What does Egypt’s military coup mean for Uganda’s opposition groups?
Posted Sunday, July 7 2013 at 01:00
On Thursday, the deadline set for former Egypt president Mohamed Morsy to address the issues raised by the citizens elapsed. And like he had earlier told the Egyptians not to obey him if he did not deliver, the Muslim Brotherhood man soon found himself under house arrest. Sunday Monitor’s Eriasa Mukiibi Sserunjogi dissects the coup and, like a literary anecdote, thinks aloud - could there be a lesson for the Uganda’s opposition leaders, and maybe the government?
The revolutionary wave that swept North Africa in early 2011 started in Tunisia, sweeping long serving leader Ben Ali in its wake and eventually deposing and leading to the death of the then Africa’s longest serving patriarch, Col Muammar Gaddafi of Libya.
But it is the Tahrir Square protests that brought down another long serving leader, Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak, that were more talked about and inspired a lot of activists. The manner of their planning and execution was thought of as a model that would possibly be replicated elsewhere, particularly in black Africa.
On April 1 2011, just over a month after a crushing electoral defeat for the opposition in another controversial election, the then Forum for Democratic Change leader, Dr Kizza Besigye, under the umbrella of Activists for Change (A4C) started “Walk-to-Work” protests.
The stated reason for the protests was the rising food and commodity prices, but the protesters were thought to be calling on Ugandans to emulate Egypt’s Tahrir Square uprising.
The Egypt revolution eventually led to the election of a parliament dominated by members of the radical Muslim Brotherhood and later Mr Mohamed Morsy, also of the Brotherhood, as president. The Egyptian protesters demanded democracy but, as they demonstrated last week, they wanted a different type of democracy from what Mr Morsy was offering.
When the Egyptian army toppled Mr Morsy on Tuesday, following four days of popular uprising, it was as if they were rising to the challenge Mr Morsy threw at the Egyptian people upon being elected last year.
“I have no rights, only responsibilities; if I do not deliver, do not obey me,” Mr Morsy was quoted as saying by Al Jazeera moments after being declared winner in June 2011. When the army overthrew him and put him under house arrest, a military spokesperson was quoted by the BBC as saying Mr Morsy had “failed to meet the demands of the people”.
To the protesters elsewhere, like in Uganda, who were inspired by the revolution in Egypt, Mr Morsy’s ouster brings home the harsh reality that achieving democracy is a different thing from just uprooting a long-serving, autocratic regime.
Many Egyptians grew nervous as Mr Morsi seemed to increasingly bend towards the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood during his one year in power. Last November, Mr Morsy, by decree, assumed “absolute” powers, a move that was violently protested by Egyptians. The influence of radical “Islamists” also grew considerably.
In one case, for instance, an Egyptian author based in Germany, Mr Hamed Abdel-Samad, requested for protection from the German government after “ultra-conservative Islamists in Egypt declared him an “apostate” and launched an online campaign calling for his death.”
Mr Abdel-Samad, according to the Egyptian government’s owned Al-Ahram online newspaper, had castigated what he saw as the rise of “Islamic fascism” when he spoke in Egypt at the invitation of the “Secularist Movement.”
Politics and religion aside, the lot of the ordinary Egyptian people seemed to worsen as the government struggled to gain a handle on matters and couldn’t fix the economy.
“The revolution erupted mainly because people wanted a better life, a better Egypt and of course that didn’t happen under Morsi,” said Mr Sherif Tarek Mohamed, a journalist with Al Ahram in Egypt, adding that Mr Morsi’s “administration was anything but competent, and promises were all broken.”
But did Egyptians expect too much too soon? Probably so, says Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago.
The move against Mr Morsi involved a clampdown on the Brotherhood. Before he was deposed, the military switched off Al Jazeera’s Egyptian station, which started after the 2011 toppling of former President Hosni Mubarak.
The Muslim Brotherhood’s Egypt25 was also shut down and its managers were arrested shortly after the coup.
Mr Mohamed told us by email that shutting down the Brotherhood’s station was “good news”.
Mr Mohamed wrote: “Many crazy so-called sheikhs (were using the station) to incite violence and call on pro-Morsy people to kill the opposition, on a daily freaking basis; imagine what they would’ve done had they remained on air after Morsi’s ouster.”
“However,” Mr Mohamed added, “to shut down Al-Jazeera along with these channels, though it was so unprofessionally pro-Brotherhood for so long, is not fair.”
A Ugandan activist’s view
Masaka Municipality MP Mathias Mpuuga, who has been at the core of organizing protests in Uganda since April 2011, says what is happening in Egypt “is still as much a source of inspiration to us as it was in the first place.”
Mr Mpuuga saw the first activist organisation he founded, A4C, banned by the government of Uganda, just like its successor, For God and My Country (4GC).
But he says what Ugandans need to learn about Egypt is that “the demand for democracy is usually protracted and costly”.
Mr Mpuuga says the people of Egypt, especially the younger ones, “demanded for democracy and not half democracy.” The mistake Mr Morsy made, says he, “is to assume that Egyptians would be satisfied with just holding an election and then the leader does as he pleases.”
Mr Mpuuga hazards a prediction: “As long as we continue to see half democracy, Africa will see scenes of Egypt replayed and replayed again.”
Kampala Lord Mayor Erias Lukwago, who has actively participated in protests since 2011, says the Egyptian people “have developed a critical mass” to the extent that they now throw out leaders “when they feel that they are tired of the government.
Whereas the will of the people should prevail, Mr Lukwago says, “Elections are a time-tested way of changing leadership unless things are so bad.” He adds that under Mr Morsy, things were probably not yet that bad. “Morsy was fairly okay,” Mr Lukwago says, “except that he was an extremist.”
But Egypt has made strides in the pursuit of democracy, Mr Lukwago says, particularly because the army has built a culture of intervening on the side of the people.
Building democracy is a process
Mr Moses Khisa, a Ugandan PhD candidate of political science in the US, says the revolution in Egypt which started in early 2011, is still “just unfolding”.
Citing the revolutions in early modern Europe, particularly the French Revolution which started in 1789, Mr Khisa argues that revolutions take time.
The French revolution overthrew the Bourbon Monarchy in 1789 but quickly degenerated into a “Reign of Terror” in the early 1790s during which an estimated 40,000 people were executed.
It then gave rise to Napoleon Bonaparte, in 1799, who unleashed war on the European continent and built an empire which lasted close to 15 years.
Afterwards, Louis XVIII, a brother to the king who had been overthrown and killed during the revolution, assumed power and on his death his radical brother Charles X took over until he was overthrown in 1830, to be replaced by his cousin, Louis Philippe, who was himself overthrown in 1948.
Mr Khisa’s argument may be useful for the Ugandan opposition, which still has apparent disagreements on how to go forward.
Dr Besigye, for instance, retired from the FDC leadership two years earlier to concentrate, as he said, on civil action. But some members of his party criticised him for concentrating on protests instead of building a strong party that can challenge for leadership.
Those who favour building strong parties to challenge for power, argue that the opposition needs to be prepared to take over and manage power when the NRM regime collapses.
They add that such organisation would convince people to vote for the opposition.
On the other hand, those who are for protests, argue that choosing to concentrate on building political parties to challenge for power would presuppose that “Uganda is a normal society” where the best party will take power after a free and fair election.
Mr Lukwago calls it an “illusion”; to think that strong, vibrant parties can be built “in a situation which is not conducive for multi-party democracy.”
“That is impossible,” he says.
As Mr Lukwago and like-minded colleagues continue with protests in the hope of causing a change of power, the Egypt experience makes clear that they better beware of the need to organise. And if they get power, they will be challenged to manage people’s expectations.
Timeline of events in Egypt
• February 11, 2011 - Hosni Mubarak resigns as president after two weeks of massive street protests and violent clashes
• January 2012 - Muslim Brotherhood-affiliated Freedom and Justice Party wins parliamentary elections with almost half of votes
• June 2012 - Mohammed Morsi becomes Egypt’s first freely elected president
• November 22, 2012 - Mr Morsi issues a controversial decree granting himself extensive powers - after angry protests he eventually rescinds most of it
• July 3, 2013 - The army suspends the constitution and removes Mr Morsi from power
• The military’s move against the Muslim Brotherhood was well planned. Intervention must have been in the mind of the army chief, Gen Sisi, for some time. Muslim Brotherhood activists were arrested. Islamist TV stations were taken off the air.
• In the elections that followed the Arab uprisings of 2011, the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, and its offshoots across the region, did extremely well. That was because it was well organised, with a reputation for honesty, and took advantage of the failure of secular parties to organise themselves.
• But now the Egyptian army has inflicted a serious blow on the Muslim Brotherhood. One question is whether the Brotherhood will be forced back underground, as it was when it was banned in the years before 2011.
• The Brotherhood foreswore violence many years ago. However, there are jihadist groups in Egypt that have not. The army has calculated it can handle any trouble. But it is playing for high stakes - the future of Egypt.