Egypt’s Destiny at the Crossroads
Western countries have repeatedly called for Morsi’s reinstatement. The US has lost standing and become unpopular with all sides. There is nothing that India can say or do which will have the slightest impact on how developments evolve.
Western countries have repeatedly called for Morsi’s reinstatement. The US has lost standing and become unpopular with all sides.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait are absolutely delighted at the overthrow of the hated Muslim Brotherhood
CATCHING THE VIRUS FROM Tunisia, hundreds of thousands of people spontaneously spilled onto the streets of Cairo on January 25, 2011, demanding the overthrow of Muhammad Hosni Mubarak’s 30-yearold autocratic dictatorship. The Muslim Brotherhood opportunistically climbed onto the bandwagon 10 days later but somewhat tentatively. The Army could have chosen mass murder but opted to remove Mubarak from office on February 11, 2011. Instead of quickly moving towards a civilian dispensation, the Army started ruling directly through the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). People were back in Tahrir Square demonstrating against them—the people had not got rid of Mubarak to be ruled by the Army. The Army was forced to organise elections.
Despite the Brotherhood’s unparalleled ability to mobilise its supporters and deliberately soft pedaling its assertive Islamic persona before and during the election campaign, in the first round of the presidential elections the voter turnout was a low 46 per cent of which Mohamed Morsi secured only 24.78 per cent, with Brotherhood votes falling from six out of ten in the parliamentary elections to four in ten now. Later only 32.9 per cent of the electorate voted in the referendum approving the new Constitution the Islamists had drafted securing an underwhelming 63.8 per cent. These percentages were a clear indicator of the popular mood and suggested caution and introspection rather than celebration.
Eighty-five-year-old and persecuted most of its life, the Brotherhood found itself catapulted as a ruler, dramatically breaking away from its traditional role of agitator, assassin, insurgent and opponent. The Brotherhood failed to capitalise on this historic opportunity by pushing its Islamist agenda for which people had almost explicitly denied a mandate. Morsi’s whimsical, increasingly autocratic and inept rule ignoring a steeply declining economy, resulted in crowds significantly larger than when anti-Mubarak protests took place, demanding his ouster.
All this clearly indicates that despite 91 per cent of Egypt’s population being Muslim, people do not want an Islamic state but good governance. People had not got rid of Mubarak and later the SCAF to live under an Islamist dictatorship. They want true democracy. Raw ‘people power’ had won thrice against heavy odds, exhibiting that the country’s political landscape has changed dramatically, perhaps irrevocably.
Assembling impressive support from civil and political society across the spectrum, Army Chief General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi announced the removal of the Morsi Government on July 3 and a roadmap for transition to an elected government within the next nine months. A revised constitution is being drafted. The Army is clearly calling the shots. Large posters showing Sisi with Nasser are ubiquitous all over Cairo. There is growing suspicion that the Army intends to wield power for the longer term, but unlike during the SCAF interlude, this time from behind a civilian facade. My hunch is that people are unlikely to allow any long-term Army rule.
Following Morsi’s ouster, protests by thousands of Brotherhood supporters for almost eight weeks elicited a brutal crackdown by the Army and retaliation by the protestors resulting in over 1,000 deaths. The detention of its top leadership, initiation of cases against them which could result in harsh punishment including death penalties, continuing arrests of its members and supporters, confiscation of their assets, closing their TV stations, have been deeply polarising decisions. The Brotherhood should call off further protests in its own interest and Egypt’s interests as well and join in the national dialogue process.
The transitional administration has announced its intention to revoke the Brotherhood’s registration as a non-governmental organisation. This is a particularly retrograde step. Even though the Muslim Brotherhood behaved irresponsibly while in power, its involvement in the country’s political landscape provided legitimacy to the democracy movement; sending it underground would lead to dangerous radicalisation of huge numbers of people. Political Islam cannot be put back into the bottle.
All this has led to a global focus on the stand-off between the Army and the Muslim Brotherhood. The fact is that both these entities have been playing a cynical tactical game to gain upper hand, using, but then sidelining, the extremely significant third player— the common people. Egypt is now witnessing a no holds barred contest between Muslims and Islamists being played out in public— unprecedented for a Muslim country. The Army should not be the arbiter. Given Egypt’s influence and standing, the outcome holds profound implications for the Arab world.
Given the deepening divides, the uncertainty of the Army’s intentions and of reactions of the masses, and continuing instability, is likely to be the norm in the foreseeable future. Given these complexities, for Egypt’s sake, the international community needs to support whatever stand the people take.
Egypt is too big and strong for foreign countries to get intrusively involved as they had done in Libya and Syria.
Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait are absolutely delighted at the overthrow of the hated Muslim Brotherhood. They have promised $4 billion each as aid. The Saudi Foreign Minister has publicly pledged to fill the gap should Western countries suspend or cancel their economic and military aid. Egypt has threatened that should this happen, it would turn to Russia.
Other countries pleased with the outcome are Bahrain, Iraq, Israel, Jordan, Russia and Syria—otherwise enemies on the same side! Can it get more complicated? Sisi sent Assad, who has been the major gainer, a return gift by expelling the Syrian National Alliance from Cairo.
Turkey and Tunisia have been strongly critical. Iran has been equivocal. Hamas, Qatar and Turkey are the biggest losers. Cairo’s Al-Jazeera bureau has been closed.
Western countries have repeatedly called for Morsi’s reinstatement but have little leverage to make that happen. The US has lost standing and become unpopular with all sides. There is nothing that India can say or do which will have the slightest impact on how developments evolve. Making any substantive statement taking sides would be counterproductive. Like the great Third World behemoth, China, the Indian Ministry of External Affairs has made a judiciously anodyne statement calling for all parties to exercise restraint.
An Egyptian protester during the 2011 Egyptian revolution holding
the Egyptian flag