Tag Archives: Brotherhood

The Price of Egypt’s Integrity

These days of chaotic, bloody brutality are a time for mourning, as the toll continues to rise for those killed by the Egyptian security force’s operation to break up pro–Mohammed Morsi sit-ins as well as from retaliatory attacks. There have been too many gruesome days in Egypt since the 2011 revolution, but never have the prospects for recovering from the damage seemed so bleak. At the moment, it is not unreasonable to fear Egypt backsliding to a state worse than that of Hosni Mubarak’s.

In the past two and a half years, an unleashed Egypt has chanted, “The people demand the downfall of the regime,” … and then the military … and then the Muslim Brotherhood. Today, graffiti on a grimy wall in Cairo simply reads, “Down with the whole world.”

It is almost impossible to describe the sheer intensity and scale of the Aug. 14 security force crackdown on the Nahda and Rabia al-Adawiya camps, where supporters of the deposed president had gathered for 41 days following the July 3 military coup. Bulldozers, snipers, assault weapons, tear gas, pellets and helicopters overhead were all reported at the scene.

Aerial images from that evening on Egyptian state television showed much of Rabia, sometimes described as a small city, up in flames. A number of journalists compared the scene to a war zone. What occurred there is far from the “gradual dispersal” of protesters designed to minimize carnage that the interim government had promised in the preceding days. Rather, the “dispersal” was an all-out attack. Egyptian human rights groups condemned the violence in a statement titled to aptly summarize the situation: “Non-peaceful assembly does not justify collective punishment.”

While talk of breaking up the protests had been building for days, marches by Brotherhood supporters to government ministries the day before the crackdown may have spurred the military to action. Reuters reported that outside the Interior Ministry, residents had thrown stones and bottles at the pro-Morsi marchers and called them “terrorists” as police warded the demonstrators off with tear gas.

Cairo and 13 other cities across the country are now under emergency law and curfew. Police have threatened to arrest anyone out after 7:00 pm, leaving Cairo, a city that normally settles after 3:00 am, eerily quiet.

There is no independently verified death toll. For now, Egyptian authorities report 638 dead and more than 4,000 injured, while the Brotherhood tallies their dead at some 2,200. Decaying bodies fill makeshift hospitals and morgues where grieving families struggle to identify their dead.  Many of the bodies have been burned under unclear circumstances still being pieced together.

Churches across the country are under retaliatory attack by reportedly pro-Morsi supporters. The Interior Ministry said that at least seven churches had been vandalized or torched by suspected Islamists on Aug. 14, while unofficial reports cite more than fifty churches and related institutions attacked. Two deaths have been reported related to sectarian violence.

Mohamed ElBaradei, the vice-president for foreign affairs and liberal veneer on the interim government, resigned the day of the crackdowns, declaring that he could “not bear the responsibility of a single drop of blood … especially with my faith that we could have avoided it.”

Neither the Brotherhood’s leadership, which called on its supporters to join the sit-in as the onslaught began, nor the military leadership supported by the supposedly liberal National Salvation Front and Tamarrod, the youth movement that sparked the June 30 protests that led to Morsi’s overthrow, share ElBaradei’s sense of guilt. Bloodthirsty, they are calling on their supporters to “resist” each other. The Brotherhood declared Friday, Aug. 16, “A Day of Rage” against the military’s violence across the country.

The National Salvation Front released a statement on Aug. 15 “saluting the police and military forces … imposing their will of complete victory.” Appearing as the military’s puppet, Tamarrod called for its supporters to take to the streets on Aug. 16 and stand up to the Brotherhood by forming “neighborhood watch committees,” a senseless call that if heeded will likely provoke some of the bloodiest street battles Cairo has ever seen.

Egyptians’ deep-rooted, insidious hatreds and prejudices have been released in a fury as the institutions of the deep state and the Brotherhood, both cheered on by popular support, play a deadly zero-sum game. After the violence of the crackdown, the military has made clear that only one side will emerge intact from this struggle, which is unlikely to end soon. A severely wounded beast now clearly fighting for its survival, the Brotherhood will in the coming days put up staunch resistance. On the day of the crackdown, Brotherhood supporters attacked state institutions and churches in Upper Egypt and the Delta.

In cries that have become heartbreakingly familiar, a woman at the Rabia al-Adawiya sit-in wailed, as fighting raged around her, “Are we not Muslim! Are we not Egyptian!” That is what demonstrators gathered against Morsi’s November 2012 constitutional decree pleaded to their Brotherhood attackers in front of the Ittihadiya presidential palace.

With ordinary political contests transformed into existential battles, the cycle of demonizing those with differing political views has ripped Egypt apart. “Thug,” “terrorist,” “kafir” (non-believer) are loosely thrown around by the Brotherhood and their opponents in the sludge of hatred. The inherently competitive nature of electoral politics, which at its basest thrives on exploiting divisive fissures, has helped entrench such hyped-up prejudices against the “other” in Egypt.

During the December 2012 constitutional referendum, Islamists equated saying “yes to the constitution” as saying “yes to Islam,” asserting the dominance of their religious interpretation. This, along with the Brotherhood’s majoritarian politics at a time when social and political trust in a shaken Egypt was weak, fueled the fears that it was seeking to build an Islamic state. While its history, ideology and belligerence to compromise worked against the organization, the mistakes made by its members in government were not far beyond the usual trials and errors of emerging democracies.

In the more hopeful yet still repressive days of the 2011 parliamentary elections, when the ruling Supreme Council of Armed Forces crushed anti-military protests, many non-Islamists voted for the Muslim Brotherhood with cautious optimism. Confident in Egypt’s ability to define its own path on its own terms as a nascent democracy, they asserted that Egyptians must make their own choice in the country’s first free and fair elections.

As the world warily watched, a middle-aged man in a worn brown galabiya, waiting to vote, declared, “If we make the wrong choice, we’ll fix it.”

The price for “fixing” the Brotherhood’s election may prove perilous and regressive for Egypt. While many Egyptians see this as a struggle between the “integrity of the state” and the Brotherhood, it is worth remembering that the state they are now seeking to preserve is the same one that the 2011 revolution sought to bring down in favor of democratic, civilian rule based on the rights, freedoms and dignity of all of Egypt’s citizens.

This article was originally written for and published by Al-Monitor on August 16, 2013. It was revised for style on September 19, 2013.

Photo credit: Marcia Qualey


Egypt’s Military Shows No Restraint

Fireworks booming, military helicopters circling overhead and posters of “lion-hearted” Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi at every turn continue to mark the celebratory mood in Tahrir Square. The irony weighs heavily when remembering the ardent anti-military protests camped out in the square less than two years ago under the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and the brutality with which security forces repeatedly crushed them.

Days before Egypt’s first democratic parliamentary elections in November 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood, which anticipated a strong performance, refused to support demonstrations against the SCAF after initially being anti-SCAF, not wanting to upset the military establishment.

How the tables have turned, again, with the Brotherhood finding itself at the mercy of the ruthless military hand it once uncomfortably backed to achieve its own ends. Complacent in the military’s vicious crackdowns against peaceful demonstrators — one of its biggest betrayals of the post-revolutionary period — the Brotherhood is condemned to a similar fate.

Since deposed president Mohammed Morsi’s overthrow, the two large-scale killings of Brotherhood demonstrators, seen as violent extremists by many, have evoked little sympathy from the public. A more thorough eviction of pro-Morsi demonstrators from Rabia and Nahda Squares is expected in the coming days.

There is a truth to be learned from the last two years: Whenever the military has felt threatened, it has exercised no restraint, violently subduing dissent. Every side in Egypt knows and has experienced this. The masses of people who have filled the streets, many of whom have traversed labels since the 2011 revolution — the revolutionaries, the pro-democracy demonstrators, the SCAF protesters, the Brotherhood protesters, the Islamists — have all had their blood shed on military orders.

Yet, in spite of having witnessed each other’s downfalls, Egypt’s political factions still continue to deal with the devil, even though they, too, will likely suffer from the military’s heavy-handedness in the near future.

The massive outpouring July 26 for demonstrations “against terrorism” cemented the bond between Sisi and the streets. At his behest, the street will roar, and at his word they will be quiet. He is a military general who orchestrates demonstrations with one hand and crushes them with the other. The street, with its penchant for army heroes à la former president Gamal Abdel Nasser, is ensuring the military’s entrenchment in the new order. The street has made the military a kingmaker.

While Sisi reassures the country that he has no interest in ruling, the reality is that he is currently the most powerful man in Egypt. For the moment he is beloved, but the problems that he will eventually have to face remain, and will worsen — a plummeting economy, high unemployment, fuel and food shortages and a deeply polarized country.

The civilian government that was so crucial to Tamarod’s defense that Morsi’s overthrow was not a military coup is becoming less relevant as it bows to the general’s demands. The interim president and chairman of the Supreme Constitutional Court, Adly Mansour, granted Prime Minister Hazem Al Beblawi the power to authorize the army to arrest civilians following violent clashes on July 27.

Deemed “clashes” by most media outlets out of journalistic caution, the disproportionate response by the security services is clear. As a Human Rights Watch report affirms, “Many of the at least 74 pro-Morsi protesters killed were shot in the head or chest.” There are numerous unverified reports of snipers firing upon the protesters, a tactic used against demonstrators in the past. In a news conference conducted that afternoon, Interior Minister General Mohammed Ibrahim denied the accusations.

As more reporting has emerged about the events surrounding Morsi’s overthrow, the story of the military’s long-held frustration is coming to light. While the coup may yet be proven to be premeditated, it does seem the military was waiting for a chance to become more involved in the country’s governance.

In his most popular move as president, Morsi forced the retirement of Field Marshall Mohamed Tantawi, the head of SCAF and his defense minister, as well as his anticipated successor, Sami Hafez Anan. He also removed the chiefs of the air force, air defense and navy. Viewed as a bold stand against the “deep state,” Morsi’s short-lived gutsiness inspired hope of more reforms to come.

Instead, Morsi only moved to cushion his power. He appointed Sisi, reputed to be a devout Muslim and someone Morsi, along with many Egyptians, believed was sympathetic to the Islamist agenda. Murmurings in the street of a coup started in January, but few believed that it would come from Sisi. However, Sisi and the army were only biding their time as their and the country’s discontent mounted.

In an interview with the Daily News Egypt, Brotherhood spokesman Gehad el-Hadad warned that the “’deep state’ is back.” The problem, though, is that it never went anywhere. As the first civilian leader after a period of ugly military rule, Morsi had a unique, but ephemeral, chance to reform the Ministries of Defense and Interior. There was enough popular support around the retirement of the generals and momentum from the anti-military activists that he could have pushed forward with further reforms. It would have been a risky move, with serious potential backlash, but it may have been one of the few opportunities Egypt had. Instead, Morsi treaded carefully around the vilified Interior Ministry and believed he had tamed the military beast by cutting off its head.

While public opinion is overwhelmingly in favor of the military, there are a handful of dissenting voices against military rule and violence. The “Third Square,” a small group against both the pro-army and the pro-Morsi factions, is staked out in Giza’s Sphinx Square. Struggling to be heard over the vitriolic fervor on both sides, this is one hodgepodge group which has not been sidetracked from the goals of the revolution.

The April 6 Movement, which played a crucial role in the 2011 revolution and supported the June 30 protests, and the Revolutionary Socialists can both be found there. Both groups released statements condemning the violence by all sides, but the Revolutionary Socialist statement released July 25 was vehemently anti-army, saying, “The Muslim Brotherhood was overthrown to deepen the revolution, not to support the regime. Whatever crimes the Brotherhood has committed against the people, … we do not give army chief Al-Sisi our authority.”

Catapulted back into its role as the repressed victim of the state, the Brotherhood’s incendiary religious rhetoric,  and allegations of torturing individuals from rival political camps,  is further alienating it from the people. By self-righteously framing itself as fighting for a higher moral cause that surpasses politics, the Brotherhood is fueling the fear that it had always had an agenda greater than Egypt. There is little doubt that Brotherhood protesters are armed, but neither is there doubt the demonstrators in Tahrir are armed.

On Aug. 1, the Interior Ministry promised protesters who leave pro-Morsi sit-ins in Cairo and Giza “quickly” a safe exit. The civilian leadership has ordered the end of protests. The July 26 mass “anti-terrorism” rallies gave the security establishment a popular mandate, and the Interior Ministry is holding meetings to decide its strategy. The police and army continue to make public assurances that they will use force as a last resort, but never has an eviction of demonstrators after the 2011 revolution happened peacefully.

If July’s killings, which have left more than 100 dead, are any indication, blood will run freely in the days to come, and almost every side in Egypt will be complicit in the additional lives that are lost under military rule.

From the Brotherhood’s complacency to military violence against pro-democracy protesters in 2011, everything is coming full circle with the military’s anticipated violent expulsion of the Brotherhood from the public space, largely supported by public sentiment.

The state security apparatus will be the only winner in the ongoing political battle, and it is only a matter of time before we find ourselves asking who will be crushed under its heel next.

This article was originally written for and published by Al-Monitor on August 2, 2013.

Muslim Brotherhood Missing From Egypt’s Road Map

CAIRO — Against a background of entrenched resistance from Muslim Brotherhood supporters and disagreement within the opposition, the military is implementing its “road map.” Meanwhile, pro and anti-“coupvolution” demonstrators are holding their ground. Crowds continue to flock to Rabaa El Adaweya mosque and Cairo University, where protesters call for the deposed President Mohammed Morsi’s reinstatement on the basis that he is the constitutionally legitimate president of Egypt. In the Brotherhood’s preferred framing of political fights, Morsi’s removal is being described as an attack on Islam.

There is anticipation that the beginning of Ramadan on July 10 will only embolden Brotherhood supporters. While the mood at the Brotherhood’s protests is one of preparedness for battle, Tahrir continues to celebrate with nightly displays of fireworks and military airplanes overhead.

Cairo’s streets in the past few days have vacillated between a return to normalcy and unusual quiet. While both sides still use the streets as a standoff to determine which side is louder and bigger, the military has appointed the prime minister and vice president, laid out a constitutional declaration and set a timetable for presidential and parliamentary elections.

After the Salafist Nour Party — which backed the downfall of Morsi — refused two earlier propositions for the prime minister, including Mohamed ElBaradei, the June 30 coalition spokesman and head of the Dostour Party, they finally agreed to former finance minister and liberal economist Hazem el-Biblawi as prime minister, who was appointed on July 9.

ElBaradei will now be the “vice-president of foreign affairs.” The current foreign minister, as well as the ministers of interior and defense, will all retain their positions. A divisive political figure, it is apparent that ElBaradei’s appointment is targeted at the West. His experience as director of the International Atomic Energy Agency, as well as his established position as a secular liberal, will give the West — still edgy with Morsi’s removal — a familiar face and ideology to deal with in the interim government. Moreover, as US aid to Egypt remains uncertain in the face of whether or not the military’s intervention was a coup, ElBaradei as the icon of Egyptian liberalism and the declared election timetable may help convince the US government of Egypt’s commitment to liberal, democratic values moving forward.

In Egypt, while many liberal progressives are enthusiastic about ElBaradei’s appointment, many moderate Egyptians see him as a weak personality who showed up at the last minute to take power. Among the Islamists, he is detested for his secular stance on religion, and he has done little to convince the general public that secularism does not mean the removal of Islam from the Egyptian identity.

For Mustapha Kamel al-Sayyid, adjunct professor of political science at the American University in Cairo, who spoke on the phone to Al-Monitor on July 7, ElBaradei’s participation in the interim government is crucial in facilitating the division between religion and politics, a combination he views as dangerous.

Ironically, in appeasing the Salafists, the military’s constitutional declaration, issued around midnight on July 9, keeps the reference to the principles of Islamic Sharia as the basis of the state and main sources of legislation — one of the main articles the liberal opposition vehemently opposed during the 2012 drafting process. Furthermore, freedom of worship stays limited to the three monotheistic religions as in the 2012 constitution, whereas the 1971 constitution protected freedom of belief.

A once fickle ally of the Muslim Brotherhood in competition over a similar base, the Nour Party — which has been straddling the fence over Morsi’s removal — is now reaping its rewards. Acknowledging the popular, peaceful nature of the June 30 protests and critical of the Brotherhood’s political domination, it also expressed support for the constitution and legitimacy of Morsi’s presidency. However, it ensured the party’s role in the post-June 30 order by agreeing to participate in Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s meeting prior to the expiration of Morsi’s 48-hour ultimatum. Playing both sides, they also assured their Islamist constituency that they had nothing to do with Morsi’s overthrow.

As the now dominant Islamist group willing to engage in the political process, the Nour Party — whose beliefs are more hard-line than the Brotherhood — have played a prominent role in the shaping of the interim government and constitutional declaration. While their engagement is important to prevent the complete alienation of the country’s Islamists, they will prove an obstacle to the liberal vision for the new state.

However, navigating the transition and maintaining that they did not betray their brothers in Islam is proving increasingly difficult with their followers. After the July 8 clashes between the army and Brotherhood supporters, which left 51 dead and 400 injured, the Nour Party announced that it was suspending cooperation with the interim government. Worried about its members who were joining the Brotherhood’s protests, it also proposed an alternative road map on the grounds the military’s road map had increased violence and suppression.

Newly appointed Biblawi stated that he will include the Brotherhood and the Nour Party in the formation of a cabinet, but the Brotherhood unsurprisingly rejected the offer to join the “revolution cabinet.” For them, any solution begins with the reinstatement of Morsi, as they do not even acknowledge the legitimacy of the new interim government.

Shadi Hamid, director of research at the Brookings Doha Center — speaking to Al-Monitor via Skype on July 6 — said, “The Brotherhood is not going to pre-emptively give up their legitimacy claim because in some ways that is the best bargaining chip they have with the new government.”

In the long run, Hamid believes that if the Muslim Brotherhood leadership decides to cut its losses in a couple of weeks and get back into the system, they will need clear guarantees about their participation, including whether they could appoint a prime minister should they win a plurality in the elections.

Sayyid, however, thinks that the interim government will need to deal with the all-encompassing nature of the Muslim Brotherhood organization before deciding on their return to politics. “The Brotherhood as an association should be subject to the rule of law as a nongovernmental organization, but Egyptian law forbids NGOs from being involved in politics.”

How the interim government will handle the Brotherhood’s reintegration into the political process is one of many questions that remains to be answered, but meanwhile, the military continues to plow ahead with its road map amid increasing political influence by the Salafists.

This piece was originally written for and published by Al-Monitor on July 10, 2013.