24 July 2013

Egypt Debate - Violence and Discord Three Weeks On


We asked two leading experts about violence in Egypt's transitional period. Their answers could not have been more different.

Three weeks after Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first elected civilian president, was overthrown following mass protests, the country remains wracked by political and social unrest. Protests decrying the ouster of Morsi are ongoing, senior Muslim Brotherhood figures including Morsi are still being held, and the new interim government seems as far away from building an inclusive government as ever.

The political environment is deeply polarised, as is much of the debate. And worse still, violence appears to be increasing. A soldier has been killed in a bomb blast in Mansoura, last night two Morsi supporters were gunned down, and around 100 people are believed to have been killed in violence between opposing groups of protesters.

As the political impasse continues and the situation on the streets intensifies, we got two vastly contrasting responses when we asked two Egypt analysts: "What sort of state- and non-state violence is there likely to be in the transitional period and what can be done to limit it?"

Larbi Sadiki, Senior Lecturer in Middle East Politics at the University of Exeter and author

Calling a spade a spade is in order. What has happened in Egypt is a coup, albeit not a well-planned one. This was a 'stupid' coup in terms of execution, explanation, timing and objectives.

General Abdel Fatah al-Sisi, commander in chief of the Egyptian armed forces, is now responsible for the massacre that happened in the first days of the coup. His hands are stained with blood. Meanwhile, no amount of Machiavellian chivalry will absolve opposition leader Mohamed ElBaradei from working with the army.

This is a classic case of engineering democracy by undemocratic means. Why any right-thinking person would want to reinvent the wheel by dismissing the ballot in deference to the bullet as the main route to political reform is unclear.

The action is ruthless and, more importantly, irresponsible in political terms as it could trigger discord and violence on a large scale, as we have seen. In addition, the means of success are missing, and the modicum of a road-map presented by the army leaves no doubt that the process is being dictated by al-Sisi and co. with little or no input from political strategists and thinkers.

It is a pity about the April 6 Movement, the only genuine party with popular backing in the Tamarrod (rebel) campaign. The same goes for Kefaya (The Egyptian Movement for Change) as their endorsement of the coup will now compromise their image, and they will struggle as democrats.

In particular, the April 6 Movement's leader, Ahmed Maher, would be ill-advised to take up any post in the new administration. It would be political suicide. As for ElBaradei, his political career is already in tatters, the perfect example of how the liberalism of Arab elites is illiberal and contradictory by precluding fair competition.

Already there are cracks within the new illiberal army-led colossus with clay feet. It will not withstand the long campaign of public disobedience to be unleashed by the Islamists who will now boycott the political process, playing tit for tat with the liberal and secular forces rallying around the generals.

The timing could not have been more stupid for staging the coup: Egyptians are no longer afraid of the army or police, and the action put Islamists in a corner where they have nothing to lose.

Egypt since the coup looks partly 'unruly', which despite the military's position of power could be good for the revolution and striking back at the army and its political clients among the liberal and secular forces. But it is also partly 'Mubarak-like': muzzling the media, excluding Islamists, witch-hunting free speech and dissidence, and killing and incarcerating opponents.

Moataz El Fegiery, research associate at FRIDE and scholar at SOAS, University of London

The popular mobilisation against Morsi was necessary not just to restore democracy but also to save Egypt from the escalation of sectarianism and radicalisation. The Muslim Brotherhood used the ballot box to limit future political contestation. In one year in power, the group showed that its moderation is an illusion.

To strengthen its grip on power, the Muslim Brotherhood was too lenient with radical and violent Islamists. The incitement to violence was systematically used to intimidate liberals and non-Muslims. After the removal of Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood has openly engaged in violence, believing that this is the way to either restore Morsi or improve its negotiating position with the military and the new government.

Nevertheless, the door is still open for the Muslim Brotherhood to engage in the political process provided that it pursues painful organisational and doctrinal revisions.

The military and the new transitional government have repeatedly affirmed that there are no intentions to repress Islamists or to outlaw Islamist parties. Moreover, a process of national reconciliation has been initiated to resolve tensions between political groups.

The military is aware that the exclusion of the Islamist factions would trigger violence and provoke their constituencies. The military is also subjected to international pressure to integrate Islamists in the new political process.

But certain legal measures are being taken against leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood involved in violence. This might be the only way to contain the extremist voices at the group. However, this accountability process should be transparent and fair.

Yet the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood does not solve all tensions in Egypt's transition. The military, the remnants of Mubarak regime and Salafists might obstruct institutional and legal reforms. The influence of Salafists and the military in the new Constitutional Declaration is obvious. Appeasing Salafists might be a provisional tactic to reduce tensions with Islamists.

However, the military and the remnants of Mubarak regime might utilise their presence to counter-balance liberals. But if there is a lesson to be learned so far in Egypt is that democracy means more than the ballot box.

The new transitional period should become an opportunity for political actors to agree on certain constitutional and institutional safeguards of the rule of law, separation of powers and the protection of fundamental rights to restraint future misuse of power.

Rom Bhandari is Legal Editor at Think Africa Press. He holds an LLM from King's College, University of London. His interests include human rights and migration. Follow him on twitter @romromromTAP. Email: rom.bhandari@thinkafricapress.com

James Wan is the Senior Editor for Think Africa Press. He is a British-born Mauritian and has particular interests in China-Africa relations, human rights and social theory. You can contact him at james.wan@thinkafricapress.com and follow him on Twitter @jamesjwan.

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