By Taher El Moataz Bellah
After the minor uprising against the Muslim Brotherhood on 24August 2012 failed to mobilise public support, the Islamist group was relieved by the low turnout of demonstrators. However, eight months of deteriorating economic conditions and unfulfilled promises paved the way for Tamarod, (“Rebellion”), a leaderless movement, in gathering more than seven million signatures from Egyptians withdrawing confidence from President Mohamed Morsi and holding early presidential elections on 30 June, the same day in which he ascended to power.
This is the third time collecting signatures has been used as a political tool in modern Egyptian history. The first petition collected signatures in 1918 from all over Egypt to legitimise the Egyptian delegation in the eyes of the United Kingdom and pressure the colonial power into allowing the delegation to participate in a peace conference in Paris. Despite initial resistance, the campaign succeeded, to many critics’ surprise. Signatures were collected again in 2010 to support the National Assembly for Change under the leadership of Mohamed ElBaradei. The petition campaign was able to gather a million signatures and its crucial role leading up to the 2011 revolution cannot be disputed.
Tamarod’s success has led Morsi’s supporters to establish a counter movement called Tagarod, which aims to discredit the “Rebellion” campaign by showing that the petition does not represent the entire Egyptian population. The division of Egyptian society into supporters or opponents of Tamarod is transforming the current polarisation from being Islamists versus secularists into Ikhwan versus anti-Ikhwan. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood feels threatened while revolutionaries feel that their hopes have been revived.
On one hand, Tamarod supporters argue that early elections are normal in democratic countries. On the other, Morsi supporters claim that elected presidents are entitled to complete their terms regardless of the level of public support. Neither of these contradictory claims is entirely true. In parliamentary systems early elections are normally called for by the prime minister in order to allow for larger representation for the ruling party that would help pass needed legislations. Meanwhile, the cabinet can only be removed through a motion of no-confidence that can only be raised in parliament. In presidential systems an elected official can be removed through recall elections before the end of his term.
Venezuela’s constitution allows for elections to be held if signatures of more than one fifth of registered voters are collected. This can end the elected official’s term through collecting more signatures than the votes he/she initially received. However, the Egyptian constitution doesn’t include recall elections. The president can only be impeached through an absolute two thirds majority vote of the parliament that is yet to be elected. Thus Egypt’s judiciary is not entitled to call for early elections as hoped by Tamarod.
Nevertheless, Tamarod argues that it enjoys revolutionary legitimacy as the campaign is derived by a will to accomplish the unfulfilled demands of the revolution and that these demands are more legitimate than the president himself. Meanwhile Tagarod argues that gathering 15 million signatures does not provide legitimacy to call for early elections as this is less than half the number of registered voters. In addition, the number of signatures could be exaggerated after Ahmed Fouad Negm confessed signing more than one form as a sign of immense support. However, the significance of 15 million votes cannot be ridiculed because it nearly equals the 17 million voters that went to the polls to vote on the constitution. Therefore, this argument delegitimises both the president and the highly controversial constitution as much as it delegitimises Tamarod.
As for the expected outcomes of the campaign, Tamarod organisers believe that synchronised nationwide demonstrations around the Presidential Palace will result in the toppling of the regime in a similar fashion to what happened in Tahrir in 2011. It shows that revolutionaries have not abandoned their romantic hopes of a second revolution. This scenario, however, is unlikely to occur due to the military’s reservations of intervening in political affairs following the short but catastrophic rule of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces. Removing Hosni Mubarak from the presidency was easier than ousting Morsi, who enjoys a large and highly coordinated support base that is willing to engage in counter demonstrations and even resort to violence. The possibility of bloody clashes has frequently been mentioned by representatives of Tagarod who emphasise their willingness to defend electoral legitimacy and politically vital landmarks like the Presidential Palace with their lives if needed.
Even if Tamarod succeeded in calling for an early election, there is nothing that guarantees that its outcome would be any better than last year’s polls. Thus the petition campaign should focus on what will happen beyond 30 June. It should establish an organisational structure that can transform Tamarod from a petition campaign into a practical social movement that can act as a solid base in the face of expected neoliberal policies which will crush the middle and lower classes for approval of the International Monetary Fund’s $4.8bn loan. Tamarod should call for a national conference and pressure the president into adopting its political, social and economic resolutions through industrial action. The campaign should also decide on whether or not to participate in the upcoming parliamentary elections and nominate its own candidates instead of waiting for the impotent and ineffective National Salvation Front to decide for the rest of the nation. It is time for the debilitated elite to step aside and for the true revolutionaries to rise. People care now about living and providing for their families more than they care about the judges, prosecutor general and the constitution all combined.
There is a storm coming, President Morsi, and you better be prepared.
Taher El Moataz Bellah is the Student Union President at the American University in Cairo and Vice President of the Egyptian Student Union for Private Universities.