What Happened to Egypt's Liberals After the Coup?

Abu Eita is also a founding member of the Nasserist Karama Party, along with Hamdeen Sabahi, who championed military intervention even before June 30. "It's as though they are imagining that Sisi is Gamal Abdel Nasser," Beinin says. "It's simply bizarre that they have just literally forgotten what the army did in 2011 and 2012, when it was in control." After Mubarak's ouster, the military took a harsh stance against organized labor, criminalizing strikes and work stoppages, arresting protesters and labor activists, and even using the military's own labor force to undermine strikes.

Two weeks later, Abu Eita was appointed minister of manpower and migration in the transitional government, in what some viewed as a victory for the workers' movement. However, fears that his appointment was part of an effort to co-opt the movement appeared to be well-founded when he did little to protect workers from harsh security crackdowns against two strikes in mid-August, at the Suez Steel Company and at Scimitar Petroleum Company. The military also deployed armored personnel carriers in an attempt at intimidation in and around the Misr Textile Company in Mahalla, where nearly 20,000 workers were on strike demanding better wages and overdue bonuses.

While EFITU has maintained complete support for the military despite the clearly authoritarian nature of the new regime, a business-friendly cabinet and growing evidence that workers' rights will remain largely unaddressed, other labor groups, like the Center for Trade Union Worker Services, have begun to speak out, albeit in a tactical manner.

"My read is that they are moving in the direction of being more critical, but they are very cognizant of the fact that they can be smashed," says Beinin. "It's a tactical question for them: How much can they come out in opposition and still be safe?"

Monday traffic honks and snarls around a few dozen protesters gathered in Talaat Harb Square as a hazy, mid-September dusk settles on Cairo. The crowd is small and mostly made up of young men and women. They chant against both the army and the Muslim Brotherhood and rail against the growing spate of random arrests, military trials and the recently extended state of emergency. The protest was called for by the April 6 Youth Movement, along with a number of other groups, including the Revolutionary Socialists.

April 6 played a key role in the 2011 revolution and then went on to support Morsi in the June 2012 runoff election against Ahmed Shafiq, Mubarak's last prime minister, who represented a return to the old regime. Yet the group began to turn against Morsi within the first few months of his presidency, amid disagreements over the constitution; the killing of one of its members, Gaber "Jika" Salah, by the police; and Morsi's fateful November 2012 constitutional declaration, which gave him temporary far-reaching powers and placed his decisions beyond the reach of the courts.

April 6 took part in protests against Morsi in early 2013 and wholeheartedly supported the June 30 demonstrations calling for early presidential elections. Yet after Morsi was toppled, the group quickly began to distance itself from the military and the interim government amid what it saw as greater army control over the state, a flawed constitutional roadmap and a re-empowered security apparatus.

"We are still continuing the January 25 revolution," says Zizou Abdo, a prominent April 6 member, who takes a break from leading chants to survey the small demonstration. "This turnout is great in terms of the situation we are in, with the nationalistic atmosphere and the current media narrative," he says, likening the scene to protests before the revolution against Mubarak, which were usually sparsely attended and surrounded by security forces.

A small number of counter-protesters gather near the demonstration and scream at the crowd for daring to protest the military. "Sisi saved us!" yells one woman in a zebra- patterned top. "Why are you helping the Brotherhood?"

Abdo is undeterred. "This is the fourth round of the revolution after Mubarak, the military council and the Brotherhood. We hope this next fight will be the one," he says.

The political position of April 6 broadly reflects the views of a number of independent revolutionary activists, human rights attorneys, writers and organizers who have consistently spoken out against the authoritarian nature of the state and those running it since Mubarak was forced to step down. Some were more ambivalent about the June 30 protests, as they began to see, in its final weeks, that the rhetoric and goals of the demonstrations were being hijacked by the military and elements tied to the former regime.

For the most part, these figures felt pushed out of the discourse in the period following Morsi's ouster, as the confrontation between the military and the Brotherhood grew. In recent weeks, some have begun to organize around specific issues, such as calling for a ban on military trials of civilians in the forthcoming constitution or advocating for Syrian and Palestinian refugees who have been increasingly targeted by the authorities and vilified in the media.

On September 24, scores of them held a press conference to announce the formation of a new organization, The Road of the Revolution Front. The group "aims to focus attention on the main aims of January 25: bread, freedom and social justice," according to its founding statement, and rejects any alliance with the Muslim Brotherhood or the security state, which it sees as two wings of the counterrevolution.

"This is not something new; everyone here has spent a very long time working together," says Alaa Abdel Fattah, a renowned blogger and activist who was jailed under Mubarak and by the military and received an arrest warrant under Morsi. "We have been building this network for more than ten years. The idea is to make this network into a cohesive entity. We can't promise we will succeed, but we know for sure that we will stay allied."

Tags: egypt, morsi, mubarak, muslim brotherhood

    • Sharif Abdel Kouddous
    • Sharif Abdel Kouddous is an independent journalist based in Cairo. For eight years he served as a senior producer, co-host, and correspondent for Democracy Now! and he remains a frequent contributor to the program. Originally from Cairo, he returned to Egypt in 2011 to cover the Egyptian revolution. He has written for The Natio...

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