|Abu-Hamed On August 24|
“Is this all the remaining opposition to the Brotherhood?!”
While going through the twitter timeline on August 24, I have come across such a statement in one form or another, one tone or another, one intended meaning or another. After much prolonged hype, only several thousand protesters in Cairo, and lesser numbers in a few governorates, marched while canting with fervent passion “down with the rule of the Morshid!” - the “Morshid” being the Arabic word for the Supreme Guide of the MB. Eventually, their numbers declined into several hundred, then dwindled to tens as they staged a sit-in by the presidential palace to voice their demands, led by former MP Mohammed Abu-Hamed. While some appeared to suggest that the images demonstrate that opposition to the Brotherhood was effectively negligible, and some did indeed echo that sentiment across the social media sphere (not just non-Egyptians) the statement was rather quite far from the truth, despite all the problems facing Egypt’s liberal opposition. In fact, a quick glance at the same social media on August 24th and beyond revealed what appeared to be a significant (albeit questionable) satirical derision of the protests and the protesters, almost equally from many Islamists and Secularists observers and commentators alike. As of late Sunday evening, Abu-Hamed announced he had ended the sit in, while few protesters remained on their own. Then, a couple of days later he called for new protests on the 6th of October against the "hegemony of the ikhwan," intentionally coinciding with the anniversary of the October War.
The reality is that much of the more mainstream opposition forces to the Brotherhood itself decidedly boycotted the “August Revolution,” never did any rallying for them, some even used harsh rhetoric against them, and they did so for several reasons.
The first was the identity of those spearheading the call for protests themselves. On one hand was the infamous Tawfiq Okasha, the owner and chief host of the Nationalist Al-Faraeen TV Channel. Okasha and his channel have been the subject of criticism by a wide spectrum of Egypt’s political forces and even the media community for what has been consensually deemed to be unprofessional conduct, a continuous espousal of conspiracy theories that would make Glenn Beck appear to be a Renaissance man, and non-stop slander of activists and politicians.
The second - and principle - leader of the “revolution” has been the increasingly controversial former MP Mohammed Abu-Hamed. A financial consultant who first gained limited fame as a teacher of the Quran, Abu-Hamed was catapulted to the forefront of the post-revolutionary Egyptian scene as a leading member of the liberal Free Egyptians Party, as well as being the party’s star candidate for the parliament. Abu-Hamed was heavily presented as someone who could reconcile Islamic religious tradition and liberalism, while his youth, his sharpness, his initial well-spoken manner as well as some of his earlier actions excited many on Egypt’s pro-revolution and liberal fronts. However, almost as fast as he skyrocketed, Abu-Hamed commenced a sharp decline.
His increasingly angry rhetoric and form in the media began to alienate some of his base (though it gained him the support of a few others as well.) Then, in a startling move, the former MP gave a speech in Lebanon addressing Samir Geagea, a former Lebanese Forces leader who was convicted for crimes during the Lebanese Civil war. According to heavily-circulated news reports (I have not watched the speech in full), Abu-Hamed referred to Geagea as an inspiration, a “symbol of revolution and standing-one’s-ground in the entire Arab world,” a “Christian Muslim” who is “a symbol of the Islamic-Christian partnership in the land of Lebanon,” only to end his speech by “Thank you, our sir. You have inspired us.” (Quotes via AMAY) The speech, as well as his attempted clarification of his words, both created an avalanche of criticism from which the former MP’s image could not effectively rebound. Abu-Hamed also resigned the Free Egyptians Party amid speculations of internal discomfort with his conduct as well as a growing ambition (at 39, he had announced he would run for President if the laws governing the elections were amended to allow candidates younger than 40), and began founding his own “The Life Of Egyptians” Party, whose name was likened to the title of a dubbed telenovela. Moreover, after previously espousing anti-SCAF rhetoric and calling for trial of its members, Abu-Hamed came out vociferously in support of the Military Council as well as of Ahmed Shafiq in the Presidential Elections, a secular candidate with some association with the previous regime. The latest in a line of controversial statements was when Abu-Hamed recently suggested that the pyramids were "more sacred" than Al-Aqsa mosque in a video taken of him speaking in a church about the discourse on identity in the Egyptian state.
And with both Abu-Hamed and Okasha previously coming out in strong support of Shafiq in the elections as well as Okasha’s general staunch support of Omar Soleiman and SCAF, the protests were substantially dubbed as felool protests - with “felool” being the word for a remnant of the former regime.
Then there were the demands of the “revolution” itself. In the earlier build up to the protests there seemed to be a general understanding that these protests were calling for downfall of Mohamed Morsy, the dissolution of the Brotherhood and even seemed to be welcoming a military coup. With Morsy being an (just-) elected president however, there was no sense in liberal movements roaming the streets calling for his downfall. Moreover, with Morsy managing to neutralise former intelligence head Murad Mowafi as well as SCAF’s Tantawi, Sami Anan and much of the military council in his historic reshuffles, and with the earlier passing away of Omar Soleiman, the organisers of the “August” revolution knew they had lost their potential trump cards. Demands were “lowered” to primarily include the official registration and legal oversight of the Brotherhood’s funding and activities, enacting laws against politicised appointments to state institutions to prevent the “Ikhwanisation” of the state, investigation of prison breaks and police station-burnings during the revolution and any potential role of the MB therein, dissolving the current “sectarian” constituent assembly, calling for a new coalition government to replace the government of PM Hisham Qandil, and others. And according to El-Badil newspaper, Abu-Hamed had also stated that if enough people joined the protests, he would call for a 5-man presidential council which would include Morsy as well as military and other figures to run the country while a new constitution was set. The Sunday following the protests, Abu-Hamed was referred to investigation over accusations of plotting to overthrow the elected president and his government following a complaint by a citizen who claimed, according to Ahram Online, that he had evidence of the former MP receiving aid while in Lebanon with the goal of inciting sectarian strife.
Then there was the eventual public perception. Other than those who did participate or sympathised with the protests, by the end of the countdown public opinion seemed to be largely divided between those who felt these protests were objectionable, those who felt they would amount to nothing and those who were being affected by claims that violence and destruction allegedly set to happen on the 24th. The FJP's site, as a part of what seemed to be a wider propaganda anti-campaign, even published a macabre claim on the eve of the protests that a "source" told them that Ahmed Shafiq was setting 5 million dollars to hire 22,000 thugs, was coordinating with "leftists and liberals" who supported his campaign as well as fired SS officers and former NDP men, was planning to attack vital state institutions and prison stations, and mentioned incredible prices for the thugs and hired fake protesters among a list of other claims that appeared to be taken from the former regime's propaganda playbook.
Of course, this entire affair raised many questions and comments. Setting aside the August 24 protests themselves, some lamented the overall form of the anti-Ikhwan opposition and its landscape in general, the fragmentation of the opposition, questioned who can speak in its name, and some of course wondered whether such an opposition theoretically has capability of rallying massive amounts of people into the streets if ever desired to do so.
One other question remained on how the more mainstream and post-revolutionary opposition groups could handle the expected return of Ahmed Shafiq to Egyptian politics and his allegedly soon-to-be-announced new political party. Shafiq, who only lost the elections by a relatively narrow margin, is a self-styled liberal and a staunch anti-Brotherhood opponent who still theoretically commands considerable support, but bears the label of “folool.” Some, of course, wondered if the word felool would ever have an expiration date, and questioned definitions of it.
The return of Ahmed Shafiq or an anointed successor to the helm of a political party or movement could “theoretically” either lead to the creation of a wider liberal alliance that would, however, be more easily publicly defamed as aligning itself with the former regime, or create an even more fragmented and competitive liberal/secular front. Both options would be painful in the course of fast approaching parliamentary elections wherein the liberal front is desperate for a united concerted effort.