There is no doubt that in all of its modern history Egypt has never been exposed to the chaos, turmoil, polarisation and division which now threaten its social and political infrastructure. One can attribute this polarisation to the rapid and drastic changes that resulted from toppling a political regime which had been deeply-rooted within society for more than fifty years. The revolutionaries achieved this without thinking about a method of communication that would function beyond the realm of social networking. This then placed society in a confrontational position where it was forced to face all of its various contradictions and nuances without the presence of a proper leadership or the establishment of any restrictions or conditions. All of these differences have reflected poorly on society in light of all these variables.
Throughout this period, there are only two parties in Egypt that have maintained a steady and organised leadership: the military establishment and the Islamists, led by the Muslim Brotherhood. These two, along with all of their local and regional supporters, now represent the spearhead of this polarisation and division. The questions of legality and legitimacy, and whether or not this is a coup or a counter-revolution, revolve around these two parties.
Since the coup, most social classes in Egypt have yet to see any difference on the ground or in their daily lives. They have managed to change the party in the presidential palace but will that do anything to change their day-to-day reality? They are calling for the overthrow of the system but what comes next?
The youth who represented the heart of the revolution and sit-ins virtually disappeared after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak. They became preoccupied with their individual needs and the demands of their personal lives. They were not organised and did not possess any political experience to match the greatness of the deed that they had just done. It is true to say that the youth’s victory came as a surprise to everyone, without exception.
Overpopulation, unemployment, corruption and a sense of overall hopelessness were some of the most important catalysts that pushed the people onto the streets in huge numbers on January 25th, 2011. These driving forces caused Hosni Mubarak’s regime to topple like a house of cards, and transformed his weapons and tanks into piles of scrap iron. Yet, after the dust settled from the vast demonstrations, there failed to be any organisation in the Egyptian political arena and the driving forces behind the revolution could not determine what they wanted to do next.
This polarised and division in Egyptian politics was occupied by two factions that sought power; however, one of the first fruitful products of the democratic experience led to the political ascension of the only experienced party on the scene, the Muslim Brotherhood. At this point, the Brotherhood had had decades of political experience in the social, political and economic arenas, which helped it at the ballot box. This outcome was not unique to Egypt; it also seemed to be present in every Arab Spring country and it was caused by the failure of mainstream nationalist and left-wing groups. These imploded, leaving gaps in the political arena which, in turn, placed pressure on the military to intervene in light of the revolution’s aftermath and a new understanding of democracy.
The coup as a fake revolution
It is fair to say that it is not reasonable to judge the potential and ability of the Muslim Brotherhood after just 12 months in office. One cannot classify this experience as a legitimate democratic experiment and it certainly did not warrant the exaggerated response that occurred with the military coup. In reality, there are many internal and several external (both regional and international) factors which led to the events of June 30th. On the domestic level, counter-revolutionary forces were given the opportunity to wake from their stupor and given time to organise behind the military. The army was waiting patiently for the opportunity to pounce and seize power.
The truth is that counter-revolutionary forces were taking advantage of the Brotherhood’s joy over their political victory and used this time to achieve maximum gains within the state apparatus. These gains demonstrate the old guard’s desire to hold onto power despite the election results. Counter-revolutionary forces also interfered when it came to the drafting of the new constitution. They framed the Brotherhood’s eagerness to implement various articles of the constitution as a deviation from Egypt’s longstanding and authentic principles, inciting people against the movement by creating a fear of an “inevitable” Islamist state; a “Brotherhood Egypt”. This was successful among Egypt’s minorities, who are fond of an Egypt that has long been known for its openness and secular values regardless of the rise of Islamic political trends.
External factors were no less influential when it came to deepening the rift in Egypt after the events of June 30th. These were reflected in many regional conflicts, especially in Arab countries that took a stance with or against the Brotherhood. It is evident that the military was given the green light to interfere after the first democratically-elected government in the history of Egypt was overthrown and this was met with Arab and international silence. The events of June 30th caused a great divide in Egypt society and each side’s insistence to hold on to their beliefs and concepts has led to a lack of consensus on whether this is a revolution or a coup.
There is no doubt that the numerous measures taken by the Cairo government following June 30th, which seek to defame and uproot all of the Muslim Brotherhood’s social, political and economic institutions, have won the movement empathy in the hearts of the millions who believe that it was subject to persecution. The Islamist group’s inability to deal with the threat to its position peacefully may encourage many youth to react with extremism. The extremist perspective could be manifested in numerous ways, one of which may be violence in line with the current regional environment.
Before one can ascertain the possibilities within the Egyptian arena one must first calculate the impact of the losses resulting from numerous violent confrontations. These losses can be summarised as follows:
For a start, the first democratic experience in Egypt’s modern history was hijacked. The people exercised their rights through free and fair elections at the ballot box. At worst, the Brotherhood’s opponents could have pushed for early elections to defeat the Islamists, instead of using military means, which have taken Egypt back to square one.
Second, the reputation of the judiciary has been damaged due to its decision to provide a legal cover for the military establishment, especially regarding the president’s and other leaders’ politically-motivated arrests, in addition to dissolving all of the Muslim Brotherhood’s social, political and economic institutions. These moves raise more questions than answers.
Third, there is now a lack of confidence in Egypt’s potential for stability. This is a result of the military intervention in the democratic process, which lacked legitimacy and caused a great divide across Egyptian society. The numerous factions in Egypt can no longer be underestimated socially, politically or religiously.
Potential outcomes in Egypt
Given all of the factors referenced above, one can predict that the Egyptian situation might manifest itself in several ways. Although reconciliation is the only outcome that could prevent Egypt from entering a dark era of chaos, it now seems highly unlikely due to the government’s attempts to suppress the Muslim Brotherhood and destabilise all of its long-standing popular bases.
What is occurring is a replication of the military coup that followed the Islamic Salvation Front’s victory in Algeria’s democratic elections of 1991. The coup led the country into a ten-year downward spiral of violence that is estimated to have claimed the lives of around 200,000 innocent people.
Reconciliation and compromise can only be achieved by giving political amnesty to the Muslim Brotherhood and not by banning its members from participating in political activities. Elections must then be held and the outcome must be accepted as the will of the Egyptian people. Although this potential scenario is the only way to prevent Egypt from that dark slide to chaos, it seems highly unlikely to happen, for the reasons given above.
Another potential outcome is that the country will step further into chaos and economic collapse due to the gradual depletion of the military and state institutions, which would be worn down by the efforts of extremist groups. Extremism would become one of the main tactics used by the Muslim Brotherhood to struggle against the military; the movement would, effectively, be forced underground. Such moves would, due to modern communications and the social media, expand the movement’s activities to Upper Egypt and Sinai.
The author is an Iraqi academic. This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera net on 14 December, 2013
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.