The Second Egyptian Revolution الثورة المصرية الثانية
Every wondered what one hundred thousand people looks like? How about five hundred thousand? How about one million?
More than one million people are expected to gather in Tahrir Square tomorrow while thousands of others gather in their local squareس throughout Egypt. While the April 6th Movement has been organizing this Day of Rage for nearly a month, the expressed goals of the protests have shifted. Gone are the polarizing demands for the drafting of a Constitution prior to parliamentary elections. In their place is a laundry list of specific economic and political reforms.
1. The rapid public trial and suspension from duty of those accused of killing protestors during the revolution.
2. The creation a monetary fund for those injured and killed in the revolution.
3. Increasing the minimum wage of 1200 Egyptian pounds per month, imposing an unspecified maximum wage, and increasing unemployment assistance to 500 pounds a month.
4. The purification of all institutions – specially the police, the judiciary, the media, the universities, and the government ministries.
5. The execution of the judiciary ruling on the local legislative bodies.
6. The cessation of the trial of civilians in military courts.
7. The confiscation and return of all stolen wealth.
8. The resignation of all provincial governors linked with corruption.
9. The review of all natural gas contracts and the cessation natural gas exports to Israel.
10. The determination of the natural security’s jurisdiction by submitting the issue to judicial supervision.
While these demands represent the broad desires of many Egyptians, they are not what motivates the one million people expected to gather in Tahrir Square tomorrow. The violent repression of the family and friends of the revolution’s martyrs on June 28 and June 29 resembled the behavior of an entrenched authoritarian regime rather than an emerging democracy. As a result, Egyptians from all political ideologies (including the Muslim Brotherhood), religions and social classes have elected to march to Tahrir Square and join with those who waged a week-long sit to “save revolution”.
Despite the lack of transparency within the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the events of the past few months shed light on its possible responses. On the Egyptian political chessboard, SCAF has historically sought to sacrifice pawns to save its king; lesser interests are abandoned to preserve core interests.
Since it assumed power in February, SCAF has been reluctant to publicly try members of the former regime, let alone pursue substantive and transparent political reform. Instead, it has attempted to use Egyptians’ hatred of Israel to distract them from the task at hand. When pressed through large protests and other forms of contentious politics, however, SCAF avoids violent repression. Instead, it attempts to rob the protests of the numbers necessary to exert pressure for substantive remove by peeling off factions through symbolic reform – especially the trial of figureheads from the previous regime. (For instance, when thousands gathered in mid-April to protest delays in political reform, SCAF responded by incarcerating of Mubarak and his sons in Tora Form prison.)
While tomorrow carries much of the same potential, such symbolic measures are likely to fail. While emotive aspects of the trials of those police officers accused of killing protestors during the revolution make them the perfect tool to peel hundreds of thousands away from the million gathered in Tahrir Square, Egyptians have begun to recognize the pattern in SCAF’s behavior.
What happens next is the crux of the issue. Given that many Egyptians have grown tired of the economic and political instability caused by street protests, SCAF may then elect to test the protestors’ patience and staying power through prolonged silence. If protestors continue to gather in large quantities, however, SCAF will find itself in a situation similar to that of this past February when it was forced to chose between violent repression and the sacrifice of a core interest. In February it elected to sacrifice Mubarak rather than engage in violent repression.
Despite its recent relative successes in Bahrain, Libya, and Syria, violent repression remains a tenuous option. Protestors outnumber the combined corps of the Central Security Forces and Army. Army soldiers and NCOs are conscripts and thus more likely to defect to the protestors than open fire on them (as demonstrated by the events of April 8). Moreover, extended violence would plunge the economy into a deeper recession harming SCAF’s substantial economic interests.
Without a Mubarak to district the protestors from realizing the demands of their revolution, will the SCAF finally be forced to sacrifice additional core interests and accede to their demands?
I will not soil the most important day in the revolution since the departure of Mubarak on February 11 by making a prediction. Ultimately, only the days (and possibly weeks) to come will reveal the answer.
I apologize for the lack of posts this week. I’ve been working with Tik Root on an op-ed for the AUC’s Tahrir Forum and it has taken up most of my free time. I promise to make it up to you all this weekend.