Cairo, Egypt – With every day that passes, the stalemate between supporters of deposed president Mohamed Morsi and the military-backed interim government grows more intense.
What’s clear is that the sit-ins staged by the pro-Morsi camp – organised predominately by the Muslim Brotherhood – cannot go on indefinitely, as the largest, in Nasr City, has laid siege to the area.
It’s also clear that the government is unable to simply order the voluntary evacuation of these sit-ins, as participants’ desire to stay remains strong.
A forced clearing would also be out of the question, as there are tens of thousands of people occupying Nasr City’s Rabaa Al-Adawiya Mosque and the plaza of Cairo University in Giza, with many children joining protesters there – in fact, toy vendors and playground equipment attract even more children to the vigil.
But the situation in Rabaa is really only a symptom of the greater political divide and the struggle to define Egypt’s national identity after decades of Hosni Mubarak’s rule, which ended amid the January 2011 uprising.
The country is in the grips of a political impasse, with Morsi detained and investigated for an alleged role in aiding prison breaks during the 2011 revolution, while Egyptians try to determine if they want a state characterised by adherence to religious law, military rule – or something beyond the two.
Meanwhile, there’s much talk of negotiations behind closed doors – confirmed and denied by various parties at once. One paper even claimed that Morsi’s allies were planning to have him sent into exile.
Envoys from Qatar, UAE, the EU and the US have reportedly met with Khairet El-Shater, the jailed deputy leader of the Muslim Brotherhood. Morsi and his nemesis, General Abdel Fattah El Sisi have also received visits from international envoys.
But trying to confirm any sort of ongoing negotiation between political parties is tough.
Al Jazeera contacted members of The Coalition to Support Legitimacy, an alliance of predominately Islamist groups, who have reportedly been meeting with international envoys and military leaders – but none wanted to go on the record to discuss the meetings, or to even confirm that they had taken place.
This is probably because meeting with the military – as Mohamed Hasan, a member of the Shura Council of Muslim Scholars, recently did – means dealing with immense backlash.
Military-backed solution ‘a must’
Hassan Nafaa is a professor of political science at Cairo University. “The idea is not to have a theoretical solution, but to have a practical solution that can be accepted by both sides,” he told Al Jazeera.
The support of the military for any solution, he said, would guarantee its success – and other political parties are simply not key players in attempting to resolve the crisis.
But violence is not an option – as more bloodshed might tilt public sympathy towards the Muslim Brotherhood, said Nafaa.
One solution could be based on the initiative proposed by Islamic scholar Mohamed Selim el-Awa – that Morsi should delegate his authority to a new prime minister, with parliamentary elections to be held in a few weeks, followed by presidential elections, with the parliament responsible for amending the constitution.
Nafaa proposed two changes to this initiative, which, he said, would help both sides save face – to hold the presidential elections first, and to craft an agreement barring Morsi from trying to return to the presidency.
“But the Brotherhood has not yet shown any signs that they will accept such a solution,” said Nafaa, adding that, if the Brotherhood were to agree to negotiate these points, the Islamist group would be included in the next parliament – and the crisis would be solved.
And in the event of such a reconciliation, charges against Brotherhood leaders would also likely be dropped.
“Given the current polarised atmosphere, if the Brotherhood does not compromise, it will not be included in the future government,” said Nafaa. This exclusion would be problematic to their supporters on the streets, who would see the new state as illegitimate.
Both pro and anti-Morsi camps have redefined victory.
On the streets of Cairo, those who do not support Morsi have told Al Jazeera in recent days that his ousting alone is proof of their victory, and that the sit-ins are a nuisance that need to be cleared, while Morsi supporters see their very presence at the sit-ins, more than a month after his overthrow, as a win.
However, the Muslim Brotherhood remains focused on three main objectives: Morsi’s reinstatement, the reactivation of the constitution and the restoration of parliament – known as the Shura Council.
“The situation hasn’t changed, there hasn’t been any negotiations,” said Gehad el-Haddad, Muslim Brotherhood spokesman.
“Offers have been made, but none have been accepted.”
El-Haddad said the Brotherhood was open to negotiation – as long as its final goals were met.
“The context” of the negotiations are what the Brotherhood is willing to discuss. Anything else, said el-Haddad, is a matter of “whatever Morsi agrees to – he’s the key to this mess”.
El-Haddad also dismissed reports claiming that the Brotherhood was defeated.
“We’re not really in a difficult spot here – our numbers are growing,” he said.
“The snowball effect is really in our favour… the country is unmanageable at this time.”
For activists, such as the April 6 Youth Movement, a long-term solution need not involve fully backing either the Brotherhood or Morsi.
This, said Mohamed Adel, co-founder and spokesman for the April 6 Youth Movement, means “an inclusive national dialogue which seeks public interest while offering compromises from all sides”.
“The Muslim Brotherhood should be involved in the national dialogue without calling for foreign interference and should favour national interest over its own interests,” he said.
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“Society is very divided and most of the current instability is based on the failure to achieve transitional justice,” said Adel, whose group is campaigning for justice for those killed on and since January 25, 2011.
A military spokesman could not be reached for comment.
Potentially problematic elections
Marina Ottaway, a senior scholar at the Woodrow Wilson Centre specialising in political transformations, said that there were two main scenarios, with a few variations, for the future of Egypt.
“The first is the use of force to clear the sit-ins, followed by continued use of force to prevent new sit-ins and demonstrations,” said Ottaway.
“This would lead to more arrests, accusations of terrorism, and probably a banning of the [Muslim Brotherhood]and all parties with a religious orientation. I have trouble seeing how the military – and I use the word military, rather than government, because it is clear that the military calls the shots – would recognise Al-Nour as a legal organisation after banning the Brotherhood,” said Ottaway.
She said this would lead to an election in which only secular parties would participate, with the National Salvation Front (NSF) replacing the National Democratic Party (NDP), and smaller parties remaining on the fringes.
“The main question would be whether ElBaradei would emerge as president or whether it would be a military figure, possibly El Sisi himself. In the long run, this would keep Egypt unstable, because the Muslim Brotherhood will not simply disappear, you can be sure – given their history,” said Ottaway.
“And it could become radicalised, with the outcome being an increasingly repressive government.”
She said that the second scenario is a “negotiated solution” which could lead to more inclusive elections under a revised constitution.
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“Few voices speak up for this solution, other than the April 6 [Youth Movement], human rights organisations and a few intellectuals. This is the solution preferred by the US and Europe,” said Ottaway,
This, she said, would be problematic for parties such as Tamarod, the NSF – assuming it stays together – and certainly the military, as free elections might mean that Islamist parties would receive a lot of votes.
“This means that elections would not be free. Judicial supervision in this case means nothing, because the judiciary has shown clearly that it is strongly opposed to the Islamists,” said Ottaway.
Such elections would run counter to what the US says it wants, but Ottaway said she doubts Washington’s desires would have much impact on the ground in Egypt.
“The worst the US can do is to cut military aid. With the amount of money Gulf countries are willing to provide, the threat to suspend aid will probably not change the decisions of the military.”
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