The Egyptain Co­nun­drum

Hav­ing un­der­gone an in­cred­i­ble blood­bath, the land of the pharaohs still finds it­self at the cen­tre of a se­ri­ous po­lit­i­cal dilemma with no so­lu­tion in sight.

Southasia - - CONTENTS - By Javed An­sari

What a para­dox that Egypt’s mod­ern-day Jas­mine Rev­o­lu­tion lasted for just about two years and time came full cir­cle when a court or­dered Hosni Mubarak’s re­lease from prison on Au­gust 22. For what­ever it was worth, the move tended to fur­ther deepen the cri­sis caused when the coun­try’s armed forces cracked down on the sup­port­ers of Mo­ham­mad Morsi, the demo­crat­i­cally elected pres­i­dent who was ousted from power on July 3, 2013. The up­heaval had ac­tu­ally set the ball rolling for a ver­i­ta­ble blood­bath.

Mo­ham­mad Morsi was an Egyp­tian politi­cian who served as the first demo­crat­i­cally elected Pres­i­dent of Egypt, from June 30, 2012 to July 3, 2013. He was a can­di­date of the Mus­lim Brother­hood (MB) which is

said to be the world’s most in­flu­en­tial Is­lamist move­ment. His pre­de­ces­sors had also held elec­tions which were gen­er­ally marred by ir­reg­u­lar­i­ties and al­le­ga­tions of rig­ging and he was the first pres­i­dent to have en­tered the Pres­i­dent’s House af­ter a demo­crat­i­cally held elec­tion, as op­posed to his pre­de­ces­sors who came into power as rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies (Nasser) and as ap­pointed suc­ces­sors (Sa­dat, Mubarak).

One of the ma­jor achieve­ments of the pop­u­lar street protests that top­pled Pres­i­dent Hosni Mubarak in 2011 was the ush­er­ing in of a freely and cred­i­bly con­tested elec­toral democ­racy for the first time in the his­tory of the coun­try. How­ever, by ar­ro­gat­ing to it­self the role of ar­chi­tect of mod­ern Egypt, the army also as­sumed the role of ref­eree in the con­test be­tween the Mus­lim Brother­hood and the sec­u­lar and lib­eral rev­o­lu­tion­ary forces though the for­mer won the coun­try’s first demo­cratic elec­tions. Once Morsi came to power, he tried to con­trol the army but it did not go a long way and the men in uni­form con­tin­ued to re­main con­sid­er­ably pow­er­ful.

De­spite the fact that Morsi’s was a demo­cratic elec­tion, his one year rule did not have much of an im­pact on

the hordes of po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and se­cu­rity chal­lenges that the coun­try con­tin­ued to face. And again, it was the army that called the shots – lit­er­ally and metaphor­i­cally. This en­abled it to di­rect Egyp­tian pol­i­tics the way it wished and rather than act­ing as a ref­eree, it took the side of those who were protest­ing against Morsi’s rule.

In de­pos­ing Morsi, the army dis­solved the coun­try’s demo­crat­i­cally elected par­lia­ment and sus­pended the national con­sti­tu­tion, which had been adopted by pop­u­lar referendum less than a year ago. In this man­ner, the army once again en­sured its con­ti­nu­ity as a power bro­ker and king­maker and was in­stru­men­tal in the set­ting up of a care­taker govern­ment and a new tran­si­tional head of state. In fact, the head of the army, Gen­eral Ab­del Fat­tah Al Sissi, called for a pop­u­lar demon­stra­tion to give him the man­date to fight ‘vi­o­lence and ter­ror.’

Come Au­gust 14, there was an­other turn­ing point in Egyp­tian pol­i­tics as the mil­i­tary had as­serted it­self fully by then. It was not clear where the re­sis­tance put up by the Mus­lim Brother­hood and its vi­o­lence with the op­pos­ing pro­tes­tors would lead. The mass killings led to a worst-case sce­nario, deep­en­ing the po­lar­iza­tion and con­fronta­tion in the coun­try which led it down the road to se­ri­ous so­cial strife and blood-let­ting.

The deadly crack­down on pro­test­ers on Au­gust 14, in fact, made the sce­nario more murky and un­cer­tain and the coun­try seemed to be headed to­wards an in­cred­i­ble level of chaos and de­struc­tion. It also seemed as if the army’s role was be­com­ing big­ger and that it would use the state of emer­gency de­clared by the govern­ment to crack down even more fe­ro­ciously on its per­ceived en­e­mies and give shape to its role in the ‘au­thor­i­tar­ian’ tran­si­tion. It was clear that the dis­missal of Morsi by the army and its sup­port­ers had put a slam­mer on Egypt’s full demo­cratic trans­for­ma­tion and had pushed it to the brink of disas­ter.

It has been ar­gued by some that the chal­lenges fac­ing the coun­try fol­low­ing the Arab Spring went back to the era of Pres­i­dent Nasser and be­fore. Ga­mal Ab­dul Nasser was in­volved in Egypt’s 1952 mil­i­tary coup and later seized the pres­i­dency.

“The coup leader – the hero Mo­hammed Naguib – gave an ex­am­ple of hu­mil­ity by re­fus­ing pro­mo­tion to the rank of ‘lieu­tenant­gen­eral’…This proves that the army does not want power, just the gen­eral good,” wrote Egypt’s renowned his­to­rian, Abd al-Rah­man al-Rafai, in al-Akhbar news­pa­per on 1 Au­gust 1952. His state­ment did not stand the test of time.

By Fe­bru­ary 1954, the hum­ble coup leader, Mo­hammed Naguib, who served as Egypt’s first pres­i­dent, was re­moved by the younger and more power-hun­gry of­fi­cers led by Colonel Ga­mal Ab­dul Nasser. Back then, Egypt was as di­vided as it is now. One part of the coun­try wanted a par­lia­men­tary democ­racy, a re­turn to con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism and the army’s re­turn to the bar­racks. An­other part wanted a strong and charis­matic pa­tron who promised land and bread. By Novem­ber 1954, the lat­ter part had not only crushed the for­mer but also de­stroyed its de­mands, such as ba­sic freedom and par­lia­men­tary con­sti­tu­tion­al­ism. The cost was the es­tab­lish­ment of an of­fi­cers’ repub­lic – a state where the armed in­sti­tu­tions were above any other, in­clud­ing the elected ones.

The Jan­uary 2011 rev­o­lu­tion chal­lenged that 1954 sta­tus quo in many ways. The rev­o­lu­tion­ar­ies this time clashed with a 21st Cen­tury junta: the Supreme Coun­cil of the Armed Forces (SCAF). The SCAF was a po­lit­i­cally con­ser­va­tive, un­con­sti­tu­tional body that ruled Egypt be­tween Fe­bru­ary 2011 and June 2012. Af­ter the re­moval of Mubarak in Fe­bru­ary 2011, the SCAF had a min­i­mum of three de­mands: a veto in high pol­i­tics, in­de­pen­dence for the army’s bud­get and eco­nomic em­pire, and le­gal im­mu­nity from pros­e­cu­tion on charges stem­ming from cor­rup­tion or re­pres­sion. It also wanted con­sti­tu­tional pre­rog­a­tives to guar­an­tee those ar­range­ments.

Th­ese de­mands were re­flected in a July 2012 con­sti­tu­tional ad­den­dum that gave the SCAF the pre­rog­a­tives of the first post-rev­o­lu­tion par­lia­ment. The pre­vail­ing po­lar­iza­tion would only spell fur­ther disas­ter and no one would be in a po­si­tion to come out as the ex­clu­sive win­ner of the stale­mate. But the govern­ment had to shoul­der the bur­den of tak­ing ma­jor con­cil­ia­tory steps to end the po­lar­iza­tion.

It is not clear if the cur­rent mil­i­tary-led govern­ment in Egypt is dis­posed to such mea­sures with­out the rev­o­lu­tion­ary forces bring­ing their in­flu­ence to bear. As things stand, it is cer­tain that Egypt’s cri­sis is nowhere close to reach­ing an end. The Egyp­tian army now wears the man­tle of judge, jury and ex­e­cu­tioner and, hav­ing done away with Morsi, it rules the roost,

So where is Egypt headed – to­wards democ­racy or mil­i­tary rule? Will the cur­rent es­ca­la­tion of vi­o­lence lead to a demo­cratic process or will it fur­ther plunge the coun­try into the kind of chaos it has never wit­nessed be­fore?

The an­swer to Egypt’s cri­sis lies in achiev­ing a win-win po­lit­i­cal set­tle­ment rather than the cur­rent zero-sum game. A clear les­son that has emerged from Morsi’s one-year rule and the tragedy of Au­gust 14 is that no sin­gle Egyp­tian po­lit­i­cal force is in a po­si­tion to lead the coun­try and deal with the po­lit­i­cal, eco­nomic and se­cu­rity chal­lenges it faces. The sit­u­a­tion is a com­plex one and a per­ma­nent so­lu­tion has to be found if the coun­try is to sur­vive as a ma­jor Is­lamic state. The writer is Edi­tor of this mag­a­zine and a reg­u­lar con­trib­u­tor on po­lit­i­cal sub­jects.

Mo­ham­mad Morsi, for­mer Pres­i­dent of Egypt

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