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Monday, 26 February 2018

Marching in Circles: Egypt’s Dangerous Second Transition (3)

After Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow in 2011, Egypt is embarking on a transition in many ways disturbingly like the one it just experienced – only with different actors at the helm and far more fraught and violent.
In the predominantly Islamist town of Kirdasa, Giza, a State Security office, closed since 2011, was reopened on 4 July as many Islamist leaders were rounded up. When Islamist youth tried to attack
the office, army vehicles intervened. According to a witness, “the youth went home that day, but they promised that if they start getting summoned for interrogation and torture again, they will get
into an armed confrontation”. Crisis Group interview, expert and researcher on Islamist movements in Egypt, Cairo, 21 July 2013. More broadly, Islamists increasingly view the 3 July events as a conspiracy by secularists and Copts against Islam and its role in government in Egypt. Their predominant discourse is of the need for sacrifice for the sake of religion.
Former presidential spokesman and Brotherhood leader Yasser Ali explained: “What happened was a coup against the legitimacy of [the 25] January [revolt]; a will for the legitimacy of [the] July 1952
[coup] to return once again and stay put. The legitimacy of 1952 was that of the armed forces that was supported by the people. The legitimacy of January is that of the people who have chosen a civil
Vice President Essam el-Erian joked about the lack of Islamists in the new cabinet saying: “the cabinet’s first meeting would be held in a bar”. Reinstatement of the constitution would mean making the head of the Shura Council, a Muslim Brother, interim president. Such suggestions bring shrugs from the other side: “It is inconceivable
that the army would agree to handing power to [Shura Council President] Ahmad Fahmy. What do you think he will do, even if he is there for a second? His first executive order would be to fire Sisi
and other generals who helped oust Morsi. The army will never allow such a scenario to materialise”.

 “The people have chanted ‘the people and the army are one hand’ again on 30 June, after they used to chant ‘down with military rule’. They also showed up in the hundreds of thousands to [General]
Sisi’s invitation [to rally] on 26 July. The Brothers need to understand that the game is over and that Egyptians are back in unison with their armed forces. The sooner they accept this new reality, the less painful it will be for them”. Several officials said that the various security agencies, notably the police and military, were closely coordinating their activities. “Despite their historical differences, these agencies are unified by their desire to get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood”.

Short of a political agreement, the most likely outcome is a prolonged stalemate, repeated clashes and a transitional process in many ways fundamentally detached from reality, rejected by a significant portion of the population and unable to provide either normalcy or legitimacy. Nor should one underestimate the risk that some Islamists, convinced that the democratic process will never make room for them, drift toward violence. A Brotherhood member said: We are sick and tired of our leaders telling us to remain peaceful while we are being shot at and thrown into prison. Where was that peacefulness when secularists
attacked our buildings and set them on fire, or when thugs killed our women? We need our leaders to just stop asking us to remain peaceful and let the group’s youth lead the charge.
All of this has been accompanied by dizzying rhetorical escalation on both sides. NonIslamist media denounce the Brotherhood as an extremist – even, at times, terrorist – organisation backed by foreign interests (notably Hamas members and Syrian refugees).40 On 26 July, Sisi urged “honourable, faithful Egyptians” to take to the streets
and provide him with a “mandate to confront violence and potential terrorism”.
The Muslim Brotherhood has dismissed opposition to its rule, denouncing a broad conspiracy hatched by remnants of the old regime, foreign interests, the Coptic Church and apostates. Neither camp is monolithic. As seen, the Salafi Al-Nour Party at key moments sided with non-Islamists against the Muslim Brothers;43 the sheikh of Al-Azhar – the nation’s pre-eminent Islamic institution – likewise endorsed the military’s move against Morsi. There are divisions among those latter forces as well; anecdotal reports suggest that Al-Nour members have joined pro-Morsi protests,45 and many
The three Gulf states offered Egypt a financial assistance package comprising grants, cash deposits, soft loans and energy products..
A retired general appearing on an anti-Islamist private satellite channel went as far as to suggest that Morsi himself is of Palestinian origin. One of the most popular chants in Rabaa al-Adawaya Square, where the main pro-Morsi sit-in is held, is “[the state is] Islamic, Islamic … in spite of all secularists”. On 5 July, Mohamed Badie, the Brotherhood’s General Guide, called on the Coptic Pope to stay out of politics, clearly suggesting the church was unwelcome.
As early as February 2013, Al-Nour began to shift its position in the direction of the opposition NSF, calling for a new, coalition government. Later, it urged Morsi to hold early presidential elections
and endorsed the army-led roadmap for the post-Morsi phase. See Reuters, 2 July 2013. On 3 July, Ahmed el-Tayyeb, the Al-Azhar sheikh, urged the nation, in a televised statement, to accept the new roadmap. Relations between Al-Nour and the Brotherhood have been complex. Despite – or because of – their shared Islamist tendencies, each views the other as its most serious electoral rival. Al-Nour
ran against the FJP in the parliamentary elections, endorsed a candidate other than Morsi for president and backed NSF demands for a coalition government before endorsing Morsi’s overthrow.
Given the crackdown against the Brothers, the Salafi party could well emerge as the largest Islamist party in future elections.
Still, it must temper its support for the non-Islamist coalition that helped bring Morsi down, as its base is very sympathetic to the plight of their fellow Islamists and at this time tends to view politics

Azhar scholars have voiced support for the deposed president. Non-Islamists have been far from homogeneous themselves; the episodic outbreaks of violence in which pro-Morsi protesters were killed have driven some to condemn the brutality of the security forces. Staunch opponents of the Brotherhood have disagreed over the right of Islamists to have their own parties, or compete in the political process.
An increasing number of non-Islamists, despite paying lip-service to the notion of reconciliation, believe, however, that there is no place for their foes in the emerging political system.49 A National Salvation Front member said:
The Muslim Brotherhood will be crushed by the army. There is no room for them in the new phase. The sooner they realise this, the better. The idea is for their leaders to give up now in order to allow their youth and followers an outlet to express their political views via Al-Nour or some other Islamist party. Perhaps years from
now, once they have separated daawa [religious proselytising] from politics, they would be allowed back in.
An adviser to the interim president who works on national reconciliation added: The Brothers’ ethos is not one of integration or cooperation. They want to reign supreme. Some [in the non-Islamist camp] want to dismantle the Brotherhood completely; others to abolish their organisation without suppressing individual members. In any case, religion should be categorically separated from politics.
We will need to remove the tumour that is the Muslim Brotherhood,
in binary terms, (Islamist vs. non-Islamist). “Al-Nour wants to participate in the new roadmap to maintain their gains – being included in politics, and securing their legal status, which is a guarantee against persecution. Their base thinks they have sold out, and many of them are in solidarity with the Brothers. Al-Nour’s bet is that it can oscillate between both camps, thus securing its legal standing in the short-term and presenting itself as the only Islamist political option in the long-term; they are positioning themselves to inherit the Brotherhood without overly alienating the Islamist base”.