Another Friday and Egypt is poised again for more mass demonstrations that will underline anew its profound and dangerous divisions.
The army has said it will deploy elite troops to deal with violence and armed troublemakers. With talk among some of Morsi’s supporters of martyrdom, let us hope the soldiers exercise maximum restraint to avoid a repeat of the bloody events outside the Republican Guard compound in Heliopolis on Monday.
With the overthrow of Morsi, Egypt has entered a second period of transition. The goal that eluded it since the fall of Mubarak, genuine democratic rule, remains a distant hope. The ghosts that plagued its first transition (from February 2011 to June 2013) have not gone away. If anything, they have been compounded by a new spectre: the resurgence of Islamist violence.
While television cameras captured the tragic deaths of more than 50 supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) outside the Republican Guard base on Monday, none were present when Islamists went on the rampage in Alexandria or upper Egypt. Particularly frightening was the targeting of Christians in the south and the killing of a Coptic priest in Sinai in brutal retaliation for the Copts’ support of the army’s removal of Morsi. This has confirmed everyone’s worst fears.
Worse still for the Muslim Brotherhood, the jihadi rhetoric and the violence have led to growing calls that the organisation be designated a terrorist outfit, outlawed and disbanded.
Given this language, it’s hard to imagine how can Egypt re-integrate the MB into the political process – arguably one of the most difficult challenges facing the country right now.
The police have rounded up many of its leaders on charges of incitement to violence. Others are on the run. The MB has declined offers to be included in the new interim administration.
The ripples of Egypt’s second upheaval are still being played out and their full impact may not be clear for some time. But one of its most important consequences has been throwing into sharp focus the question of the compatibility of Islamism and democratic values.
It has become pretty obvious to everyone that democracy for the MB means nothing more than the ballot box and winner-takes-all. That is primarily why they have failed to build bridges with the opposition and create consensus – the only way to run a divided society like Egypt.
Now, the MB has a choice to make: either do some soul-searching or continue to blame it all on foreign conspiracies and the “crusader west”. The former could pave the way for compromise and power-sharing. The latter would consign it to a slow and painful death.
The MB has perfected the art of double-speak: the language of democracy and human rights to its western interlocutors, but that of jihad and xenophobia to fire up its poor masses. That too has to change if it wants people to believe its avowal to respect democratic values, and I don’t see that happening any time soon.
No less important for the MB is the need to revise its founding myth (its core ideas have remained untouched since its founder Hassan Al Banna more than 80 years ago) that sharia is the panacea to the ills of society. This fallacy has been exposed and is why people quickly became disillusioned with Morsi. The poor and hungry cannot eat sharia, neither can holy books or piety alone create jobs or grow the economy. Egyptians revolted against Mubarak in January 2011 not because of a supposedly lost Muslim identity, but to demand freedom, dignity and social justice.
Two years and four months later, and power is once again in the hands of unelected leaders who promise to deliver democracy. The interim president, Adly Mansour, has announced an ambitious timetable. It is clearly designed to assuage international fears that Egypt is sliding back into some kind of military rule, and that there will be a quick return to normal politics, with an elected parliament and president in nine months. This is very unrealistic given the amount of work still required to bring all parties to the negotiating table to agree on a new constitution.
Egypt should not rush its transition again. It was haste during the first transition (promoted by the MB out of pure self-interest) that plunged the country into a series of unending crises culminating in the latest upheaval.
Before rushing to the ballot box Egypt is in desperate need of its own truth and reconciliation process. Ideological differences have solidified into a personal hatred that has often led to violence. With the bitterness so intense, it is hard to imagine how can Egypt heal its rifts without a Nelson Mandela or a nonviolent grassroots movement committed to that goal. Were that ever to happen, it would be a victory for the culture of democracy over the deeply ingrained autocratic instincts of the establishment and the political class.
Published in the Guardian on 12 of July 2013
And as it was reported in the Egyptian newspaper AlShorouq