Is Egypt set for a long period of political violence or has it curtailed an “eminent security threat”?
The Egyptian state emphasises that it “faces a war led by extremist forces“. Many Egyptians seem to concur, considering that for the first time since January 25, they’ve actually committed to the curfew for their own safety.
How did we get here? After winning parliamentary and presidential elections, why did the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) and its “political arm” – the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) – become perceived as “eminent threat” to Egyptian Society?
On June 30, millions of Egyptians marched, petitioning a “democratic demand” to the then “democratically-elected President Morsi” – namely a call for early elections. Based on Tamarod’s millions of signed forms of “withdrawal of confidence”, Egyptians argued they have created what they called “an impeachment process with a revolutionary license”, given that the parliament was dissolved due to the unconstitutionality of the law that had created it.
Morsi ignored the seriousness of these protests.
Unlike Turkey’s Erbakan in 1997, who resigned after being warned he trespassed constitutional boundaries, Morsi held on to his “legitimacy”, repeating it more than 50 times in a speech following the June 30 marches. Erbakan said at the time, “I resigned because I am a true patriot.” He told reporters, “Our country will now be freed of a false agenda and useless, needless tensions.” Unlike Erbakan’s followers – who went on to create new political parties, one of which is Erdogan’s current AK Party – the MB and their supporters decided to confront.
A Brotherhood, not a political party
Now, the Muslim Brotherhood’s fatal mistake is precisely this: Remaining the Muslim Brotherhood. Its failure to transform its FJP to a viable political party that functions independently of the “Gama’a ” or the “Group”, was detrimental to its survival in power.
The Brotherhood’s Supreme Guide “Murshed” Mohamed Badie – unelected by the Egyptian people – was perceived to rule over Morsi and the Egyptians. Unfortunately, the MB was not keen on refuting this perception. Had they made it explicit that it was in their own best interest that Morsi become president for all Egyptians, perhaps things would have been different.
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Concepts such as “itgar bel deen ” (trans: “abusing religion for political ends”) and labels such as “Ikhwanization” (“domination of all sectors by the Brothers as a pervasive lobby group”) gradually saturated Egyptian media and trickled into public discourse on the street.
It should be recalled that many non-Brotherhood Egyptians voted for Morsi, which resulted in him receiving only 51.7 percent of the vote – not a mandate by any stretch of imagination. Suffice to say, many of these non-Brotherhood voters didn’t root for the MB’s failure from day one.
But let’s face it: The Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood is no Turkish AK Party.
Actually, when Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan visited Egypt and said, “I am a Muslim prime minister of a secular Turkish state”, the MB (after having celebrated his arrival) said he has no business interfering into Egyptian affairs with his “model“. While the AK Party portrays itself as a viable “conservative democratic party” and not a “religious movement”, in contrast perhaps the Brotherhood envisioned a Sunni version of Iran.
Many advised the MB that this Iran-like “Murshed-Mullah” formulation was not going to fly in Egypt. The MB argued otherwise, and ultimately lost the argument. They lost their power.
Perhaps Erdogan should have distanced himself from the MB as a “damaged brand”, boasting the success of his own party as a contrast, not an association. He didn’t. His latest statements arguing that Israel is behind the current events in Egypt leaves him in perceptions of conspiratorial rhetoric.
Egyptians are quick to remind us, “We have a long and successful history of ‘purging’ colonisers.” Whether entirely fair or not, it is significant that Egyptians came to perceive the Brotherhood as “colonisers of Egypt” who want to erase layers of national cultural character and treat Egyptian liberals, Christians, and the non-Brotherhood as “national minorities”. Minorities, whose presence could be “tolerated”, but whose input should never constitute the core character of the new Egypt, as one Egyptian scientist told me.
The oft-cited quote by a former MB Supreme Guide, saying “to hell with Egypt“, was circulating as evidence that the Brotherhood care more for their offshoots – like Hamas or Ennahdha – than they did for Egyptians. The Brotherhood’s internationalism backfired domestically.
Discourse of violence
After MB were ousted, their fatal decision to retaliate with violence following the forced evacuation of the Rab’a sit-in antagonised large segments of Egyptian society who had historically sympathised with the MB as “victims” of state oppression.
Some military officials argue that Egypt is facing fourth generation warfare, which is the kind of warfare involving non-state actors trying to delegitimise the state. Generalised disorder becomes the token by which violent actors could pressure the state to surrender or withdraw. Many Egyptian analysts argue that the MB’s counter-violence backfired. It alienated Egyptian society who for the most part seemed to deem the MB experience a political failure.
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On social media, both verified and unverified images circulated, depicting the torching of more than 40 churches; looting Malawi’s ancient Egyptian Museum in southern Egypt; killing policemen in the Kerdasa police station and mutilating their bodies; and burning state institutions including cultural sites, public parks and libraries. The result was a shocked Egyptian populace that made them more determined to back the “security solution” after the “political solutions” reached an impasse, despite several international envoys.
Further alienating a previously sympathetic population was when prominent Brotherhood member Mohamed el-Beltagi gave Egyptians an ultimatum, insinuating that the minute Morsi is brought back to power, violent acts would stop in the Sinai. This was seen as damning evidence for using terrorism in the Sinai for political ends.
Military in state and society
Many in the international community now seem concerned with the role of the military in all of this. Most Egyptians I talk to here support the national army’s temporary role to restore inclusive democracy in Egypt . The current interim government offered a roadmap towards constitution-writing and elections. The majority of Egyptians subscribe to this roadmap because they seem quite “Weberian” in understanding the definition of the state as having the monopoly over use of violence.
Unlike the US constitution’s 2nd amendment regarding the right to bear arms, Egypt’s political and constitutional culture does not allow for “militia formations”. Egyptians also seem worried about “competing orders of violence” that wrecked other countries and turned them into failed states. They “delegated” the “security solution” to the state, exclusively, in order to avoid generalised chaos.
But if generalised chaos and bloodshed continues, and if the government’s path does not lead to fruition or if it led to unfair persecution of the MB’s peaceful members, “Rest assured,” an Egyptian high-tech entrepreneur tells me, “We will rise up for justice.”
Some call for a Truth and Reconciliation Committee, where formal MB leaders confess to any wrongdoings in order for non-violent members to be accepted back into society and as equal citizens before the law. Some observe that other countries may soon start placing their bets on the success of this roadmap, not its failure.
Once again, Egyptians seem to truly believe in the January 25 Revolution as a path to democracy, not to theocracy and not to a return to yet another autocracy. The sentiment among Egyptians I speak to goes like this: The world just has to live with it because the Egyptians are not willing to budge. They will keep doing and undoing until they get inclusive democracy right.
Marwa Maziad is a columnist at Al-Masry Al-Youm and Specialist of Middle East Media and Politics. Her current research at University of Washington focuses on civil-military relations in Egypt and Turkey.
Follow her on Twitter: @marwamaziad