A comparison of Egypt just before the 25th January 2011 revolution, and over two years after, shows that a lot has changed. Where liberals and Islamists once chanted for democracy together, protesters now hailed an army chief as a national hero.
After a taste of ‘people power’, many couldn’t be satisfied with whatever Mohammed Morsi had to offer. In Cairo’s affluent Zamalek district, a taxi driver explains that they got rid of an ‘Ali Baba’ – Hosni Mubarak – only to find another one ruling them.
For a lot of people in Egypt, the last three years have been life-changing. Many lost their friends in front of their eyes, saw them maimed in clashes with the police, the armed forces and the Muslim brotherhood; hundreds were arrested on false charges, thousands tried by the military.
Morsi, it seems, wasn’t worth all those sacrifices. Waleed Rashed was one of the co-founders of the April 6 Youth Movement and a prominent participant in anti- Mubarak demonstrations. But while he spoke of the earlier struggle against the dictator with passion, one now sees a clear transformation.
“I left ‘April 6’ for personal reasons; nothing related to the movement, it was related to my business, life style, i always prefer my privacy. The movement was looking for a better life and it means both overthrowing Mubarak and making democracy a reality in Egypt. The future of Egypt is in the power of the people. The military is not in power now in Egypt and I say what happened during the last days in Egypt is not a military coup, there's an interim president Adly Mansour and a presidential election will be held soon.” What one sees is a general acceptance of the ouster of Morsi, as well as of the resurgence of military might (Many see his removal as a military coup).
There are different interpretations, however, of whether the removal of Morsi from power is justified or not. Ahmed Maher, another founder of the April 6 Youth Movement, who is still with the organisation expresses his concern about military involvement. “If we assume it’s not a coup, and I tell people it’s not a coup, when they do to us again what they did in 2011, what would I tell people?” he says.
‘People power’ versus ‘military rule’
The path to where things stands today in Egypt has been a long one. Egyptian revolutionaries didn’t just pour out onto the streets – for many, it was a matter of painstaking strategy and techniques. One institution that helped them strategise was the Centre for Applied Non-Violent Action and Strategies (CANVAS), based in Belgrade, Serbia.
By the end of 2008, one of the April 6 Youth Movement members visited United States to take part in a State Department-organised "Alliance of Youth Movements Summit" in New York City. According to a recently released Wikileaks cable, the activist said he discussed with other activists there techniques to evade government surveillance and harassment. In the summer of 2009, blogger and April 6 activist Mohammed Adel travelled to Serbia to take a course on strategies for nonviolent revolutions from CANVAS.
Srdja Popovic, the co-founder and executive director of CANVAS, doesn’t see the recent development in Egypt as a negative outcome of efforts. In the fall of 2000 Popovic and his colleagues helped to achieve the unthinkable, by forcing the resignation of Slobodan Milosevic. Popovic was recently named among Foreign Policy’s Top 100 Global Thinkers, for "inspiring Arab Spring protestors directly and indirectly.”
CANVAS has trained thousands of activists from all over the world. They have worked directly in 40 countries, and hosted over 200 workshops since 2004. They have also published their material online in open source documents so that people who are unable to attend a workshop may learn on their own.
Speaking on the role of military intervention in Egypt, Popovic says: “People in the military are citizens as well, and there has to be a moment of conversion where we pull at their identity not as a military force against the people, but part of them. From the point of “pillars of support”, Serbian analysis, very differently from Syrian or Egyptian it can be seen that in Serbia there was conscription type of military, made out of young boys – population not too fond of Milosevic, and therefore not too loyal to the regime, but the key pillar was the police, which we have talked to on various levels for years.” He added: “Every society needs to understand (which is in part content of our trainings) what are the most important pillars in that society – pulling this pillar from the side of government towards the side of the movement is actually the corner stone of every movement’s strategy.”
But then what about self-professed democratically elected leaders who fail to implement the fundamentals of a democratic state?
“People power is power to make any institution, including the military, accountable, and the most important difference between happy and unhappy societies is who keeps whom accountable. In happy societies, governments are “afraid” of the people, or accountable to the people via democratic institutions, like freedom to protest or elections. In contrast in unhappy societies people are afraid of their governments – whether civilian dictators or military juntas,” Popovic explains. His argument highlights that while some see it as a military coup, many see it as an extension of the power of the people.
The long history of military takeovers from Chile in the 1970s to Pakistan in the 1990s tells us that it was welcomed at first, but regretted in years to come. Time will tell if Egypt’s political turmoil will follow a similar sequence of events or not.