In his hubris the president assumed that the Tahrir would remain marginal. Actually the exclusion of the Tahrir from the constitutional process dates back to the time of the bloc between the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and the military. Then came the clash between the MB on one side and the military junta with the judicial apparatus loyal to them on the other side. The idea behind Mursi’s operation looked as if he wanted to draw support and legitimacy by partially adopting the Tahrir’s demands against the judiciary thus taking the wind out of the Tahrir’s sails. The Islamists presumed to marginalise any opposition to their leadership by marking them as secularists and subsuming them under the old regime. They really seem to believe their own narrative of overwhelming popular support – a tremendous and possibly costly error.
But the Tahrir rose again in a very powerful way. It forged a broad coalition of all forces whose only common ground is to refuse the Islamists. It roughly represents half of the people – a weak half, however, for its lacks not only articulation and organisation but a societal project. In this uneasy alliance of leftists, liberals and secular elites the Tahrir is in danger to fall prey to the embrace of some remnants of the old regime. The Islamists are reproaching this to the Tahrir – though they for their part merged with the less secular parts of the old regime.
Mursi indeed was surprised by the strength of the upheaval against the consolidation of the MB’s rule. He had to withdraw his authoritarian degree armouring the exclusively Islamist-led constitutional process. Only with great troubles the MB could carry out the constitutional referendum paying a high price. Despite the full use of their powerful apparatus and with Salafi flank protection they could secure a miserable turn-out of about one third of the electorate. Also 10 percentage points advance for the Yes over the No is far from a sweeping victory and falsifies the Islamist claim to represent the people’s will. In the political nerve centre Cairo they even lost. Also in the province Gharbiyya, which is home to the industrial town of Mahalla, those workers had an important share in brewing the democratic revolt against Mubarak. Furthermore there are countless accusations of irregularities and rigging attributed to the MB’s apparatus eating away legitimacy.
Nobody can speak of the sweeping victory, the Islamists were so sure of. The formal success of the Islamists in points is in reality a continued stalemate and could under certain circumstances even turn into a Pyrrhic victory. After this tremendous error of the MB the ball is now with the Tahrir. The outcome of the current round of conflict will depend on its political intelligence.
Synthetically speaking there are two scenarios: On one hand the secularist frontal attack to topple Mursi. On the other hand the preliminary acceptance of an Islamic government with a systematic opposition pressing for deep democratic and social reforms.
The first variant detects the Islamists as the main danger. There is a wide range of possible readings from ultra-leftist to liberal-secular. They have in common that they regard Mursi as a usurper who needs to be broad down immediately. They tend to belittle the popular influence and roots of the Islamists. They polarise the conflict along the Islamic-secular divide whether they want it or not thus supplying their enemies with powerful ammunition: the claim that it is all about Islam. Eventually they help to compact the Islamist camp instead of differentiating it.
Here the second variant steps in. It accepts the assumption that Islamism and especially the MB could sink deep roots into the people (regardless of the debate whether they are a majority or only a well-organised minority). But significant sections of their constituencies are not immune towards the demands of the revolutionary democratic movement or even support them while at the same time they remain attached to the symbolism of Islam. One central idea of this approach is that the masses need (and have the right) to go through the practical experience of an Islamic and/or Islamist government in order to make up their minds. That does in no way mean to surrender to such a government or to passively tolerate it. On the contrary, the democratic, social and anti-imperialist demands of the majority must be placed before the Islamic government, to be insisted on, to be enforced and the necessary criticism developed in order to push ahead a process of maturation – consciously not questioning the central role of political Islam in forming the government. For a certain period of time the role of opposition should be accepted (which by the way helps to get rid of the unwanted allies of the old regime which would be necessary to bring down the Islamists). In order to raise the question of power the Tahrir would require rallying the vast majority of the people. To assume this clout for now or any time soon would mean to addict to the same hubris the Islamist fell prey to – but even without their formidable apparatus.
There are three fields the Tahrir might focus on:
a) To continue the struggle for a constituent assembly elected by popular vote. Also after the referendum the criticism to the constitutional process for its castrated, controlled and undemocratic character remains valid. But that does not mean to boycott the institutions emanating from this process. The struggle for hegemony should include the elections to these bodies despite the necessary criticism to their profound limits. One must not forget that for the first time in history substantially different political programme could be articulated and voted in an electoral campaign – regardless of all shortcomings and manipulations people are right to welcome this as a progress.
b) The social question is becoming more and more explosive preparing the ground for the development of a social revolutionary force. It is not by accident that Mursi postponed austerity measures imposed by the global capitalist oligarchy like the end to price subsidies for food and fuel to after the referendum. But a concept, a programme for an independent social development against the capitalist elite remains to be sketched, developed and spread. This will take time.
c) To insist on the popular demand for national independence pushing back western and Israeli domination. But beware of verbal radicalism. Whoever wants to revoke Camp David will need to face a frontal conflict with the concentrated power of imperialism (not only militarily). Such an all-out clash can also get lost as the 1967 history teaches. It requires preparation. The only preparation is the deepening of the Egyptian and Arab revolution against the global and local capitalist elites which stands only at its very beginning.