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Egyptian crisis at a deadlock

January 27, 2014 at 1:42 pm

Egypt needs a miracle. The “positive” development in the past 10 days is that we have moved from denying the crisis to acknowledging its existence, but there remains uncertainty about how to solve it.

While foreign diplomats were invited to intervene in the search for a way out, some Egyptians said that they are looking for a deal; others talked about mediation while some suggested reconciliation. Yet others ruled out all of these and said that the Muslim Brotherhood must face the fact that the status quo is irreversible and they must give in to it. Mediators and envoys in such a scenario must address one side only. No wonder that some foreign commentators such as the Independent’s Robert Fisk have described the situation as “confused”.

This confusion is accompanied by chaos and bewilderment promoted by the no doubt innocent media, which has opened the door for a fierce attack on the idea of democracy, pluralism and national reconciliation. This has been joined by implicit and explicit invitations to adopt fascism, exclusion, a state of emergency and the reproduction of the war on terror.

I have already asked whether we should just kill off all of the opposition in Egypt; it is a question inspired by the absurdity before us, as we now not only disagree over the right of the opposition to express itself freely, but also whether it has the right to exist at all. We no longer agree over the principle of national reconciliation, which is based on consensus, not oppression and dictation. Moreover, some of us, including quite a few intellectuals, have come to believe that the public only consists of those who opposed Dr Mohamed Morsi, and that those who supported him are not considered to be part of the public. This makes me wonder whether we truly want to live together under the roof of one nation, or if this has become a matter with multiple interpretations and different points of view.

If I could describe the current situation in Egypt it would include the following features:

  • After acknowledging the existence of a crisis, both of its parties, the leaders of the Armed Forces and the Muslim Brotherhood, are still acting according to their full demands to resolve the crisis. The military leadership is talking about the need to recognise what happened and build on it, linking its alleged legitimacy to the crowds against Morsi. Meanwhile, the Brotherhood is stressing Morsi’s legitimacy based on the results of the free elections that brought him into office, as well as the crowds that have taken to the streets for a month and a half since the coup. The point is that the military leadership has been talking about not deviating “even one millimetre” from the road map that General Al-Sisi spoke about on July 3. In other words, any flexibility or movement has to come from the Muslim Brotherhood alone.
  • At the same time, the signs of confusion are evident in terms of authority. While Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei is using conciliatory language in an attempt to contain the Muslim Brotherhood, leaving himself open to attack in the process (he has been accused of being a threat to national security), Shorouk newspaper published a report on 10 August stating that he is working closely with Al-Sisi to save the country from slipping into chaos. Moreover, while the president announced on 7 August that the diplomatic efforts at mediation between the two sides were made with the complete approval and coordination with the government, Deputy Prime Minister Ziad Bahaa El Din said that the government was not aware of the matter. The president’s claim that diplomacy has failed, blaming the Muslim Brotherhood for the failure, was contradicted by a White House spokesperson who announced on 9 August that Washington would continue its efforts for reconciliation and settlement in Egypt.
  • There is also confusion concerning the Brotherhood and the coalition formed to defend legitimacy. The supporters rallied in Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda Squares continue to demand the reinstatement of Dr Morsi and sometimes speak about defending Islam and their willingness to sacrifice a million martyrs to do so. At other times they declare that they are defending democracy. However, they refuse to recognise the status quo but do not provide an alternative. They do not acknowledge that the Brotherhood’s popularity has declined and that they lost the last round of the confrontation with the Armed Forces which carried out the coup and, by doing so, supported a large segment of the public.
  • The presence of the Armed Forces leadership at the heart of the political scene and behind the most important decisions is considered as an important and dangerous development in its overall performance. This is not the only development because once the army intervened on one side it lost its traditional neutrality.
  • Observers also notice the emergence of an exclusionary trend in the new government. Various clues suggest that this trend has an influential presence in at least three circles: within the Armed Forces; with members of the previous regime’s state security agency, reinstated by the Interior Minister; and within the circles of the remnants of the Mubarak regime who are still influential in state institutions and the media, as well as in the economic sector.
  • The new regime depended on its undoubted support from the public, but from an institutional point of view it is more dependent on the military to give it time to build a support base. At the moment, the regime knows that it would not win any election.

This background warrants the claim that we are facing an impasse and an unsolvable problem. Dialogue and reconciliation assumes the willingness of all parties to be flexible; the military leadership has already made it known that it is unwilling to move an inch. It is also doubtful that the Muslim Brotherhood will bend. When one party is praised for its strength and determination and the other is demanded to be flexible it is clear that we face an invitation for one to be subjugated or acquiesce in the process. Claims of “legitimacy” by both sides add to the difficulties.

Although officials claim that any national dialogue will be inclusive, the situation at the moment suggests that we are heading in the opposite direction, with neither the conditions for dialogue being present nor the desire. Furthermore, if it is already known that one party is required to comply and give in to everything then “dialogue” is pre-determined and meaningless. In addition, a dialogue cannot be considered successful or have any positive impact when one party is demonised constantly by the media controlled by the other side and its leading personalities are detained by the state on fabricated charges. In other words, there can be no dialogue if one side has had its freedom taken away and is subjected to repression and political and moral assassination by the security services and media. This is what I mean when I say that there is no favourable environment for dialogue, which needs serious measures to build trust and goodwill in order to be successful.

The matter becomes even more complex when we realise that the extent of polarisation in Egypt has basically eliminated the independent institutions able to mediate. There may well be independent and respectable individuals, but there are none who are in an institutional position to take on this role. Some argue that this is why external parties have been approached to try to build bridges.

Underpinning all of this, however, is the simple fact that Egypt’s is a unique situation in the world today. The proposed dialogue is not going to be between politicians, but between politicians and soldiers, who are in power at the moment. This opens the door for us to edge towards an Algeria-type situation, where the army suppressed the Islamist FIS. This led to the untimely death of more than 250,000 people. As the news filters in of the killings of pro-Morsi supporters in the squares I hope in all sincerity that the people of Egypt are aware of this possibility and understand its implications.

The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.