Egyptians will resist by all peaceful means until our democracy is restored
A black day will be marked on the Egyptian army’s calendar. Today will always be remembered as the day when soldiers shot dead scores of peaceful civilian protesters, including women and children. The scenes in Cairo were beyond words: brains out of skulls, shots to the head and the chest, blood all over the simple medical facility that did not expect to receive more than 500 wounded and 53 dead bodies.
The leaders of the military coup that has taken the place of Egypt’s elected government are sending a clear message. It is that they are determined to kill, to detain political figures, to censor media outlets, and do all that can be done to kill the Egyptian people’s dream of true democracy. Despite this brutality, the coup has been supported – either openly or behind platitudinous expressions of concern – by foreign governments.
Since the military forcibly removed President Morsi, the question that has been levelled most often at those of us that were part of his team, and part of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party, has been: "What were you thinking? What was he thinking?"
The answer is simple. President Morsi understood, and we along with him, that his was a single mission: to establish stable sustainable mechanisms for the peaceful democratic exchange of power. Everything else, he strongly believed, would follow from that.
To be sure, we also understood that the vast majority of Egyptians had suffered enough: first under an autocratic regime that cared nothing for them; and then during a transitional period marred by instability, violence, and a polarised elite too focused on asserting its own pre-eminence to worry about the average citizen.
Morsi’s team and his cabinet thus worked hard to address the day-to-day needs of the Egyptian people. Food, energy and security quickly emerged as the three sectors with the most entrenched problems. We moved to tackle these directly by introducing controls to eliminate corruption and provide incentives for production.
Some of these measures worked, while others proved more challenging. The quality of subsidised bread improved, the smuggling of flour from bakeries sharply declined, and the year’s crop of wheat hit a record high. At the same time, the introduction of a smartcard system to track subsidised fuel quickly revealed massive corruption, but was resisted overtly and covertly, triggering intermittent fuel crises. And in the case of security, very little progress was made in the face of an interior ministry that became the standard bearer in the fight by the old regime.
Indirect measures were also undertaken through our work in investment, tourism and international co-operation, with an aim to increase investment and revenue, and create job opportunities. The minimum wage was raised, health insurance and social benefits were extended to single mothers, and middle-income Egyptians saw their pensions increase and their taxes reduced.
All of this was done in the face of a deepening financial crisis, resistance from regional and international partners to providing investment or aid, continued violence against the government, a complete refusal by the opposition to participate in high-level government positions, and unrealistic utopian expectations.
But ultimately for the president all of this was secondary. What mattered most was for Egypt’s democracy to be set on an irreversible course. The president firmly believed that Egypt’s democratisation had to become real. It had to have transparent, stable, sustainable mechanisms for people to express their opinions and choose their representatives. It had to have meaningful mechanisms for the people, not the elites, to hold their government accountable.
And so when people said they would take to the streets to call for his ousting, the president pleaded with them to go to the ballot box. He extended an invitation, as he had repeatedly done over the course of the past year, to opposition members for an open dialogue. Everything was on the table – except the death of democracy. He accepted proposals for a change of cabinet, amendments to the constitution to be presented to parliament immediately after the elections, a national unity government in which all parties were represented, a choice of prime minister acceptable to his political opponents – aHaving been duly elected in free and fair elections, the president would not abdicate in response to street demonstrations or pressure from the country’s military. And he steadfastly refused to become a figurehead president with the army governing the country from behind the scenes.
These two options were off the table, Morsi repeatedly explained, not because of his own ego – but because they would spell the end of democracy. And for that stance his opponents accused him of defiance and of ignoring "the will of the people" – a strikingly ironic accusation, given that this is the only leader in the Arab world to openly, and repeatedly, acknowledge mistakes.
In the president’s address to the nation on 26 June, he took this acknowledgment one step further. He not only recognised the magnitude of the crisis in addressing people’s day-to-day needs, but also explained fundamental assumptions in our approach to government that needed revisiting.
President Morsi admitted that he had underestimated the magnitude and depth of corruption in different sectors in the country. He had approached his entire presidency with an attitude of gradual reform because he believed that approach would produce more sustainable and long-term outcomes. However, his experience of the first year had convinced him that some surgical, non-traditional intervention was unavoidable. And to that end, some degree of national conciliation and consensus was required. Once again he called for dialogue.
The president had assumed that the wide spectrum of established and new political parties and groupings would be sufficient to represent all Egyptians. But that first year showed him that many segments – most glaringly the youth who had spearheaded the revolution – had not found adequate representation in any of these groups. He suggested that we needed to identify better mechanisms to reach them and to hear from them.
President Morsi was not proposing Band Aid fixes to short-term problems. Rather, he was trying to explore with the Egyptian people fundamental changes needed in the manner of governing. But that conversation was muted, drowned out by those who saw nothing in the crisis other than an opportunity to topple the first freely elected president in Egypt’s history.
We will continue to demonstrate against this attack on democracy – and resist by all peaceful means until the elected president is reinstated and the army ends this grossly illegitimate intervention in Egypt’s politics. Egyptians have the right to demand clear condemnation of those who forcibly suppressed our nascent democracy, and to express frank rejection of this coup. Today’s massacre will not pass unquestioned.