In our last Rant, “Reality Check” http://bit.ly/RantRealityCheck we said “Anyone who thinks the army - regardless of how much violence happens - is going to push Morsi out, is extremely naïve and making a serious political miscalculation (or deliberately deluding themselves)… The only way to get the army's attention is to totally gum up the system and effectively stop the country from working - for that you need mass AND long duration protests… Effectively a war of attrition to stop the country from functioning.”
We said the army, in the absence of a non-functioning state, would not push Morsi out for two reasons:
1. They would not have the legitimacy to side with the removal of a legitimately elected president and;
2. They would not want to make an enemy of the Moslem Brotherhood (see earlier Rant for specific reasons http://bit.ly/RantRealityCheck).
Well, the one way we suggested would get the army to react may be happening. The massive scale, fervor, and determination of the protests today in Egypt – and most importantly not just in Cairo, but across the country – seem to indicate that irrespective of the heat and the violence that will occur (unclear yet if it will be intermittent or widespread), the protestors are in it for the long haul and that the protests indeed will be of the necessary mass scale and duration to effectively stop the country from functioning.
As of the first day of the June 30th 2013 protests, it looks like the unifying demand that protestors have coalesced around is for Morsi to resign – the exact same rallying cry that created the unity, strength, and the dogged determination to outlast anything during the January 25th, 2011 protests demanding the removal of Mubarak; and it may happen again now.
Should the protestors succeed in outlasting the heat, Ramadan, and maintaining their massive numbers and momentum in the streets – then, and only then, will they force the hand of the army by bringing the country to a standstill and by delivering the air-cover, pretext, and legitimacy for the army to intervene and force a political solution to the current impasse.
While traditionally legitimacy can only come from the ballot-box, the protestors have gone one step better, and potentially delivered to the army (assuming they can maintain their numbers) an even better legitimacy than that of the ballot-box - they have delivered the legitimacy of truly “voting with their feet.” It is a legitimacy that the army can credibly respond to and say that, in fact, if that massive number of people are willing to go to the streets then it is the same as if every one of them has voted against the continuation of Morsi’s presidency and that the "public will" is so overwhelmingly against the continuation of his term - as currently structured - that the demonstrations truly reflect not the simple majority of Egyptians - which is too narrow a pretext upon which to act - but in fact represent the will of the vast majority of Egyptians. So basically the demonstrations can be used by the army as a proxy for the "public will", in fact potentially a better and more efficient proxy than holding a referendum, and therefore a justification for them to act.
Clearly they will not act lightly, and will wait until the protests continue for some time to gauge the strength and pervasiveness of this sentiment, for they know if they react and force a political solution they are setting an extremely dangerous precedent for themselves and for the country moving forward as they have effectively cemented their role as the future arbiter of political life in Egypt.
While there are those who believe that if the army intervenes it will force Morsi to resign, we do not believe that is the course of action they will follow for a number of reasons;
Therefore, we believe that if the military intervenes, they will do so in a fashion that incorporates both the opposition and the MB in a solution – and that they will use their moral authority and their unique position of strength and their credibility as the only potential honest broker between the two sides to force both sides to accept a solution. The solution we believe they will propose will be along the following lines:
1. Morsi stays in place as President.
2. The Maglis el Shura will be dissolved.
3. A national unity government of technocrats is formed that will include ministers from the MB and the Salafi parties, in addition to the opposition parties.
4. A prime minister acceptable to ALL parties will be chosen, with a very strong possibility that that PM will be a military or former military person.
5. The PM will have operational powers to ensure the cabinet functions with a purely technical/operational mandate of running the country.
6. The military will maintain responsibility for foreign affairs and defense.
7. A new constitutional committee will be formed that will accurately reflect the composition of Egyptian society, including representation from the religious and secular parts of society, with strong representation from the judiciary. Potentially the members of the constitutional committee will exclude anyone from any political party.
8. The basis for the constitutional process will be the “Wathikit El Azhar” (The Al-Azhar document) that all major political parties have signed.
9. The new constitution will cover all aspects of governance including the process for parliamentary and presidential elections.
10. The draft constitution will be put to national referendum
11. New parliamentary and presidential elections will be held under the auspices of the new constitution.
Throughout this process the military’s role will be to ensure that both sides are represented and included in the entire process without one hijacking or dictating the process and to ensure that both sides “stay honest and behave” and that the cabinet and PM functions smoothly and effectively. While this is a massively complicated task for the military, it is the only solution that ensures that the outcome of this political process has the buy-in, even begrudgingly, of the majority of the people and parties of Egypt, from secular to religious. If any side is excluded - which most of the opposition’s proposed solutions currently do (they make no mention of incorporating the MB in their solutions/process) - and the military knows this, it is just a matter of time until the process fails.
How this precedent of the military dictating the political solution will impact subsequent political processes is the subject of another Rant, but suffice it to say that nothing comes for free, and the Egyptian polity will pay a price – most likely quite steep and undemocratic – for the army being asked to be the arbiter of politics in Egypt. What once worked for you can often work against you.
Who knows what will happen in the next few days, but watch this space as the demonstrations unfold, for they may have delivered to the army the air-cover to legitimately act illegitimately.