Sunday, August 25, 2013

Egyptian military takes country to the brink

The Independent
Saturday, 24th, August, 2013

M. Serajul Islam

Egypt is burning and all because one General is determined to demolish what comes his way for realizing his “swelling” ambitions to become the current day Nasser.  The anti-Muslim Brotherhood  (MB) groups who had urged him to take power and bring down the elected regime of Dr. Mohammad Morsi are now finding out that they had helped wake up the aspirations of a new dictator who is now posturing to take Egypt back to days worse than those of the dreaded Mubarak regime and bury the fruits of Arab Spring.

Since taking power after millions had gathered in Tahrir Square to demand that Mohammad Morsi step down and give new elections to the country, the Egyptian military and security have gunned down according to its own estimates nearly 1000 Egyptians mainly in the streets of Cairo. Those gunned down were almost all the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood who had chosen to challenge the military’s action against its elected regime by gathering in the streets. The military blamed the MB for starting the killings by shooting at the military/security. Although there may have been some instances of shootings by MB supporters, international media has established that the killings were almost entirely the work of the military/security.

World opinion has swayed against the military regime in Cairo. Unfortunately, the military led by General Sissy seems determined to suppress MB’s demonstrations in the streets by force and does not appear to be at all concerned at the large number of deaths that are occurring in the streets. Egypt has not seen such bloodshed even when the military had ruled without caring for any democratic pretensions. In the past, when the military regimes had dealt with street demonstrations, most notably from the MB, it had succeeded in clamping down and dispersing the opposition. In fact, the past military regimes were able to ban the MB and keep it out of politics as long as they rules. This time, the MB is simply refusing to give in.

What General Sissy and his men are trying are tactics that are from the stage of history that has gone into the garbage. Meanwhile, Egypt has had the benefit of the Arab Spring where people of all groups/factions, including the MB and the forces that opposed it recently to side with the military, came together and in 18 days ended Hosne Mubarak’s 3 decades of military and oppressive authoritarian rule. Thereafter, the country has had both the parliamentary and presidential elections in which the Muslim Brotherhood won democratically although its victories in both were marginal.

The Muslim Brotherhood unfortunately failed to focus on the fact that its democratic victories were only marginal and that Egyptians had not given it the mandate to impose its Islamic agenda on them. In addition, the administration of Mohammad Morsi, inexperienced as it was, also acted in the same authoritarian way as the hated regime that the Arab Spring had overthrown. Therefore, the massive demonstrations in Tahrir Square against the MB’s authoritarian ways were quite understandable. What was not understandable was the forces that had gathered at Tahrir Square against MB’s misrule urged the military to the rescue.

In fact, what the current situation is bringing into the centre stage about the Arab Spring is the fact that the change that millions had achieved in January 2011 was an incomplete one. The Tahrir Square millions believed that by removing Hosne Mubarak, they had achieved their objective and returned home. They allowed the military/security based on which Hosne Mubarak carried out his authoritarian and fearsome regime to remain intact. Thus after Mubarak left, they found out to their dismay that the military was not at all inclined to allow democracy to be established in the country. The military interfered in both the presidential and parliamentary elections and did almost everything to derail both.

It was by some clever handling of the MB, particularly by Mohammad Morsi, that it was able to assume political power from the military. The way Mohammad Morsi was able to get rid of General Tantawi, the powerful Army Chief and Defense Minister in his cabinet was particularly commendable. Many had expected that in the cat and mouse game between the elected representatives and the military, the democratic forces were winning. Unfortunately, before it could win the game against the military, the MB upset and annoyed the democratic forces with whom it had ended the military dictatorship of Hosne Mubarak by hurrying with its Islamic agenda.

The falling apart of the forces that were allies during the Arab Spring was the opportunity that the military was waiting for. It was offered by the forces against the MB in a silver platter to the military. For the military in Egypt, it is not just political power that motivates it, which by itself is an extremely powerful motivation. The military in Egypt has a lifestyle that it has built over the last half a century and more where it is by its own right, a formidable economic power. If it loses political power, that lifestyle and stranglehold of the economy would also go. However, unless the military goes out of political power comprehensively, Egypt’s tryst with democracy would be nothing more than a mirage.

This is where the forces who went against the MB to bring the military made a fundamental error although the MB itself must bear a great deal of responsibility for angering and upsetting the democratic forces against it. Nevertheless, the recent murderous actions of the military have highlighted the real dangers facing the people of Egypt; that it must take chances with the Muslim Brotherhood that, its fundamentalist views notwithstanding, has opted for democratic ways by democratic means and not by inviting the military to oppress and suppress it. Already, Al Baradei has realized that mistake and has resigned and after doing so, now facing proceedings from the Court for betrayal. Many human rights activists who had urged the military to intervene against the MB have retracted and have given statements against the military. The massacres have crossed the lines and there is no doubt that those who urged the military and now regretting that they did so.

The MB, its mistakes in governance notwithstanding, has shown in the face of massacres that this MB is not the same that Nasser/Sadat/Mubarak were able to banish out on politics by their Presidential decrees. The present MB would simply not give in. This could be dangerous unless the military stops its rampage to browbeat the MB to submission, which is not likely to happen.  The massacres would only lead the extremist elements in the MB to gain the upper hand and push Egypt to the brink. Al Qaeda’s number 2 Ayman Al Zawahiri is an Egyptian and a former MB activist. He is still alive and must be smiling at the way events are shaping in Egypt.

The urgent need is to stop the army from its avowed path to force the MB to submission that could push Egypt towards becoming the “next Afghanistan”. The international powers led by the United States have that power to stop the military’s marauding ways, not the Egyptians. The US that has made strong statements following the massacres in Cairo after declaration of emergency but fallen short of calling the military takeover a coup must do so and stop all aid to the military regime immediately. The US must also urge its allies in the region that has offered aid in billions to the new regime- the Saudis, the Kuwaitis and UAE- to withdraw. An international alliance must be built to force the military regime to start dialogue with the MB and all other democratic forces and give a road map for return to democracy as soon as possible. Time is of the essence and the international powers can wait to stop the military regime at the peril of Egypt and world peace for if Egypt erupts, it will not spare those who have powers to stop Egypt from self-destructing.

The writer is a former Ambassador to Egypt.

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