“The hands of justice is chained by laws,” said Abdel Fattah el-Sisi during the funeral of his prosecutor-general, Hisham Barakat. “Courts are not suitable for this moment … laws are not suitable for this moment,” he continued.
A day later, 13 of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) leaders and member were killed by the regime’s security forces, which blamed the MB for Barakat’s assassination. The MB claimed that their members were killed after being held, searched, and fingerprinted. The security forces claim that they were killed in a firefight, after resisting arrest. Some of the names of the dead are well known within Egyptian civil society. Nasser al-Hafy was a lawyer and a former member of parliament under the banned Freedom and Justice Party (FJP).
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“I know him [Hafy] well and I dealt with him. I cannot imagine him being involved in an activity that can possibly lead to violence … forget about resisting authorities. This is an unacceptable lie,” said Dr Ayman Nour, a liberal politician who challenged Mubarak in the 2005 elections.
Such developments shatter any hopes of a de-escalation anytime soon. With limited options available, what will be the MB’s reaction?
Since the 2013 coup, the MB leadership has adopted primarily civil resistance tactics, similar to those used in the January 2011 uprising. The unstated objective of the leadership was to pressure the military and its allies into a compromise. But those tactics have their limits. As shown in the dispersal of Rabaa Square, tanks are more powerful than any protest, regardless of its steadfastness.
As shown in the dispersal of Rabaa Square, tanks are more powerful than any protest, regardless of its steadfastness.
In the last two months, there was a spate of reconciliation initiatives led by renowned politicians including former presidential candidate, Ayman Nour and former Tunisian president, Moncef Marzouki. Moreover, Rachid Ghannouchi, the head of the Tunisian Ennahda Party, called on the Saudi king to lead the reconciliation in Egypt, in a similar way that Saudi Arabia led the Lebanese reconciliation in al-Taif.
The aforementioned initiatives were not detailed, but their bases were rooted in accepting the status quo in exchange for limiting repression and opening up the political space.
A more detailed initiative came from Abdul Momen Abu al-Fotouh, the former presidential candidate who came in fourth in the 2012 elections. He called for forming a new transitional government led by an “independent non-biased prime minister”, with the “President of the Republic” delegating his powers to the head of the new government in a lead-up to early presidential elections, as a way out of the crisis.
Is the regime winning?
None of these calls were heeded by the Sisi regime, where the belief among the most powerful factions is that the eradication of the MB is possible, desirable and not too costly. These factions believe that the regime is winning, and with regional and international acquiesce.
Even if the calls for compromise were heeded, there is a big gap between what civil resistance can achieve and what the MB and other anti-coup youth forces demand. The understanding of these forces is that civil resistance can engender revolutionary regime change and bring out a speedy justice for the dead. This is contrary to most historical cases where civil resistance campaigns led to a political compromise, acceptance of status-quo figures, and even a partial or a total sacrifice of justice for peace.
The MB has a history of armed activism from the 1940s to the 1960s. It was heavily involved in the 1952 military coup.
Recently, Youssef Nada, a leading figure in the MB who was formerly in charge of the group’s international affairs, called on “the Egyptian army’s honest sons” to meet with him and assured that the army does not lack patriotism, “but only some of its leadership is corrupt”.
This was interpreted as a call to bypass the current supreme commander of the army – Sisi – and to negotiate with a new leadership; in other words, a coup on top of a coup.
Nada had earlier expressed that the crisis in Egypt needs a “Suwar al–Dahab”, the Sudanese general who staged a coup against Gaafar Nimeiry’s dictatorship before overseeing free elections and then surrendering power to the elected government of Sadiq al-Mahdi in 1986.
But unlike the events of 1952, the MB has no armed wing and no significant loyalists in the army. This did not prevent some of the members to criticise civil resistance and argue for fighting the security forces. So far, the likelihood of these calls to develop into a full-fledged armed insurgency is low, but only due to limited capacity and resources. Both the sociopolitical environment and the narratives are violence engendering.
Egypt is currently in a deadly stalemate. The regime is dominated by figures that believe in eradicationist policies. But they are still unable to eradicate their foes. The opposition incurred major losses that weakened its capacities. But it is still alive, and resisting.
The costs of this stalemate are high. Egypt is less likely to reach political stability and therefore full economic recovery without a reconciliation process and an institutional, conflict-resolution arrangement between its two major political actors, the military and the Muslim Brothers.
Egypt’s current and future political crises will not be adequately resolved without a thorough reconfiguration of its Islamist-military relations.
Omar Ashour is a senior lecturer in security studies at the University of Exeter and an associate fellow at Chatham House in London.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.