When protestors gathered in public squares in Cairo, Sanaa, Tunis, London, New York (and the list goes on) over the course of the last couple of years, there was a celebration of people power, of citizen activism on the fringes, outside the conventional channels of participation (political parties, civil society etc). Unruly politics was about the emergence of collectivities from the cracks, and their power to rupture status quos. Whether unruly politics has the power to change things for the better was always beside the point, because the focus was not on the outcome but on the acts that rupture. After the Egyptian revolution was hijacked by the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, and we began to witness a gradual encroachment on rights and freedoms, we would converse with citizens about what was happening. People would shake their heads and say “There is a limit. Never again. People now know the way to Tahrir Square and they will not bow down low again”.
But so far, the assumption is that people will rise to oppose violation of rights or demand more rights. But what about when people rise to demand the deepening of authoritarianism? What if they take to the streets to express their support for fewer rights for the citizenry?
When there was a close call between the presidential elections Ahmed Shafik and Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood mobilized thousands to take to Tahrir Square to express their support for Morsi. Rumours circulated in Egypt that if Morsi did not become President, the Muslim Brothers would turn the country into a bloodbath in revenge. It worked. People were terrified of the consequences of Morsi not winning the elections, even if they did not want him in power.
On August 11th, 2012, President Morsi issued a “constitutional declaration” giving himself the right to issue laws and decrees, assemble and adjourn parliament, appoint all members of the government and most importantly select the Constituent Assembly members responsible for drawing Egypt’s new constitution. In essence it meant a centralization of legislative, judicial and executive powers in the person of the President. If this is not a move towards authoritarianism, then what is? Yet again, upon his announcement of the seizure of powers, the Muslim Brotherhood immediately took to the streets to defend Morsi’s moves. But defend his moves against what and against whom? Against citizens who are concerned with the policies of a leader who is usurping the rights of institutions that enjoy a high degree of legitimacy, such as the Supreme Constitutional Court? In view of the fact that Morsi already had assumed full power over the military and the Ministry of Interior, what was the point behind mobilizing his people – the Muslim Brotherhood – to rise to his defense?
Just yesterday, President Morsi announced that he is going to “cleanse” the judiciary and will grant the Constituent Assembly legitimacy even if the Supreme Constitutional Court declares its membership unconstitutional. The judiciary has been the greatest thorn in the side of the Muslim Brotherhood since their political ascendency to power. They have resisted and rebelled against the executive’s infringement on the autonomy of the judiciary and have objected to articles compromising its independence in the draft constitution. As for the Constituent Assembly membership, it is currently dominated by the Islamists (in all their streaks: the Muslim Brotherhood in power, the ultra-radical Salafis and the so-called moderates such as el Wasat comprising 67% of membership), its legitimacy has been questioned in light of its insistence on drawing the constitution through majoritarian politics rather than through reaching consensus.
Once again, a few minutes after Morsi’s announcement of another “constitutional declaration” with the above policies only serving to deepen authoritarian rules, the Muslim Brotherhood supporters took to the street to express their endorsement of the President. Again, the mobilization of the masses of Brothers (no women on the scene) is expressed in terms of positive citizen agency: “the People want to cleanse the judiciary”.
The face of these protest suggests the use of unruly politics (at least as far as people acting collectively using the language of citizen demands is concerned) in a positive way. I beg to differ. When unruly politics is instrumentalized to promote the monopolization of power in the hands of a ruler, this can only mean inversely, a contraction of the prospects of building a democratic state. When the masses are mobilized to go to the street to express their love for a dictatorship that has only one name: fascism. Even Mubarak at the epitome of his power could not rely on the mobilization of such masses to endorse his dictatorship. The outcome of fascistic unruly politics, in the Egyptian context can only be one of two things: bringing the country onto the brinks of a civil war (if the opposition also goes to the streets to express their demands for freedom, justice and dignity once more, as at the time of the Egyptian revolution) or alternatively, the intimidation of the majority of citizens not to dare to protest or resist, because the pro-president masses are on the street.
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