Egypt: Two years after the revolution, authoritarianism lingers on
Feb 13, 2013Posted by Gregory Aftandilian
As a film buff, I was watching the classic 1952 movie "Viva Zapata!" the other night and it made me think of Egypt. The film is about the Mexican Revolution in the early part of the 20th Century, with Marlon Brando playing the role of Emiliano Zapata, one of the militant leaders of the revolution.
In one of the opening scenes of the movie, before the revolution started, Zapata and his fellow peasants from a southern province come to see the Mexican President Diaz, a corrupt dictator, to complain about land confiscations in their province. Zapata emerges as the most outspoken leader of the group, and when he challenges the president, Diaz demands that he tell him his full name and then circles it on a piece of paper listing the attendees, presumably to ensure that Zapata be watched.
Later in the movie, which depicts the unfinished goals of the revolution and the corruption of power, Zapata emerges as the temporary leader of Mexico. A group of peasants from his same southern province comes to see him to complain about his brother, played by Anthony Quinn, a fellow revolutionary, who has become a corrupt landowner in the province. Zapata becomes agitated when he hears their complaints, and when an outspoken member of the group challenges him, he demands his name and then circles it on a piece of paper. Zapata soon realizes that he is acting the same way that Diaz did several years prior. In a dramatic moment, he then crumples up the paper, leaves the presidential palace, and returns to his province to restart the revolution.Although Mexico and Egypt are different countries and their revolutions took place in different centuries, what is revealing to me watching this movie is that Egyptian President Morsi has not had his "Zapata" moment. In other words, he has not come to realize--or, more tellingly, does not want to realize--that he is acting as an authoritarian leader, a Mubarak-type character. The events over the past few months indicate that Morsi, originally from the long-persecuted Muslim Brotherhood organization, is ruling with an iron fist, using the un-reformed interior ministry to crack down on his opponents, torture some dissidents, jail some journalists who are charged with "insulting the president," and issuing draconian and dictatorial laws from time to time to further his agenda.Morsi has stated that he wants to be the president for all Egyptians and seems to think that opposition to his rule is a a conspiracy by remnants of the old Mubarak regime. Although some elements of the opposition are probably Mubarak-era supporters, the vast majority are not. They simply do not want one authoritarian system to be replaced by another and are against what they see as the Brotherhood's monopolization of power. And while most Egyptians are religiously-oriented, they make a distinction between religion as a personal matter (with the family deciding which religious norms to follow) rather than as state policy. As one Cairo taxi driver told me, "we do not want to live in an Iran."Moreover, most Egyptians also realize that an Islamist agenda is not going to solve their daily needs. A recent press piece found that in Mahalla al-Kubra, a large factory town in Egypt's delta, industrial workers are protesting what they are calling the "Brotherhoodization" of the state. One labor leader was quoted as saying: "The revolution's demands have not been met, neither have the workers' demands for justice and a minimum wage." Some workers also complained that they have been kidnapped and assaulted by the police or members of the Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party. In other words, Morsi's administration is acting the say way to worker demands as did the Mubarak administration. The police are being used to to keep workers in line, and the Freedom and Justice party, at least in some parts of Egypt, is acting like Mubarak's National Democratic Party.Morsi, in the face of mounting opposition, keeps touting the need for a national dialogue, but the opposition sees it as a ruse--dialogue merely for dialogue's sake, not dialogue for a more inclusive government. His cabinet ministers are either Brotherhood members or technocrats who are sympathetic towards the Brotherhood. He is counting on a Brotherhood win in the April elections to the lower house of parliament to consolidate his and the Brotherhood's rule.Most of Egypt's revolutionaries from 2011 feel cheated. They lent Morsi crucial support in the second round of presidential elections in June 2012 because they took him at his word that he would be the president of all Egyptians and to forestall the election of his opponent, Ahmed Shafik, Mubarak's last prime minister and a symbol of the old regime. They clearly misunderstood Morsi's agenda, which was to pave the way for the Brotherhood to become the dominant political force in the country while neutralizing the military. Brotherhood leaders like Morsi believe that since the organization was established in 1928, it now has the opportunity to win all the levers of power, with the exception of the military.The problem for Morsi (and what he apparently discounts) is that the Egyptian revolutionaries are not going to roll over and accept his authoritarian policies. The revolutionaries believe they have invested too much blood and sweat in the revolution for this to happen. Hence, like Zapata leaving the presidential palace, they are likely to continue the fight. And what they learned in January and February 2011 is that street power is a powerful force. Hence, while Morsi and his Brotherhood allies are keen to move ahead with their agenda, they are likely to encounter strong obstacles along the way.Morsi has apparently convinced himself that he is not acting like Mubarak. As long as he maintains this frame of mind, he will see his opponents as enemies and will use the draconian tools at his disposal-like the interior ministry--to attack them. All this portends poorly for Egypt and Egyptian stability.The views expressed in this blog are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the Center for National Policy.
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