Tomorrow, May 27, could be a portentous day in the development of Egypt, post-revolution. Or, it could come to nothing. Activists, largely those among the earliest demonstrators at Tahrir Square, have returned to social media to call for a 2ndDay of Rage, in order to protest a slowing pace of reform from the ruling military council and interim government. A Facebook page asking for participation attracted 27,000 supporters, but of which only 5,000 said they would participate.
While there have been protests nearly every day since Mubarak stepped down as president, none have been as controversial as this one. The Muslim Brotherhood has declared it will not take part, and has in fact publically condemned the effort. Meanwhile, on the opposite side of the political spectrum, Naguib Siwarus, a wealthy Coptic businessman and founder of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, has also spoken against the demonstration.
At issue is not so much the list of demands; in fact, participants have not exactly put together a unified call. Rather, it is felt that the target of protest is directed at the ruling military council. Many activists have been careful not to directly point their finger at the army, but the understood complaint is reminiscent of the early revolutionary struggle. Protests since the revolution have tended to be about particular issues.
The fear is obvious: The army received unwavering popular support for its role in the revolution, refusing to fire on the people. In light of the violence in Libya, Syria, and elsewhere, Egyptians have been very grateful for army neutrality. Yet the 2nd Day of Rage threatens to drive a wedge between the army and the people. In fact, this is the chief accusation against the activists. If we cannot look to the army to guide our transition, to whom will we turn? The conservative Muslim Salafis, in this regard, have returned to their pre-revolutionary rhetoric – demonstrating against the leader is against Islamic sharia. The Muslim Brotherhood has labeled the activists ‘secularists and communists’, terms sure to draw rejection from a God-fearing population. Rumors are about that the hand of Israel and America are driving participation.
The demands of the activists do suggest dissatisfaction with the military council’s governance. They are frustrated with the slow pace of trials against leading regime figures, especially Mubarak, who only two days earlier was referred to prosecution. They condemn the use of military tribunals, of which human rights activists say up to 10,000 citizens have been subject since the revolution, many of which have been protestors. They call for the replacement of the military council with transitional civilian leadership drawn from all segments of society. Furthermore, they ask for the drafting of a new constitution prior to legislative elections, so as to secure a free and democratic society into which new representatives can be chosen.
This last notion in particular can be judged as somewhat partisan politics. One reason the Muslim Brotherhood is understood to oppose the march is that they are due to fare well in the legislative elections, and will have superior representation from which will constitute the body to craft a new constitution afterwards. Some activists have gone as far to suspect background deals between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood, but this is denied by both parties. Indeed, the Brotherhood seeks to assure Egyptians they seek participation with all political forces, to achieve a civil state. Yet figures from the Brotherhood periodically mention phrases such as ‘sharia law’, and make many wonder if their openness is a temporary strategy rather than a democratic commitment. The Brotherhood, for its part, states there is a media campaign to discredit them and twist words out of context.
With ‘only’ 5,000 people committed to the demonstration, however, will there be much ado at all? Egyptians are tired of protest, focused on the ongoing security lapses and deteriorating economy. If left alone, will the efforts of the activists simply fizzle out?
Perhaps. Yet some activists have been stating that the security lapses and an overemphasis on economy issues is part of the military strategy to slow down revolutionary gains. Youth activists complain they have been squeezed out of the decision making process, as most government pronouncements are issued from behind closed doors. A recent national dialogue has begun, in which many youth were invited. Upon arrival, however, they found senior representation including figures from the disgraced Mubarak regime. Most left in protest, and the dialogue ended abruptly.
Some steam may have been gained today, as four activists were arrested by the military police for distributing flyers calling for participation in the 2nd Day of Rage. The activists’ twitter campaigns went on high alert, mobilizing people immediately to go to their place of detention. They were released later in the day, but individual tweets proclaimed the arrests did the greatest favor for the call to demonstrate. Links to pictures of the flyers rapidly filled cyberspace.
Yet so did a foreboding sense of dread. One activist feared May 27 would come to represent the day the revolution died. Others tried to bring levity by calling on protestors to use humor, as they did so effectively in the beginning. Given the expected high temperatures, some wished to turn Tahrir Square into a beach scene.
On its official Facebook page, the Supreme Council for the Armed Forces stated clearly it would not fire on protestors. Yet it warned that certain shadowy groups might try to infiltrate and bring trouble. The message concluded by stating the army would not be present during the demonstrations, but would be guarding other essential government institutions.
Activists took this as a message that they would be left on their own. One of the young revolutionary groups, the April 6 Movement, declared it would take responsibility for securing the peaceful nature of the demonstration, to prevent any violent infiltrators from sabotage. Yet with the prevalence of ‘thugs’ who have attacked demonstrators previously, might these descend upon activists?
On the one hand, it is feared. On the other, it is feared as a scare tactic to limit participation. Tomorrow has the air of uncertainty that existed on January 24, when Police Day demonstrations were expected. Some of the same questions exist: Will this only be an expression of young, middle to upper class frustration? Will the street care, let alone join in? Regardless, for that protest 80,000 Facebook users committed to participate; the 2nd Day of Rage pales in comparison to previous mobilization.
No one is expecting a 2nd Revolution, though some activists are using that language. What is their expectation, however? How will they know if they win? If their fears are true, and the revolution is being thwarted, can this effort reverse the tide?
My guess is that the 2nd Day of Rage will make a loud protest, but eventually fizzle out. If there is bloodshed, however, will that change the equation? Or, will the popular perception be that they turned against the army, are working against the necessary stabilization of the economy, and will deserve what they get? The former regime tried such a strategy during the infamous ‘Battle of the Camel’; it failed miserably. Conditions are different now; most are still positive about the revolution and thankful for the army. Public relations are probably against the activists.
Does it deserve to be? It has only been four months since the revolution began. Former figures, including Mubarak’s sons, have been sent to prison. Elections are promised, and most analysts believe the military has absolutely no intention of staying in power long term. Meanwhile, security is weakened, as is the economy. The military proved itself trustworthy during the revolution; should it be given the benefit of the doubt during the transition? After all, it has undertaken governance and policing – two tasks absolutely necessary but for which it is ill equipped.
Tomorrow we will see. Yet positions appear to be hardening, creating fissures in the widespread revolutionary unity. Perhaps it was inevitable; it is also dangerous. No one accounts the revolution to be completed yet; might it derail as groups begin to fight for their own vision of success?
It is a very difficult balance fighting for what you believe in, holding others accountable, and maintaining unity at the same time. Perhaps it is too herculean to expect, but it can be pleaded for. May prayers be directed toward safety, sense of partnership, and ultimate freedom and justice to come to Egypt. The nation is still in need.