‘Rebellion’ Campaign: Not undemocratic, but not quite useful…yet

H.A. Hellyer
H.A. Hellyer Scholar - Carnegie Endowment for International Peace

May 28, 2013

In the past few weeks, media circles in Cairo have been buzzing with talk of a new grassroots campaign designed to end President Mohamed Morsi’s term in office. In a matter of weeks, the campaign claims it has managed to collect in excess of 2 million signatures calling for early presidential elections. Opponents of the initiative claim that the campaign, Tamarod, is undemocratic, and facilitates the return to power of the former regime. Is Tamarod undemocratic, really? And even if it is not, is it likely to succeed?

The basic idea behind Tamarod (which means “Rebellion”) is that if the president won the elections last year by virtue of some 13 million votes, then a grassroots campaign that gets in excess of that would necessitate a new round of presidential elections. It seems logical enough, but it is not quite that simple.

There are a few points to raise at the outset. Firstly, while many of those in support of the campaign are the same people who argued that the results of the past few elections have suffered from wide-scale fraud, it is not clear that there are sufficient measures in place to prevent fraud in this campaign. There is a website in place, but what else? Secondly, is the campaign aware that, legally speaking; if the president resigns it is the Prime Minister, Hesham Qandil, who takes over? One imagines the campaign would not be entirely satisfied by that outcome either. Finally, has the campaign prepared itself for a stage after the resignation of President Morsi? Is there an actual alternative waiting in the wings?

These are some of the basic questions to be raised. The campaign probably does not have very good answers to any of them, but that is really beside the point for this grassroots effort. The Tamarod campaign should not be viewed as a campaign that actually can, or even should, bring down President Morsi on the first-year anniversary of his electoral victory. For different sectors of society, however, it ought to signify three different messages.

For the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters, Tamarod should be something of a wake-up call. The response to this campaign has essentially been one of dismissal, and rather illogical dismissal at that; a senior member disregarded the campaign for having only two million votes, when Morsi won with 12 million last year. Is the idea, then, that if Tamarod gets 13 million signatures, the jig is up? Of course not. Nevertheless, the Muslim Brotherhood needs to recognise, once and for all, that President Morsi never had a mandate backed by a majority of the populace. He was the second choice for the population, faced with the option of Mubarak’s last prime minister, and he barely won even against that. He was not even the first choice for the Muslim Brotherhood itself, if one recalls. Does Tamarod need to get 30 million signatures for the Muslim Brotherhood to recognise that President Morsi’s popularity is not remotely what it was, and that he cannot blame the opposition for that?

For the Egyptian public, the campaign is merely a confirmation that a large portion of Egyptians are incredibly dissatisfied with President Morsi’s achievements over the past year. We cannot know how many they are, percentage wise, as the existing polls are not particularly reliable in this regard. However, in the coming weeks, a new research study on the issue ought to be launched, with analysis from Egyptian and non-Egyptian analysts; that should reveal far more information on this particular point (stay tuned).

For Tamarod and its supporters, the campaign could very easily become entirely irrelevant. It is highly unlikely that the campaign can actually force early presidential elections, and 30 June, the date of the proposed protest, just happens to be a Sunday (a weekday) in the heat of summer. Why 28 June, a Friday (and a day off), was not chosen, I am not sure, but either way no-one should expect there to be sufficient crowds to provoke a huge standoff similar to the likes of the 18 days of the beginning of this revolution.

But there does not need to be a stand-off, and the more the Tamarod movement portrays 30 June as a stand-off, the more it stands to lose momentum the next day. If they are clever, the opposition ought to portray 30 June as the beginning of a movement, not the end of one. That movement should be clear in their goal: the establishment of a wide-ranging, centrist political force that can genuinely fulfil the goals of the 25 January Revolution and represent all sectors of Egyptian society with a proper alternative to the present government.  Of course, that will necessitate ensuring that all members of the movement actually support the revolution.

This campaign is not undemocratic; there is nothing undemocratic about requesting (without the force of arms or violence) for an earlier-than-expected presidential election, but it may not be entirely useful either. Of course, the Egyptian opposition has been there before; they had the opportunity to build a genuinely grassroots presence all across the country through a powerful mobilisation of a “no” vote in the constitutional referendum last year. However, they failed completely to capitalise on that moment, and their momentum completely fizzled out.

They have another shot at it on 30 June, and the Muslim Brotherhood does as well. Both supporters and antagonists to the government have the opportunity to actually serve the interests of Egypt at large, or they can fail, in which case the country slips closer and closer to a financial meltdown. If wide-scale riots take place because of economic pressures, neither the Muslim Brotherhood nor the opposition will be able to do much about it, or control what comes next.

Is the Tamarod campaign democratic? Well, it is not undemocratic, but if it is to be useful, it will have to do a lot more than it is calling for right now.


Vis-a-vis the above: a small clarification according to the constitution, the scenario of Prime Minister Hisham Kandil taking over comes into effect 
only if there is a temporary absence of the President. If the absence is permanent, then the Speaker of the House of Representatives (Majlis al-Sha’ab) takes over before calling for new presidential elections. If there is no House of Representatives, then it would be the Speaker of the Shura Council. If there is no Shura Council… Well, that would be a problem