9 July 2013

Egypt: Dangerously Divided After Massacre of Pro-Morsi Protesters

As violence continues in Egypt supporters of the ousted president Mohamed Morsi are making it clear they won't go down without a fight. ( Resource: Egyptian Violence Continues )


It is crucial that Egypt's interim government reassures Muslim Brotherhood supporters and proves its inclusive credentials.

Following the overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi on 3 July, Egypt is perhaps more politically divided than it has ever been in the last 50 years. Pro-Morsi supporters have remained on the streets to express their disgust at what they see as a coup, while the military - which is keen to see the deposition of Morsi as a popular revolution - has responded with force. According to reports, 51 Muslim Brotherhood supporters were killed in an attack in Cairo yesterday. Meanwhile, political progress amongst the groups who were calling for Morsi's rule to end has been slow.

The political dynamics at play in Egypt today are essentially a three way collision between the Muslim Brotherhood, the old regime and the revolutionary youth. Alliances between these groups have shifted a number of times in the past few years, but recently - and in very crude terms - the old forces of the deep state allied themselves with the people power of the street to overthrow the Muslim Brotherhood-led government.

Indeed, while the 30 June demonstrations were coordinated by the Tamarod ('rebellion') youth movement, these activists were joined by many elements of the fulool, a pejorative terms referring to 'remnants' of the Hosni Mubarak regime. In fact, according to Mustafa Yahia, a protester who spoke to Think Africa Press, "almost all of the people who went to Tahrir square with us hate the idea of revolution. They are only looking for safe streets and food and daily needs. Because of Morsi's failure to deliver these things, they think that Mubarak was right."

On the opposite side of political divide, supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood are currently clashing with police. Hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood supporters are in custody, including Morsi. And Mubarak-era tactics of censorship are being used.

Winners and losers

The overthrown of Morsi has clearly benefited Egypt's secular forces - led amongst others by Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei - but it is the military that has gained the most from the events of the past week. Chief of the armed forces, General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi, played the role of king-maker in Egypt's latest transition. Among the many ironies of the last week's events is that Morsi's replacement of Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, who led the post-Mubarak military government, with al-Sisi was perhaps one of Morsi's most successful and 'revolutionary' moves in office.

Unfortunately, such widely-supported moves were few and far between. Morsi was viewed as a puppet of the Muslim Brotherhood, and was seen as a weak and indecisive. However, it was the ongoing dire economic situation that was the main driving force behind the Morsi's unpopularity. Unemployment, poverty and hunger have all been steadily increasing. Egypt is running low on foreign currency reserves. The tourism industry has dramatically declined. And one of the few clear routes out of this situation - a $4.8 billion IMF loan - comes with conditions such as cutting food and fuel subsidies that would make life all the more impossible for Egypt's poorest.

There is no doubt that Morsi was dealt a difficult hand as Egypt's first democratically-elected president. But Morsi also lost legitimacy by reneging on his promises to cultivate an inclusive government, making a number of rash presidential decrees, and supporting a constitution that was seen to codify aspects of Muslim Brotherhood ideology.

New friends?

The main driving force behind the 30 June demonstrations was the Tamarod youth movement, which over the past few months has been ever-present in the streets and cafés of Egyptian cities, extolling citizens to sign a petition against Morsi. By mid-June, the campaign announced that it had over 15 million signatures. The numbers mobilised on 30 June were equally impressive, with millions taking to the streets.

Tamarod's role in the uprising was appropriately recognised after the military took power, with the youth movement's leader one of those chosen to give a internationally-broadcast speech in support of Morsi's overthrow. However, Tamarod was just one of many groups represented in the closely stage-managed broadcast.

Along with elements of the fulool - such as General al-Sisi and the new interim president Adly Mansour, head of Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court - and more liberal activists - such as ElBaradei - Tamarod was also joined by the Salafi Al-Nour party.

Although Islamists too, Salafist activists have been amongst the Muslim Brotherhood's harshest critics. In the paradigm for thinking about Islamic politics favoured by many Western politicians and pundits, Salafists are seen as 'more extreme' that the Muslim Brotherhood. But such labels are somewhat unhelpful politically. For example, Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh attracted the support of some secularists and liberals because he advocates government motivated by Islamic values but outside the political framework of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the Al-Nour party in his presidential run. The Al-Nour party is the second largest after the Muslim Brotherhood in the legislature and is already playing a deciding role in approving appointments of the transitional administration - reportedly vetoing ElBaradei's nomination as interim prime minister.

The next two weeks will be crucial in determining the future of Egypt. If Muslim Brotherhood political prisoners are released and their media channels allowed to reopen, it will demonstrate the consensual credentials of the new transitional regime. For reconciliation to begin, it will also be crucial that those responsible for the massacre at the Republican Guard barracks in Cairo face justice. In fact, having removed the Muslim Brotherhood from power, it is now incumbent upon Egypt's new ruling parties to reassure Muslim Brotherhood supporters that they will not face a return to decades of bitter repression, and that the revolution's demands and a truly inclusive government have a better chance of being carried out now than under Morsi.

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