Now that the Egyptian Army has decided to break the stalemate and cleanse the public space of Islamist protesters, and the result is hundreds of deaths, one should first just imagine what an uproar this would have caused if the same bloodbath were to happen, say, in Iran. However, it is more urgent to take a step back and focus on the absent third party in the ongoing conflict: Where are the protesters who took over Tahrir Square two-and-a-half years ago? Is their role now not weirdly similar to the role of the Muslim Brotherhood during the 2011 Arab Spring—that of the impassive observer?
With the military coup in July—when the army, at first supported by those who ousted the Mubarak regime two years ago, deposed the democratically elected president and government—the circle has somehow closed: The protesters who toppled Mubarak in 2011, demanding democracy, passively supported a military coup d’état that subsequently abolished that democracy. What is going on?
The dominant reading that has been proposed by, among others, Francis Fukuyama, goes thusly: The protest movement that toppled Mubarak was predominantly the revolt of the educated middle class, with the poor workers and farmers reduced to the role of (sympathetic) observers. But once the gates of democracy were open, the theory continues, the Muslim Brotherhood, whose social base is composed of the poor majority, won democratic elections and formed a government dominated by Muslim fundamentalists. In turn, the original core of secular protesters turned against the new government, ready to endorse even a military coup as a way to stop them.
Such a simplified vision ignores a key feature of the protest movement: the explosion of heterogeneous organizations (of students, women, workers, etc.) through which Egyptian civil society has begun to articulate its interests outside the scope of state and religious institutions.
[Extract. Appeared in In These Times, on August 23rd, 2013. (full text).]