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Egypt mediation 'could be a starting point'

The rift between the country's military and Islamists may seem too great to resolve.

Last Modified: 29 Jul 2013 18:04
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The blood of Morsi supporters stains the pavement where they were killed in Nasr City during clashes [Reuters]

Cairo, Egypt - As the country's political crisis deepens, with about 290 deaths since the July 3 ousting of President Mohamed Morsi - Egypt's first elected leader - attempts of mediation between rival camps seem doomed, raising the likelihood of further violence.

Former presidential candidate and Islamic scholar Mohamed Selim el-Awa proposed an initiative on July 27 to resolve the deadlock between the army and Islamist supporters of Morsi, including the Muslim Brotherhood from which he hails. The initiative, based on articles from the now-suspended Brotherhood-framed constitution, suggests that Morsi passes on his powers to a new interim cabinet.

Al-Awa’s proposal, which was backed by constitutional law expert Tarek el-Bishri and Islamist writer Fahmy Howaidi, went on to add that the interim cabinet would call for parliamentary elections within 60 days, after which a permanent government would be formed. Presidential elections would then take place as per the existing constitution, after which amendments to that constitution could be reviewed and applied.

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In response to this proposal, the Muslim Brotherhood issued a statement saying it was “listening to all offers and initiatives”, but would only issue an opinion after a decision was made by the broader "Pro-Legitimacy, Anti-Coup National Alliance".

Yosri Hammad, senior member of the Salafi Al-Watan party, which adheres to an ultraconservative interpretation of Islam, said his party accepted Al-Awa's initiative on the condition of "respecting people's will and the constitutional path which brought about an elected president and away from the military rule which destroyed the state's institution for 60 years".

Meanwhile, Al-Nour, another Salafi political party which initially sided with the army to later show reluctance in offering its support, said the initiative could be the starting point for talks between the two sides, according to tweets by its senior member Nader Bakkar.

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"The government is open to consider any proposal that gains consensus among the civil society," Hossam Eissa, deputy prime minister, told Al Jazeera. Re-stating that there would be no going back on the roadmap which Defence Minister General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi announced on July 3, Eissa forecasted that el-Awa's proposal may fail to appease some civil factions, including the founders of Tamarod, the grassroots campaign that targeted Morsi and led to his removal.

“It is highly unlikely that any attempt would succeed,” said Mustapha El Sayed, a political science professor at Cairo University. He explained that both sides have already made huge concessions. "Islamists have already compromised by accepting that Morsi would not be reinstated head of state," he said.

He added that army's compromise was "the continued acceptance of Islamists, including the Muslim Brotherhood, to be part of the political system and to welcome them to reconciliation efforts - against the will of liberal and leftist parties who insist on outlawing the Brotherhood and banning political parties with religious platforms".

Since Morsi's ousting, violence has erupted on a daily basis across the country, with frequent clashes between his supporters and opponents. The deadliest of these was on July 27, when more than 70 pro-Morsi supporters were killed and hundreds more were injured.

Earlier that day, millions of Morsi's opponents took to the streets after El-Sisi urged "honorable citizens" to mandate the army, through nationwide protests, to combat "violence and terrorism".

Armed groups who have infiltrated the western Sinai peninsula over the course of the past two years have also carried out numerous attacks against soldiers and military checkpoints. These have become widely viewed as acts of retaliations against the army after Mohamed el-Beltagy, a senior Muslim Brotherhood member, said that such attacks would not cease unless Morsi were reinstated.

"It’s a matter of existence for the Muslim Brotherhood - which is why they won't make any concessions," said Ashraf el-Sherif, political science professor at the American University of Cairo. Adding that the optimal option available for Islamists would be to escalate the situation, el-Sherif said "conceding [would] indicate they've accepted defeat, which neither the leaders nor their grassroots will be willing to swallow.

"It is also a precautionary measure, or a defence mechanism, since they strongly believe that abandoning their grounds would mean their eradication politically and a beginning of restrictions being imposed on their personal lives."

Shortly after El-Sisi's speech of July 3, five television channels deemed to have catered to an audience of Morsi backers were shut down. Furthermore, and despite reassurances by the country's new rulers that no political group would be excluded from the political scene, arrest warrants were filed against Brotherhood chief Mohamed Badie, and nine others, on July 10. Meanwhile, while five other Brotherhoos leaders, including Badie's powerful deputy, are in custody.

Morsi himself, who has been held at an undisclosed venue since his removal, now faces charges of plotting with Palestinian Islamist group Hamas to escape prison in Wadi Natrun during the 18-day revolt against then-President Hosni Mubarak.

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"The army was willing to and capable of showing tolerance towards the Brotherhood, and had no intentions of fully terminating them - as the price of doing that would've been too high," el-Sherif said. "The brotherhood's presence politically is also very vital for the army, as it makes for a good distraction, a scarecrow, to divert people away from demands like economic justice and freedoms."

The army's stance will depend on that taken by Islamists, el-Sherif said. "The more aggressive they are, the more violent the army will be."

Despite the little that mediation efforts seem to bring to the current stalemate, hope is they will still succeed in relieving some of the tension across the country. "The crisis will not be resolved in the near future," El-Sayed said. "However, perhaps the calls for parliamentary and presidential elections would encourage the Brotherhood to become integrated again in the political process."

Eissa agreed. "If the only achievement accomplished by such initiatives is to tone down the Brotherhood's speech from the current hatred and inciting language to a more tolerable one, then I think that would be a good place to start talks from."

Ahmed Mamdouh, a 34-year-old accountant who has been joining pro-Morsi sit-ins, said he hoped leaders would consider reconciliation efforts. "It is very unlikely that Morsi will be reinstated, which is something we've come to accept. They [the army] should meet us halfway too, for the sake of avoiding further bloodshed. Many have died already," he said.

El-Sayed remained positive. "Some Islamists might resort to violence," he said. "But this violence will not derail the implementation of the road map."

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Al Jazeera
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