When is Zimbabwe’s Tahrir Moment?
Posted Monday, July 30 2012 at 16:03
Mr Mohammed Morsys rise to power on the back of street protests and resolve by Egypt’s activists presents an example of grit by ordinary citizens in taking on the might of a powerful military establishment, not once, but thrice in 18 months.
Egypt’s experiences will be particularly instructive in my homeland. With the constitutional logjam in Zimbabwe, where the military under President Robert Mugabe prevented a democratic transition after the March 2008 elections, and southern African leaders cobbled up a coalition between him and his long-time opponent, Morgan Tsvangirai, there have been no ‘Tahrir moments’ to speak of.
But that there is a thirst for change is well-documented. Hundreds of Zimbabweans died between March and December of 2008 because the electorate voted for a new president.
Voting for change is one thing, though. Delivering it is, as the Egyptians have demonstrated, quite another. Much more effort, sacrifice, loss of life and limb is required in getting the change to happen.
It was the people of Egypt who heroically fought for leadership change. They achieved this victory for themselves and by themselves. They idolised no one, allowing no individual to take the credit and recognising no political formation as synonymous with the revolution.
Mubarak’s removal in February last year was greeted with celebration in Tahrir Square, the iconic focus of the revolution. In the days after the army conceded to people pressure and forced Mubarak’s hand – the first ‘Tahrir Moment’ – the crowds thinned, and then disappeared.
But they were soon back in force, fearing they had replaced a civilian dictator with a military one in Field Marshal Mohammed Tantawi and his unelected Higher Military Council. Tantawi responded by speeding up parliamentary and presidential elections – another concession to public pressure.
When, on the eve of the second round of the presidential election, Egypt’s elected parliament was dissolved and the military apportioned itself legislative powers, Egyptians took to the streets.
Morsy’s electoral victory was delayed as the authorities withheld the results, an eerie parallel to the intervention of Zimbabwe’s generals in March 2008, when Tsvangirai defeated Mugabe in the first round of the presidential election.
As with Zimbabwe, it seemed the military would derail the democratic transition in Egypt. But ordinary Egyptians were having none of it.
Tahrir Square erupted once more, with demands for the authorities to release the results. They eventually did – the third ‘Tahrir Moment’ – and Egyptians were able to inaugurate their first elected leader.
As ordinary Zimbabweans mutter helplessly, as nearly a third of their productive citizens are working abroad, as their leaders bicker endlessly and one side makes all the concessions, a legitimate question may be asked: Where is Zimbabwe’s Tahrir Square? What, if any, are its moments? And who is going to make them happen?
Mr Tsvangirai, the winner of the first round of the 2008 presidential elections, accepted a junior role in the government of the man he defeated. Somewhere in the mist thrown up by African diplomacy, the loser of a legitimate election came up tops
Tsvangirai was co-opted into an exclusive club in which Mugabe holds all the cards. Together, they have trodden over key demands made by ordinary Zimbabweans in the public constitutional hearings, including one that bars persons over the age of 80 from seeking election.
Mr Peel is a lecturer, Department of Communication, Daystar University.