousa have also supported it, as has the Egyptian comedian Bassem Yousef, who was recently arrested for challenging the Morsi regime.

Perhaps more significantly,  the movement is also evidence of political engagement and participation by the broader Egyptian population.  Ordinary people are voicing their frustration at the abysmal economic conditions in Egypt.  Taxi driver Sameh Magdi said,”“There is no movement, no work. A customer rides your cab while being afraid of you, and you of him.”  A female shop owner Heba Hami concurred,”“Morsi has brought destruction upon this country – the power outages, the inflation, the fuel shortages. It’s all too much.”   According to this blog,”You will find now some shops in some areas in Cairo putting the petition papers besides the cashiers.”  

The petition campaign is giving ordinary Egyptians a vehicle for protesting their desperate economic situation.  Most Egyptian political movements have failed to address the underlying economic conditions which are the cause of overwhelming despair for many average Egyptians.  As long as they ignore these economic realities, they will lose popular support because they are disconnected from the daily realities of the Egyptian people.  

I do have serious concerns about the movement.  For example, it is not clear who is funding the movement and what their long-term goals are.   One wonders if the military is sponsoring this movement to regain power.  This suggestion is pure speculation without any hard evidence but only an educated guess.  In addition, the movement lacks a long-term plan for a post-Morsi regime.  Finally, the planned demonstrations on June 30 which aim to oust Morsi may lead to large-scale bloodshed and chaos. I am also concerned about the movement’s anti-Israel and anti-American tone. 

Finally, the movement’s goals are very vague. My mother asked if Egyptian Jews were welcome to participate in the campaign, and I laughed in response.  I told her the movement chanted the standard nationalist trope about opposing the Americans and the Jews and absurdly accused Morsi of aligning himself with the U.S. and Israel.  According to Hassan Shaheen, a campaign founder, “We are rebelling to achieve national independence, freedom and social justice,”  These concepts are so vague as to be almost meaningless.

The list of grievances on the form is clear and includes the following: Because security hasn’t returned to the streets yet, we don’t want you. Because there’s no place for the poor, we don’t want you. Because retribution for the revolution’s martyrs hasn’t been achieved yet, we don’t want you. Because the economy has collapsed and is dependent on begging, we don’t want you.”

But the organizers also lack a clear and focused long-term program for solving these complex issues.  And removing Morsi by itself is only the first stage in a long struggle to transform Egypt’s economic and political structures.  The goals of this project should include providing greater economic opportunity for the poor and offering more political freedom to Egyptians of all races, political views, classes, genders, and religious and sexual orientations.

About the Author
Rachel's educational background includes a B.A. in international relations from Brown University; she has been an independent scholar, analyst, and researcher about Middle Eastern affairs for 12 years; Her focus has been on Iraq, Iran, Syria, and Egypt.