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Three questions: Egypt's 'Zero-sum' politics

With the country and its revolution in turmoil, how can Egyptians transcend the nation's divisions?

Last Modified: 06 Jul 2013 12:43
Marwan Bishara

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst at Al Jazeera.
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Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood will likely remain alienated for some time to come [Reuters]

What are we to expect of the Egyptian military after it ousted Morsi?
 
The way in which the military behaves, now that it has suspended the constitution, will have major consequences upon how Egypt may emerge from the "48 hours" that shook the country following the June 30 protests.
 
The military has proposed a roadmap, agreed to by various opposition parties "to correct the direction of the revolution", and put the country back on the track of democracy. The roadmap envisioned swearing in the chief justice as a new interim president, forming a transitional government of technocrats with wide-ranging authorities and preparing the way for new constitutional amendments and elections.
 
However, like any other, the Egyptian military has a well-defined role: to protect the sovereignty, security and stability of the country. Not to promote democracy. By definition and by its own organisational structure, a military is anything but democratic; in fact, it's necessarily authoritarian and hierarchical in its operation. Furthermore, in Egypt, the military also has economic interests, special privileges for its top brass, and a very powerful role to protect in any future political configuration of the country.

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All this may explain why the military rushed to suspend the constitution, and arrest the president and other leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood on the charge of insulting the constitution. Warrants were issued against many of the Brotherhood's leaders and those of its political wing, the Freedom and Justice Party - all under the guise of safeguarding public order. The military also closed various media outlets, and warned it would not tolerate any incitement against the new order.
 
Like a hammer that sees a nail in everything, the generals see political challenges as security problems. This means the current repression, if it continues, will lead to the further alienation of the Brotherhood and push its supporters underground - escalating to a potentially dangerous situation. It remains to be seen whether all of this is happening by design or by default, and whether the military would like to see the Muslim Brotherhood banned before the next elections. Any such step would not put the country back on the path of stability, but rather endanger the very foundation of Egyptian polity and security.
 
Meanwhile, the military has further empowered the forces of the "deep state" - those groups of politicians, generals and business owners that were allied to the regime of Hosni Mubarak, and who have continued to command influence among the poor and ignorant. These well-financed groups played an important part in inciting against President Morsi over the past year, and recently joined the anti-Morsi demonstrations in large numbers. These forces are coming back with vengeance, after the revolution and Islamist-led administration tried to strip them of their power, interests and influence. They will further complicate the transition and sow confusion in the country.

With its leader ousted and its leadership rounded up, what next for the Muslim Brotherhood?
 
The "Zero-sum" politics that has dictated most of the important decisions in recent weeks and months have had far-reaching repercussions on the Brotherhood. The divisions that started with elections and disagreements over constitutional amendments, unsurprisingly, turned into a deep polarisation of the country. And as Morsi and the Brotherhood reneged on promises to form a national unity government and alienated most political forces in the process, this divergence deepened and turned bitter, as criticism mutated into demonisation.
 
By June 30, it became clear that, despite claims to the contrary, compromises between the old partners in the revolution were no longer realistic. Morsi's critics cried for revolution, and his supporters responded with counter-revolution. It became clear that the conflict would end with one side victorious and the other humiliated, if no real attempts were made to bridge the differences. It was then that the military intervened, ousting the president and preventing any last minute efforts that would save face and pave the way for constructive change, such as holding a referendum over the presidency or the building of a national unity government, leading to early elections.
 
If the deterioration we are seeing continues, as it's likely to, and the crackdown against the Muslim Brotherhood leaders persists, the alienated Islamist movement in Egypt has three options: To resist the new military measures in all means at its disposal; to arrive at a compromise that would bring it back to the political process - or to capitulate and retreat away from the political scene. Alas, changes are happening fast, and just as much as the Brotherhood could take the initiative to act aggressively, it's slowly but surely being forced to react to pre-emptive steps taken by the military and the opposition. Listening to Mohammad Badie, the leaderof the Brotherhood speaking to his supporters in Nasr City, it's clear that the Brotherhood is not backing down and considers the military measures null and void. 
 
The escalation of violence and the eventual prohibition of the Brotherhood would have huge consequences on the Islamist movement, Egypt and the region in general. It has taken these movements decades to accept the constitutional democratic system and to be accepted into the political process. Their ousting from power could well backfire. And while some among the conservative leadership might accept the new status quo, and others may split to form more moderate grouping - as we've seen in the past - their supporters' disenchantment and disappointment will be channelled in unpredictable ways in the face of increased repression.
 
Across the Islamic world, Islamist movements and Muslim Brotherhood parties will think twice before joining the next political process, which will have grave consequences to stability and security in the region. Young and restless Islamists might look towards more extreme groups that reject the political process and embrace violence as the way to fulfill their goals. If they do go underground for fear of retaliation, we can expect segments of a new generation of Islamists to embrace secrecy and violence instead of the ballot box. We've seen that in the early 1980s in Egypt and in the early 1990s in Algeria, and elsewhere.
 
What does all this mean to the other camp that led the popular struggle against Morsi?
 
Divided and poorly organised as they are, the secular and civic forces that helped make the revolution possible could be compromised and weakened by the better-organised forces of the military and the forces of the "deep state" mentioned earlier.

Marwan Bishara speaks on Egypt's crisis
They would need to stop any further incitement or demonisation of the Muslim Brotherhood. And, instead, extend a hand to the Muslim Brotherhood - especially its individual supporters - and be sincere about reconciliation without gloating. After all, they have worked together to bring down the old dictatorship and must find a way to coexist in a new and forgiving Egypt.
 
Their relationship with the military will also likely prove tricky. The staged scene of unity between the military and various political groups on the day of the coup against Morsi masked a divergent vision for the future of Egypt and an imbalance of power between the divided opposition and the formidable military.
 
The military has no particular interest in democracy. It falls upon secular and civic political forces - not th military - to help define a democratic and pluralistic Egypt. This requires unifying around one leadership and one programme as to how to direct the transitional period and implement the agreed-upon roadmap. At the end of the day, it is they who must define the limits of the military's role in a new constitution, a step that will be resisted strongly by the generals.
 
To fullfill their goals and those of the revolution, they need to guarantee that the transitional period towards a restoration of the civic order is as short as possible, and must not be enticed by ministerial portfolios or any other gestures from the military to prolong it. Likewise, they need to steer away from the forces of the old regime and refrain from entering into any alliances with them.
 
For decades, Egypt had one living president and one president only, never even a former president - only dead ones. Today, Egypt has a deposed president, an ousted president and a temporary president. And soon it will have another elected president.

However, the ongoing political upheaval has transcended Morsi and the presidency as a whole. It's now an open struggle over the soul, identity and unity of the country.

Marwan Bishara is the senior political analyst of Al Jazeera English and the author of The Invisible Arab: The Promise and Peril of the Arab Revolution.

Follow him on Twitter: @marwanbishara

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The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera's editorial policy.

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Al Jazeera
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