Civil Disobedience, Causes and Implications of Failure

Civil Disobedience, Causes and Implications of Failure

 Activists called for civil disobedience to coincide with the first anniversary of the Egyptian revolution, with a number of youth figures and movements announcing that civil disobedience is the only option capable of forcing the military to hand over power as soon as possible. Then, they called on all Egyptians to participate in the February 11 strike – the first anniversary of the resignation of Egypt’s former president – and then the civil disobedience.

First: Advocates and Supporters

Most of the youth protest movements embraced the call for the strike, while student unions and private universities (especially the American University) announced their intention to join the strike. The call for the strike was also backed by Dr. ElBaradei, Dr. Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh and Dr. Sayf Al-Din Abdel-Fattah. Generally, with the exception of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, the parties embracing this call had left-wing leanings. The parties: Tajammu’a, Socialist Alliance, Socialist Party of Egypt, and the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, in addition to the Revolutionary Socialists and the April 6 Youth Movement announced they would join the strike.

Also Coptic movements took part, with the Copts for Egypt movement, Free Copts and Maspero Youth Union joining the strike.

Second: Rejectionists

All Islamic political parties, groups and movements announced their rejection of the call to this strike and civil disobedience. The Muslim Brotherhood, the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP), Nour party, the Islamic Group, Wassat party, and most of the Egyptian presidential candidates, as well as the Wafd party stood united and clearly called for everyone to reject the strike.

For its part, the state mobilized all its print and broadcast media (national press, official satellite channels, radio), bolstering its campaign with a clear position of Al-Azhar and the Mufti as well as the Church who announced it would be a great sin to participate in the strike or disrupt business and harm the interests of the people. It is worth noting, here, that last Friday’s prayer speech was unified in many of the mosques of the General Endowment and Sharia Society in their rejection of civil disobedience, announcing that it is unlawful from an Islamic perspective.

Third: Size of response to civil disobedience call

There have been no signs or manifestations of civil disobedience, nor strike action, in any state institutions, while all observers and monitors agreed that service was normal for trains, ports, the Suez Canal and factories, especially the industrial city Mahalla Al-Kubra. School attendance was also normal, with limited protests by some high school students in Cairo and Alexandria, and a number of demonstrations by hundreds of students at the universities of Cairo, Ain-Shams and Alexandria, as well as the American University and the German University. With universities determined they would continue the strike for three days. In general, the call to civil disobedience has not received any significant response. The failure of the strike is obvious, prompting the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) to thank the enlightened Egyptian people – as it described them – who have announced in a new kind of referendum that they seek work and production, and reject uncalculated adventures.

Fourth: The most important reasons for the failure of the call for civil disobedience

1)      The official position which managed to fully unify its media machine against civil disobedience, and to promote the official position of religious figures (the grand Sheikh of Al Azhar, the Mufti, Pope Shenouda), and other non-official figures (Dr. Qaradawi, Sheikh Mohamed Hassan, etc).

2)      The increasing economic pressure weighing in on citizens, repeated crises of living, and the recent deterioration of the security situation caused a kind of general displeasure with demonstrations and sit-ins, and brought about a quieter approach with less confrontation.

3)      The confusion of the call itself, as well as failure to clarify the nature of civil disobedience, whether it was a strike or insurrection, which gave the opposite campaign the chance to question the goal of the call and to highlight its dangers for the economy and the stability of the state (the official ‘anti’ campaign adopted the argument that activists are seeking to destroy the state and to sabotage its institutions and cause the collapse of the economy etc), especially since the masses supposed to be called for disobedience are not the virtual communities on the social networks.

4)      Non-participation of the real popular forces and stakeholders, namely the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis, as well as recognized liberals like the Wafd party, and most presidential candidates.

Fifth: Indicators and Implications of the scene

A. The purpose of the call: One must wonder about the reasons for such deliberate non-disciplined escalation against SCAF, without a clear vision of the need, the route or the destination of this escalation. The call for ‘civil disobedience until SCAF steps down’ in addition to being incomprehensible, it is clearly nihilistic (without objective meaning, purpose or value), especially since the date of registration for presidential candidacy has been brought forward, legislative independence is almost complete – with the Shura Council elections coming to an end – and the Constituent Assembly is about to be formed.

Whether all activists and advocates or some of them are deliberately targeting this, at this stage civil disobedience does not serve any interests but contributes to a scenario of chaos, terror and destruction, which would justify the military turning against the path of democratic transformation, supported by the desire of ordinary Egyptians for stability and security. At best, disobedience would produce more economic and security problems, as well as serious challenges, which would accumulate in the waiting for any upcoming government.

B. Exposure and popular isolation of activists and advocates: This is the most significant event in terms of popular rejection. The same activists and stakeholders were able to mobilize larger numbers on other occasions. They did not expect such a failure. Perhaps they did not appreciate that they are betting on the ability of the public to risk their daily bread (about 8 million workers per day). Moreover, this is proof of the decline of revolutionary momentum versus popular concerns for security, stability and the economy, especially with the progress being made according to the roadmap agreed upon recently and the calls of mainstream Islamists to commit to the steps agreed upon.

C. Public skepticism of official discourse: Despite the success of SCAF in using state institutions to contain the call for civil disobedience, this does not indicate a return of confidence in the official discourse, whether political or religious. Indeed, the stance of Al-Azhar, Fatwa and the Church was met with disapproval even by those who rejected the call for civil disobedience, as a stance that brings to mind state-control via religious institutions before the revolution. It has lost Al-Azhar a lot of confidence that had been restored since Mubarak stepped down.

D. The future of popular mobilization: Has the Egyptian Revolution lost its ability to mobilize? This is a quite important question considering what is happening on the scene, especially with the need for continuing public pressure as an effective weapon, in the next phase.

There is no doubt that the energy of the street to stay in revolt fell significantly for various reasons. No broad popular participation can be expected in any protest except where there is evidence of a serious deviation from the roadmap agreed for the transition of power. It is not unlikely that reliance will primarily be on the solid mobilization powers associated with the Islamists (the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafis in particular), especially since they have the legitimacy of parliamentary majority and are responsible for maintaining the process of democratization.


The strike failed for internal and external reasons:

Internal reasons are related to the confused nature of the call for the strike, and also the exaggerated confidence based on interactions and virtual crowd mobilization on social networks, and via certain satellite TV channels (OnTV, CBC, Tahrir) and some newspapers (most notably Tahrir), all the while being separated from and oblivious to the general mood of the people.

The external causes relate to the state’s administrative and media institutions as well as official religious institutions, standing united against the call for civil disobedience, and actually calling on the people to reject it. Evoking the power of the street for revolutionary pressure remains a major challenge that rests on the shoulders of the Islamic movement which is starting a new phase of the democratization process (writing the Constitution), which may need some sort of popular pressure at a certain moment.

Political Analysis and Monitoring Unit

Ikhwanweb Foundation