Back in Egypt (finally!!), I was dying to comment on the situation with my friends, particularly with the “journalist sect”. I was specially curious about how they assess the polarization that nowadays stands out as the biggest issue the country is facing, and whether a solution might eventually be found in that respect. I was surprised to listen to so many references to the “Third Square”, an entity weary of divisiveness and exclusion, tired of politicians clinging to power, fed up with their brethren’s swearing allegiance to either one or the other faction and dismissing any kind of concession. To sum up, a group of people who feel their dreams have been once and again betrayed by power-hungry figures vying for a higher rank but muttering at the same time empty words about freedom and the true will of Egyptians. A movement against both religious fascism and military rule. The first few ones who were brave enough to shout out loud they do not trust either the military or the Muslim Brotherhood were aware of the symbolism squares hold in Egypt, and thus decided to gather in a square not previously utilized by the main stakeholders nowadays, Cairo’s Sphinx Square in Giza. In the beginning, very few people attended, and those were cursed and insulted by people passing by. Many Egyptians have indeed decided to demonize any voice demanding to hold accountable all those who have been shedding blood. Many amongst those who accuse the military of excessive use of force have been portrayed as Muslim Brotherhood supporters and thus terrorists. In spite of that, marches and protests are currently spreading over other Egyptian cities.
Their main, though modest and at the same time broad, aim is to stress the need for middle ground, far from these emotionally charged speeches accusing one side of terrorism and the other of being infidels and undemocrats. They look forward to laying the foundations of a progressive erosion of the polarization and alienation that are putting Egypt on the verge of a dangerous spiral of violence and social conflict and, above all, on the verge of being considered as a lost cause by the rest of the world and little by little even turning into a failing state. They warn about their having gotten out of the frying pan and into the fire, currently stuck between two unappetizing choices: victimist bearded men who claim their legitimacy has been stolen, but have been proving for a year they were willing to build a sui generis theocracy, and an avenger army that has again in the name of the Revolution stolen (and under the outrageous motto “the Egyptian people and the army are one hand”) the transition process and has no qualms when resorting to violence in order to fight terrorism and instability. Indeed, making reference to Al-Sissi’s call for popular demonstrations against terror, one of the main arguments the security apparatus is leaning on, they point out that fighting terrorism does not need authorization, as it should be the duty of the armed forces. They use the same words as everybody else does: transitional justice, rule of law and national reconciliation, but do believe these are in the hands of the people and will never lie on any partisan institution. They protest the complete lack of neutrality, both in basic of its guarantors, such as the judiciary, the media, the church, and the very security services.
The first demonstration was called for after the massacre whereby 80 Muslim Brotherhood partisans were killed by security forces in clashes at a protest camp set up to demand Morsi’s return to power. But many have followed, chiefly thanks to social media and word by mouth. In contrast with the many partisan posters that have sprung up in the two faction’s respective camps (I was amazed by the number of pictures of Sissi invading certain areas of Cairo), their banners depict the faces of Morsi and Sisi crossed out in red accompanied by an unmistakable message: “topple all who betrayed us. No to theocracy. No to the military junta. Yes to a civil state”. The demonstrators also chanted against the United States and President Barack Obama for not backing the Egyptian people, shouting: “Barack, oh son of the people, shame on you”. Their numbers are still negligible compared to those who took to the streets in favour of the army’s intervention two weeks ago and to those who notwithstanding the heat and the fasting remain in the Raba’a al Adaweya sit-in. But they hope to gather momentum as days pass by without a single meaningful reform carried out by the interim government, the transition drags on following the steps of the 2011 SCAF rule, and people keep being killed in both sides. Besides, they are acting pretty wisely, as they are intentionally averting any kind of direct confrontation with the factions they publicly oppose to.
What is most shocking about the “movement” is its heterogeneity, as the Third Square gathers both liberals (spearheaded by the April 6 Youth Movement), socialists, moderate Islamists (former MB member Aboul Fotouh is one of its outstanding supporters) and part of the Salafists. They all share a deep feeling of disillusionment and betrayal, and they all reject the “black or white” attitude that has led Egypt where it stands now. Some believe they present similar features to the tiny groups that triggered the 2011 uprising, especially in what concerns their idealism and their lack of pragmatism (and thus their inexperience in politics). Above all, they deeply mistrust what they call paternalistic “counterrevolutionary forces”. They have a dream, they still believe their country may get rid of authoritarianism and embrace freedom and dignity, and that is enough for them. Not all revolutionaries share that view, though: for instance, the Tamarrud movement accuses them of splitting Egypt’s “revolutionary forces”. Nonetheless, the Pro-Morsi side is showing more leniency towards this new move, maybe out of desperation in their looking for allies, and they say they tolerate other protest movements as long as they oppose the military’s new role of king-maker (or maybe simply of new king?). Their stance goes by “even if Morsi doesn’t come back, at least the army has two squares to deal with”.
One of the main targets of their criticism is the much lauded roadmap set in place by the military, a plan that even though it envisages parliamentary and presidential elections, however foresees no dates and deadlines for the transitional period. Its members feel there is an urge to remind Egyptians they all together, regardless of their background and political affiliation, need to continue to work to achieve the goals of the January 2011 Revolution most of the country is still so proud of. The Third Square movement believes it is necessary to chase away this dangerous simplistic “you-are-either-with-us-or-against-us, because this is a zero-sum game” stance (both shared by the people, the pundits and the media) and instead find a common denominator: recovering the feeling of having to achieve an honorable common cause: the building of a free, democratic and civil Egypt. This idea was appealing enough when removing Egypt’s ex-presidents Hosni Mubarak and Mohamed Morsi and creating the pressure that moved Field Marshal Tantawi along the transition roadmap.
Hatred will not solve either of Egypt’s problems, and many are starting to get their act together and be aware of that. They have a scary example of what could ensue before them: Egypt has never been Syria or Lebanon, but it might well be in two or three years. The Egyptian people is a great millennia-old honorable people conscious of its influence and significance throughout History. Why the short-memory now? A flyer used by the group to call for protests sums everything perfectly well: “Egyptian people are not and will not be one bloc. [Egyptian people are] diverse, pluralistic, and include different and contradicting groups. [The Third Square] is against excluding any bloc in favour of others for any reason”.