Brothers misjudged opposition’s potential to mobilize people. Liberals and leftists have shown that they are almost as popular among people as Brothers and Salafis
December last year, I met Ola Shabah in Cairo along with two other activists. Together we visited polling stations as voters went to elections to elect first ever parliament in the post-Mobarak Egypt. A year on, I am looking at Ola’s picture showing her tortured face.
Along with many other left activists, she was taken as hostage by the Brotherhood militia on December 5 and was brutally mishandled. According to Mostafa Mouhie, President Morsi’s followers attacked a gathering of secular opposition in Cairo and kept Ola in custody for four hours after taking her hostage. Ola’s friend and a journalist by profession, Mouhie says Ola Shabah was tortured (battered) during the custody. According to Mouhie, while Ola was set free there are others still in Brothers’ custody.
According to Ahram Online, supporters of President Morsi detained 83 opposition "thugs" during clashes at the presidential palace on Wednesday, Abdel-Moneim Abdel-Maqsoud, a lawyer for the Muslim Brotherhood, has said.
When I met Ola Shabah, founding member of the new Socialist Popular Alliance Party, last year in a Cairo suburb, she was visibly stressed and was badly coughing owing to all the tear gas she had inhaled during the demonstrations. We were waiting on Ola at the office of a youth organisation (Freedom Youth Movement). Ola is active with this youth group consisting of youth with leftist orientation as well as religious bent. However, all of them believe in social justice.
‘It seems I haven’t slept since the start of revolution in January. I am exhausted. But that’s how it is. We got to work day in and day out,’ she said. As we shuttled between various polling stations, she told me that she was not a feminist. ‘I understand but you are more feminist than many who claim to be feminists,’ I told her. I recognized her argument. It was a familiar argument from post-revolution Iran. Young women activists in Iran did not want to speak about women oppression either in 1979. There were acute matters facing them. Partly, they were right. It was a matter of life and death, although on men’s conditions. Iranian women realized it afterwards. Women active in political parties and various other organisations did not see themselves as ‘women’. By being ‘women’, they did not want to accept a secondary position in the struggle. They did all what men were doing, in fact they did even more. They did not want to appear as a victim or split from the group by raising the banner of women oppression at the time.
The day I spent with Ola, I proudly observed how strong and tough she was. She was engaging in heated discussions especially with Brotherhood supporters. ‘A fearless person’, I scribbled in my notebook. From my “Iranian experience” I could guess that sooner or later she would be punished by patriarchic society. Unfortunately, my fears have materialized. But she is an Egyptian woman. From hospital’s bed she will return to Cairo streets to mobilize youth against the new dictator. As a matter of fact she is attending a TV-show on Thursday evening in order to tell the Egyptian people what has happened to her!
According to journalist and activist Mostafa Mouhie, many women were mishandled on streets on December 4.
Pictures and video clips doing rounds on the social sites substantiate Mouhie’s claim. Similarly, all the women rights bodies are talking about a war on Egyptian women.
So far the reports indicate 6 dead and 450 injured in clashes at Egypt's presidential palace.
Contextualizing the ongoing struggle
Presidential decree issued on November 22 grants President Morsi an unlimited constitutional power until a new constitution is in place. The opposition has opposed this declaration. Moreover, Morsi is planning referendum to approve a constitution in practice dictated by Muslim Brotherhood. Secular opposition, human rights organisations and women groups are opposing these moves. They say that the proposed constitution does not fulfill revolution’s aims and Morsi has become a second Mubarak.
Mass mobilizations in big cities like Cairo and Alexandria to oppose Morsi’s decree and proposed constitution have scared the Brotherhood. The Brothers misjudged opposition’s potential to mobilize people. Liberals and leftists have shown that they are almost as popular among people as Brothers and Salafis. Many who voted for Morsi also joined the demonstrations, demanding Morsi’s resignation and laying the siege outside Presidential palace. They have been disillusioned by Morsi and Brotherhood’s poor economic performance and bad politics.
Brotherhood in collaboration with Salafis also mobilized in defense of Morsi who fled the Presidential Palace and stayed silent for days. They also attempted to organize street marches on December 5. Opposition activists had gathered outside Presidential palace and at Tahrir Square. According to activists, Brotherhood bussed in armed supporters who attacked opposition gatherings. The activists I spoke with say: the struggle between secular forces who ushered in the revolution and Muslim Brotherhood, which joined the revolution in February when revolution was about to strike final blow to Mubarak dictatorship, is still on. This struggle, they say, will be decided in the days to come on streets!
Sholeh Irani is Chief Editor of Iranian Women's magazine Avaye Zan, published since 1991. She also free-lances and is engaged in feminist struggles.