Egypt on the Brink

8 July, 2013

In geo-political terms across the Middle-East, the Arab Spring is quickly descending into a nightmare, the internal chaos occurring in many countries across the region including Syria, Egypt, Turkey, Libya, Iraq and Afghanistan is threatening to spill over into external conflict in the future. It is also important to remember the repercussions Egypt’s situation will also have to countries in proximity in Africa such as Libya, Sudan, and Somalia; all countries recovering from or engaged in strong to severe internal issues, the latter a haven for Al-Shabbab and Al-Qaeda.

As of writing Egypt is currently reeling from the deaths of fifty to sixty members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the military and the police force. The demand for the removal of President Morsi was certainly warranted. The crime rates in general have sky-rocketed, and Egypt’s economic plunge has continued with unemployment worsening. To make matters worse Morsi’s adherence to traditional Islamic law also led to a dramatic drop in women’s rights. Nevertheless we should not underestimate the difficult economic situation he inherited, the Presidential Decree which placed him above the judiciary and the Constitution was when he shot himself in the foot; the decree representing a direct challenge to Egypt’s first revolution. Twenty-two million people calling for his removal from office is most certainly a democratic right. The military however have completely misjudged the situation, particularly the reaction of Islamists and foreign fights from other turbulent regions in the Middle East. Morsi was staunchly removing to leave office, nevertheless democratic forces should have been put in place to remove the president from office, the military move on Mubarek was completely different to the one on Morsi’s government, done for the right reasons but deployed with perilous indifference to the consequences of removing a fairly elected but potentially radical Islamic party which undoubtedly failed to perform in power, politically and economically. As Tunisian journalist Mourad Teyeb states correctly this lies at the heart of Egypt’s current predicament that ‘the army’s refusal to directly or indirectly engage in politics is at the heart of neighbouring Tunisia’s revival.’ The comparisons still remain difficult as the Islamist parties in Tunisia have remained predominantly moderate. 

The Egyptian army’s failure in the last few days to remain impartial after the 2011 revolution is problematic.A nightmare image of regional conflict with religious insurgents on one side against that of the Egyptian army is certainly not out of the question and an increasing possibility with the Muslim Brotherhood refusing to cooperate with the new installed interim president. Al-Qaeda’s leader Ayman al-Zawahiri has already called for a jihad for Islamic fundamentalists and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to take up arms against the interim government and the military coup. The black flag of al-Qaeda has apparently already been spotted in several districts of Cairo and El-Arish, whilst the Brotherhood’s political wing is calling for an ‘uprising’ which in my estimation is a direct assault against those people they protested with shoulder to shoulder in 2011 as they accuse the army of staging a coup and described the deaths of fifty as a massacre with violence between protesters on the both sides and the military escalating remarkably in a mere five days. The Muslim Brotherhood supporters insisted on 7th July that they would keep fighting against military rule to see Morsi reinstated. The words of Mahmoud Attia, supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood were particularly harrowing:

“What did they expect? They stole power and they think we will just accept it? They said this was a revolution not a coup. That is a lie. This was a crime. Now they will face an Islamist revolution.”

Today, they claim they were fired upon by the army in what the Brotherhood described as a ‘massacre’, however footage shown on both official and unofficial media sites that the protesters were armed with guns and firing upon the military. The ambiguity of this morning’s tragic events will only worsen the events distorting the heroes and villains which in a week maybe two and most certainly a month will exist on both sides as it does in Syria, the latter in a state of bloody conflict In Egypt’s case evidently criminals, political extremists, troublemakers and other factions have quickly taken advantage of the chaos plaguing Egypt. Political dialogue has suffered mortal wounds with every passing day since the action taken by the army. The deposition of Morsi is understandable, but so is the violent reaction to deposing a legitimate elected President. Nevertheless the rhetoric used by the Muslim Brotherhood members and clerics in recent month have alarmed many Egyptians, including those who brought Morsi to power.

A deposed and legitimate Egyptian government with an Islamic mandate, it is a double blow for Egypt, the failure of its democratic experiment and the encouragement of Islamic extremism and fundamental religious radicalism which, if civil war does occur or civil unrest is elongated, will certainly create a ‘New Syria’ as Putin predicts. I am inclined to agree with his ominous interpretation of events occurring at this moment in Egypt, his own country’s history certainly points to a similar extraordinary upheaval in violence (1918-1921) that could occur in Egypt . Nevertheless I decline to agree with the Muslim Brotherhood that the military action taken against Morsi was a coup and support the idea that it was an act done in the interests of the Egyptian people oppressed by a fast-becoming autocratic government. Despite this it is evident that political discussion has deteriorated to the point that a potentially devastating civil war is on the cards if elections do not occur quickly. The political situation obviously has to stabilise for economic problems to improve. However many on both sides are directly undermining the ideology of the 2011 Egyptian revolution and those who fought so hard for justice and democratic government.This time around the second Egyptian revolution will have severe ramifications not just for Egypt but the Middle-East and what is currently occurring in Egypt is well summarised by Rana Jawad;

“Revolutions are inextricably linked with a romantic notion of profound change. In reality they are followed by a period of turmoil and confusion over what to do next, how to do it and who the best person is for that task. In these three countries (Libya, Syria, Egypt and Tunisia), the revolutions have also come with the rise of political Islam. How all these elements are dealt with will determine how smooth the transition is.”

The transition occurring at this moment precisely the opposite of 2011, despite the original intentions of the army acting in the service of the public, who we must remember showed strong public support for the Egyptian army’s actions mere days ago. The outcome is very much in the balance, with a potentially bloody outcome for a foreseeable few months if the crisis is not resolved. The West’s action or inaction will be interesting to watch in the coming days, weeks and months. The fireworks of the 3rd July in Tahir Square could potentially be remembered as a harrowing day in Egyptian history, the joyous day in 2011 a distant memory, one which bodes poorly for the future of the Middle East. Certainly as we speak, democracy is being murdered in its cradle in Egypt.

Matthew Williams