Numerous questions surround 30 June protests, most of which revolve around whether or not President Mohamed Morsi will be pushed out. The subtleties surrounding such questions are more important to note. What will the Muslim Brotherhood do? What will people do? Will the protests turn violent? How will security services react? What positions will the police, and, more importantly, the army adopt?
It is no secret that the level of popular discontent with the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) reached an all time high. While the continuation of the Brotherhood rule is favorable to many of the powers that have a stake in Egypt, like the military, United States, and Israel, the political status quo seems unsustainable given the complete loss of legitimacy that the Muslim Brotherhood has suffered domestically.
It is important to differentiate between legality and legitimacy, although both intersect and can affect one another. The political process has been muddled, the Shura Council has been declared illegitimate but allowed to continue its role until a new parliament is elected. The only claim to legitimacy that MB supporters enjoy today is based on the institution of the presidency. But even the presidency, which emerged with a weak fifty-one percent mandate, has suffered a loss in legitimacy thanks to all the regime-sponsored violations and its complete disregard for democratic values. Despite Morsi being elected in what resembles a democratic process, many of his actions since assuming office have been undemocratic.
Egypt’s regime encompasses more than just the Muslim Brotherhood. It is comprised of a network of diverse political and economic interests that enjoy the protection and buy-in of security services and various political forces. It includes interests inside the military, the domestic security establishment, and the judiciary, along with a variety of business interests. Following Mubarak’s downfall, the MB emerged as an alternative to the failed National Democratic Party, namely a potential representative of these interests in the political arena. This fragile alliance seems to have been conditioned on the ability of the MB to maintain political stability, which it has failed to deliver.
The disparate power structures that comprise the regime now face a critical choice. They can either fight a losing battle against the high tide in opposition to the MB, or prepare for the change to come in order to control and mold it in such a way that protects their interests. The military will want to retain its economic empire and privileges, which the most recent constitution guarantees. The businessmen need a government that will generate policies that could help them secure profits. In other words, they all have a strong interest in ensuring that any alternative political order accommodates these demands.
It is my assessment that the regime has opted for making room for imminent change or is at least preparing for it. It seems poised to push forward the events that started on the ground to overthrow the MB so that the state does not suffer a similar blow to the one it experienced in January 2011. There are indications that state agencies such as State Security and Intelligence have mobilized, and the army is prepared to align with the winner in this conflict. The military has deployed forces outside the media city, a constant potential target for Islamist protesters. Despite some interpretations of Minister of Defense Abdel Fattah Al-Sissi’s recent statements as a show of support for the MB, a host of retired generals—who usually act as public relations agents for the military through their media appearances as “security analysts”—have expressed strong discontent with the MB and assured that the people will triumph if they persisted.
Figures associated with the old establishment like Mostafa Bakri and Mortada Mansour have dominated the television screens voicing opposition to the MB and support to state agencies like the military and the police. Opposition figures like Hamdeen Sabbahi and Mohamed ElBaradie are adopting a friendlier tone toward the military despite its recent history of brutality.
The police, who had been cracking down on anti-MB activists and protesters, are now making clear they would not take the MB’s side during the 30 June protests. It is not surprising to see such sentiments in the security sector, whether the army, the police, state security, or the intelligence—all which have long been socialized to think of the MB as a foe.
What about the 30 June protests? The streets, I expect, will feature a combination of peaceful protests, violence by citizens against MB, and possibly less spontaneous violence prompted by Mubarak’s partisans who retain some clout, and have traditionally relied on hired thugs to achieve political ends. It is difficult to anticipate what the potential losses could look like and the duration of the prospective standoff. Indeed it is not even certain when Morsi would be forced out, but even if not during these coming events, it is unlikely for him to remain in power much longer.
The thought of former regime elements contributing to the ousting of Morsi may be discouraging to hardcore revolutionaries, who do not want the military to play a role in the transition yet again. Revolutionary voices that have opposed the oppressive regimes of Hosni Mubarak, the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF), and that of the MB, seem marginalized within the wave of anti-MB opposition and widespread pro-army sentiments. Their voices will be faint and distant in contrast to thundering calls from the masses for the army to step in.
Yet, there may be a silver lining. The mobilization that some state agencies are attempting to hijack is real. The revolutionary forces are contributing significantly to this mobilization even though they do not have enough organizational structures to capitalize on it. People have decided they had enough of the MB’s alienating policies. It is also important bear in mind that the state is unlikely to be able to manage any potential transition by itself without meaningful popular participation. After all, the state is no longer a monolithic entity that coordinates its actions through a grand scheme.
The positive orientation that elements within the state—such as the police, judiciary, and military—have adopted toward a growing mobilization is something to be celebrated. It reflects their realization that popular demands are unstoppable, and that new ways have to be devised to cater to the sentiments of people who will take to the streets.
For these reasons, it is fair to conclude that even if the army steps in, it is unlikely to intervene in the manner it did immediately following Mubarak’s downfall. The power structures are not as cohesive as they once were under the former president. Additionally, there will be a chance for dissenting voices to mobilize yet again against any oppressive political order that could emerge in the wake of the ongoing conflicts.
While the results of this mobilization may not end up being as revolutionary as some would have imagined or hoped for, it still marks a way forward. Large state entities, like the military, police, and intelligence services are starting to understand that the will of the people cannot be suppressed nor crushed, at least for the moment.