Portrait of a Cairo Liberal as a Military Backer


Joshua Hersh in The New Yorker:

Aboul-Ghar’s reputation in pro-democracy politics is well earned. In 2004, during the era of Hosni Mubarak, Aboul-Ghar co-founded the March 9th organization, a group of professors who bravely fought against the interference of state-security services into the operations of Egypt’s universities. In the run up to the 2011 revolution, he was an organizer and spokesman for the National Association for Change, an anti-authoritarian organization led by Mohammed ElBaradei, the Nobel Prize Winner and Egypt’s most prominent liberal politician. And after Mubarak finally fell, he helped create what many viewed as the most substantial political party for liberals, the Social Democratic Party. That fall, as a temporary military regime ruled Egypt, I had met with Aboul-Ghar, who happily assured me that the military would soon be leaving the management of the country to civilians. “My feeling is that the military wants to have a safe retreat,” he said then. “A safe retreat and all their previous privileges.”

But after a year of the Presidency of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood politician who won Egypt’s first free Presidential election, in 2012, Aboul-Ghar had soured on the electoral process he had helped to put in place. Last November, after Morsi said in a speech that he was immune from judicial oversight, Aboul-Ghar joined many of his liberal colleagues in outrage. Morsi had also worried many revolutionaries by consolidating power among his Brotherhood allies, expanding religion in public life, and pushing through a referendum on a constitution that seemed too oriented toward the Brotherhood’s agenda. On June 30th, a new activist group called Tamarod, or Rebellion, called for a country-wide day of protest to demand that Morsi resign. The alternative, it was understood, was removal by the military. Aboul-Ghar stayed on the streets until midnight. Three days later, the military detained Morsi and suspended the constitution.

“Would the Americans have been willing to wait four years for Nixon to finish his term?” Aboul-Ghar asked, as we sat in his living room, sipping tea brought to us by his wife. He was dressed casually in a yellow shirt and light-colored slacks; he looked a little like he had just woken up. All around us, the walls of his apartment were covered with works of fine art from Egyptian painters. (“They’re very famous,” he told me. “And expensive.”) On the coffee table in front of him was a draft, written in long hand on printer paper, of his weekly column for the newspaper Al-Masry Al-Youm. “And remember, Nixon did much less than Morsi did.”