Rebellion on the rocks

One year ago, Ahmed Abdou met with 15 young men in the Kefaya opposition movement’s headquarters. They were brainstorming ideas for a petition that would call for the civil impeachment of now-deposed President Mohamed Morsi.

One year later, Abdou has distanced himself from this group.

Those young men were the core of what came to be known as the Tamarod (Rebel) movement, a grassroots campaign that collected millions of signatures calling for Morsi’s ouster, and sparking the mass June 30 protests that ultimately led to his removal from power.

Morsi fell three days after those masses took to the streets, and the country’s strong military institution formed an interim government in his stead.

On July 26, then-Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi — today, the country’s newly elected president — urged Egyptians to take to the streets one more time to give him the mandate to “fight terrorism.” Less than a month later, on August 14 more than 1,000 people were killed in the bloody dispersal of two protest camps calling for Morsi’s return.

Abdou says that he and other Tamarod founders resigned from the group after it officially endorsed Sisi’s calls for a popular mandate to crack down on Islamists.

“I felt like a dirty game was being played on us. We were somehow used,” Abdou explains. For him, the movement was used as a cover to legitimize the the military’s intervention into the political arena following Morsi’s ouster.

A landmark shift in the unity of the movement occurred during the recent presidential election. A rift grew between the movement’s three major founders over which presidential candidate Tamarod should endorse. Only one year after its formation, Tamarod was divided into two fronts — one led by founders Mahmoud Abdel Aziz and Hassan Shaheen, who endorsed Nasserist candidate Hamdeen Sabbahi, and another led by founder Mahmoud Badr, who endorsed Sisi.

Both fronts claimed sole ownership of the movement and its core values. Badr and his followers controlled the movement’s official website and claimed they had dismissed members of the opposing group, while Shaheen and Aziz disavowed Badr and his control of the movement’s social media accounts, where a tug of war broke out.

Founder Islam al-Essawy, who endorsed Sabbahi, felt that Badr’s move was an attempt to export a certain viewpoint to the public by claiming that Tamarod, and hence Egypt’s youth in general, were supporting Sisi.

“This is not true. Tamarod is not an ideological movement, meaning that its members have different political ideas and stances. What others viewed as a split inside the movement was actually a difference in viewpoints,” Essawy explains.

For Essawy, who intends to run in the upcoming parliamentary election, Tamarod is now “non-existent.”

“Tamarod achieved its sole goal, which was calling for early presidential elections. Now that elections have been held, there is nothing called Tamarod,” he asserts.

Abdou shares the same sentiment. For him, Tamarod is “finished,” and today many are using it only for “mere political gains.”

Even those who supported Tamarod last year and signed its petition agree that Tamarod has had little long-term effect on the political scene.

Journalist Hager Hashem, 21, signed the petition to force Morsi out of office, but she now regrets her decision in light of what she calls the dissatisfactory political developments that followed his July 3 ouster.

“With its stances, Tamarod betrayed the revolution and its youth. The infiltration of Mubarak regime loyalists to June 30 protests, Tamarod’s support of the military’s intervention and its support of the authorization to kill political opponents were all signs that made me doubt Tamarod as a whole,” the journalist says.

On the other hand, Diaa Hameed, professor of urology at Assiut University, says he never regretted signing Tamarod’s form. However, he adds that Tamarod essentially disappeared in the Upper Egyptian city of Assiut after June 30, because its coordinator there was summoned by security forces following Morsi’s fall from power.

“He and other revolutionary youth in Assiut were summoned by authorities, and they remained on the run until they were pardoned,” he recalls.

As for elsewhere in the country, Tamarod did not initiate any subsequent activities except for public rallies organized by Badr, which Hameed claims were pointless.

Revolutionary youth who are critical of the military have also become increasingly critical of Tamarod, with some accusing the movement of being a mere “plot by the intelligence.”

But Mohamed Nabawy, the spokesperson for Badr’s group within Tamarod, believes  such accusations are “an honor that we cannot claim.”

No one actually controlled the situation last June 30, he says, asserting that neither Tamarod nor the military could have had any influence without the support of the Egyptian people themselves, because “Egyptians are the ones who led the process.”

For Nabawy, different political actors joined Tamarod for different, and sometimes conflicting, reasons.

“Supporters of [former presidential hopeful] Ahmed Shafiq collected endorsements for Tamarod believing that they could pave the way for his presidency. Sabbahi supporters believed he would be Egypt’s next president, and others simply wanted the Brotherhood out. There are as many differences inside the movement as there are speculations around it,” he explains.

Even the details of the behind-the-scenes preparations for June 30 and July 3 remain a matter of contention between the two fronts within Tamarod, as each claims ownership of the pivotal moments.

In an interview with the privately owned newspaper Al-Watan, Shaheen claimed that Sisi was opposed to forcing Morsi out of power, and instead proposed holding a referendum over whether he should stay or leave.

“It was the idea of Tamarod and other political forces attending the meeting to immediately get Morsi out of power,” Shaheen argued.

According to Shaheen, Sisi then asked the youth who should lead the country after Morsi’s deposition, “and our answer was Hamdeen Sabbahi. But Sisi remained silent.”

At 4 am on June 30, Shaheen says that he, Aziz and Badr swore on the Quran to continue on the revolution’s path, but “there are those who continue with the promise, and those who don’t, and everyone continues with his own road. We let time and history judge Mahmoud Badr.”

At an event on Monday commemorating Tamarod’s success on the first anniversary of the June 30 protests, Badr repudiated Shaheen’s claims as false.

“Shaheen was not present in this meeting at the first place,” Badr said sarcastically, eliciting a wave of applause from the attendees.

Nabawy adds that Tamarod is planning to register as a political party, a major point of conflict between the Badr camp and that of Shaheen and Aziz, who believe that Tamarod should merely remain as the movement that ousted Morsi.

“We are going to establish the Popular Arab Movement Party: Tamarod. We aim to run in the upcoming parliamentary and municipal elections,” says Nabawy. “It is time to stop talking and translate the demands of the revolution’s youth into programs and policies, and we believe we will be the voice of the revolution.”

However, not everyone is on board with taking the leap from a grassroots movement to a political party.

“One major point of contention between the two fronts was the future of the movement,” Essawy says. “Badr wanted to establish a political party, but not under the name Tamarod.”

Essawy believes that the movement was only meant to collect signatures to impeach Morsi and conduct early presidential elections.

“Having met these two objectives,” he says, “Tamarod should no longer exist.”

Mai Shams El-Din 

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