Seven Observations on Egypt's Crisis

Following Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi's ouster, the new leadership made a number of mistakes that must be corrected to ensure the country’s stable future.

al-monitor A woman sells tea near the site of burnt vehicles in the area of the Rabia al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, Aug. 28, 2013. Photo by REUTERS/Louafi Larbi.

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violence, politics, muslim, egypt

Aug 29, 2013

The Egyptian scene is complicated and chaotic. The cultural, political and media division determines the positions of all parties and pushes them toward escalating acts of violence, hatred and excluding the other, without taking into consideration the real risk of slipping into chaos and a never-ending conflict exhausting all parties, including the army. Such a conflict reduces the chances of establishing a democratic transformation and restoring Egypt's internal security, national unity and political and economic vitality.

The troubled Egyptian scene is full of contradictions, and no longer contains voices calling for ending bloodshed and holding dialogue between the new leadership and the Muslim Brotherhood, despite the fact that all parties claim to be seeking appeasement and national reconciliation. On the other hand, radical voices have risen up within each camp, aimed at eliminating the other and producing fascist discourses based on lies and superficial and strange rhetoric. This creates multiple obstacles preventing dialogue and coexistence formulas. In this context, the following observations may be made:

1. Many humanitarian and nationalistic values​​ — which are supposed to guide the political conflict — have disappeared, undermining the credibility of all parties. Political and media elite and businessmen took contradictory positions based on double standards. They exerted every effort to exploit religious and patriotic feelings among the Egyptian public and the blood of the dead and injured, using their photos [to garner support]. Evidence and examples are numerous. Supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi staged several protests and sit-ins, violently denounced the police and demanded the trial of Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi for failing to protect the protesters. Last year, these same protesters were demanding a greater role for the police in protecting public facilities and preventing sit-ins that disrupted traffic. Of course, they never demanded that Morsi be tried for failing to protect protesters — some of whom were even killed in front of the presidential palace. On the other hand, the National Salvation Front (NSF) remained silent on the use of excessive violence in breaking up pro-Morsi sit-ins. It neither requested the protection of protesters, nor that the rulers be held accountable, as it did during Morsi's era.

2. Both the new leadership — comprising an alliance of the army, civil parties, revolutionary youth and remnants of the Mubarak regime — and the Muslim Brotherhood had incorrect calculations when it came to showing inflexibility in negotiation and trying to force the other to accept its objectives. This is also true in terms of the timing of the violent conflict between the two, as well as its circumstances, consequences and Arab and international reactions. One may even argue that the calculations regarding the clash between the two parties were catastrophic. The police used excessive violence and failed to anticipate the reactions of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, especially in the Sinai. These reactions contradicted the allegations of peaceful sit-ins and demonstrations, and the Muslim Brotherhood engaged in sectarian acts of violence and terrorism against Christians and their churches. I believe the Muslim Brotherhood’s violent reactions amplified popular support for the state against the Muslim Brotherhood and undermined the impact and credibility of claims of injustice promoted by the Muslim Brotherhood's leaders.

3. The new leadership suffers from several contradictions. These include the mistakes made in breaking up the Muslim Brotherhood’s sit-ins and the prosecution of protesters, the resignation of Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei and some of his supporters, the failure to anticipate foreign reactions, the significant underestimation of the influence of the Muslim Brotherhood and their allies, the failure of the security plan to protect churches, the amplified role of the army, the slow performance of the government in achieving social justice, the fear of the return of the police state and remnants of the Mubarak regime and the procedures for implementing the road map announced by Sisi, in particular the amendment of the constitution and the electoral law. In this respect, the electoral law has yet to specify whether elections will be held based on an electoral lists system or a constituency-based system. It is worth mentioning that the electoral lists system is in the interest of the remnants of the old regime and the Muslim Brotherhood, while the constituency-based system is in favor of the revolutionary forces and encourages partisan activity.

Regardless of the details of previous contradictions and the positions of the ruling parties, however, I fear the breakdown of the political process in two scenarios. The first is a conflict between the forces and parties affiliated with the January 25 Revolution and the remnants of the Mubarak regime, which falls in the interest of the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist parties on the political and electoral levels. The second scenario is the withdrawal of some revolutionary and youth groups from the leadership and their shift to the opposition, and perhaps their cooperation with the Muslim Brotherhood under the pretext of protecting the January 25 Revolution and resisting the return of Mubarak and his supporters. Despite the oddness of this scenario, it remains possible in light of the troubled political scene with flowing events, the increasing presence of the police state and [if the] Brotherhood succeeds in putting an end to violence.

4. The failure of the Muslim Brotherhood’s plot to overthrow the new leadership by mobilizing the public and staging demonstrations involving the use of violence against state institutions led to the emergence of internal disagreements about the Muslim Brotherhood’s mistakes in governance. This paved the way for scenarios of intellectual and political revision and abandonment of the current leadership, which proved its failure. In this context, there are signs of numerous divisions, especially among the youth. Voices from within the Muslim Brotherhood are calling for an end to violence and demonstrations, seeking to reconcile with the new leadership and to acquire a position in the future map, allowing the Muslim Brotherhood to improve its image and fight in the next election.

On the other hand, there are calls for returning to peaceful protests, renouncing violence and continuing to demand the return of Morsi and his constitution. It seems that this trend was manifested in the demonstrations staged last week, which were limited and confined to the members and sympathizers of the Muslim Brotherhood — which in all cases are a small minority. Therefore, Muslim Brotherhood supporters — including members and sympathizers — are unable to form a peaceful mass capable of exerting pressure or influencing the turn of events, since they lost the sympathy of the majority of society. Finally, there is a scenario of chaos within the Muslim Brotherhood group, as a result of the arrest of their leaders and thus the absence of control and guidance, and the emergence of possibilities for the involvement of some members in retaliatory violence. This will undoubtedly accelerate the dissolution of the Muslim Brotherhood by the state and lead to the continuation of the exclusionary security solution.

5. The violence practiced by the state and the Muslim Brotherhood will not end the conflict between the two sides in the near future. Rather, it will present dangers and open the door wide to the threat of cycles of violence and revenge, with unpredictable limits and results. Moreover, despite the fact that the state is able to win the battle against violence and terrorism, the ethical, political and economic costs will be enormous. Furthermore, the adoption of security solutions will not resolve the war, unless accompanied by two steps. The first is a series of swift measures to achieve social justice, and the second is national reconciliation. In this respect, it would be useful if this reconciliation were undertaken by a third, honest party showing diligence in bringing closer the divergent perspectives and ensuring the implementation of the reconciliation terms.

The first step is designed to expand the new leadership’s social base against the Muslim Brotherhood. However, the composition of the new leadership and difficult economic conditions will likely prevent that from happening. Secondly, we must achieve the desired stability through national reconciliation, with both parties showing a bit of flexibility and halting violence and security prosecution. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood [must] participate in the political regime, and the state must firmly oppose any attempts at revenge and uprooting the group from political life. The continued and growing hatred toward the Muslim Brotherhood only doubles the obstacles standing in the way of the group gaining acceptance in society and a place in the political regime.

Paradoxically, the state, which launched — or at least blessed — these campaigns, will find itself facing the results of such campaigns, if it decides to contain and reconcile with the Muslim Brotherhood.

6. On both sides, rhetoric concerning national reconciliation lacks vision, desire and ability. Therefore, it will remain meaningless, since both sides — so far — have not provided mutual concessions or stressed a desire for coexistence. Rather, they seek to exclude and expel the other from the political equation. However, the biggest responsibility falls on the [current] leadership, which must propose specific views regarding the role of the Muslim Brotherhood and its party in the next stage, as well as regarding the relationship between politics and proselytism and how to prevent the use of mosques and churches in political action. Is the Muslim Brotherhood going to be dissolved — as some demand — or will it remain similar to some nongovernmental organizations, after being subjected to government control? Is the Muslim Brotherhood and its party going to be asked to make ideological, organizational and structural changes?

The leadership must determine its positions regarding these issues and raise them for public discussion, rather than just talking about them without any action, as it has done recently. The leadership must answer the very important question on whether these general requirements will apply to the rest of the Islamist parties, most prominently the Salafist Nour Party, or just to the Muslim Brotherhood, as a result of its involvement in acts of violence and terrorism.

7. It is important that a “third current” be established — comprising figures and groups that were not involved in the conflict, as well as some of the revolutionary youth. This current should look for an adequate formula for reconciliation, which will be based on halting violence and media and security campaigns aimed at tarnishing the reputation of others. It must engage with transitional justice processes, recognizing the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist parties’ right to participate in the political regime — without allowing them to speak in the name of Islam, mix religion with politics and exploit the feelings and religiosity of the people. The problem is that this formula deprives Islamist parties of the most important sources of power and influence in the street, and therefore great efforts must be made to persuade them to voluntarily take part in the road map for the future suggested by Sisi. This is because the exclusion or non-participation of Islamist parties is an immediate failure of the second transitional period, and implies the establishment of a political regime relying on civil forces that marginalize and exclude Islamist forces. This is merely the other side of the Morsi regime, which excluded civil forces and relied on the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamist forces.

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