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The drums of civil war are beating

January 27, 2014 at 2:22 pm

Although I heard General Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi call on the people to take to the streets and squares on Friday to give him a mandate to deal with the violence in the country, I still can’t quite believe it and am not alone in my feelings. Several people called me who doubted the news as they couldn’t imagine such a thing.

I could not believe that the Minister of Defence, for that is what Al-Sisi is, after all, would make such an open invitation when we have a president and a prime minister. Either could and should have addressed the Egyptian people to explain the current crisis and direct a state agency to perform its duty if necessary.

For Al-Sisi to take sole responsibility for the decision, which was how it appeared, is something that has to be justified and understood. A legitimate government does not, after all, need to ask for a mandate to tackle “extremism and terrorism”; it goes with the job. The Egyptian army has, for example, been doing just that in the Sinai Peninsula for several weeks; that’s its duty. Apart from anything else, nobody knows the exact limit of the mandate Al-Sisi has asked the people to give him, or what his definition of violence and terrorism is. Such words are flexible and can even be used to describe acts performed by the army or police.

The minister’s call opens the door for anyone to attack anti-coup protesters or any other demonstration anywhere in the country. He has made an open call for unlimited violence. In the context of the tens of thousands of Muslim Brotherhood supporters and others opposing the coup being on the streets at the moment, Al-Sisi is beating the drums of civil war. I do not doubt that General Al-Sisi knows full well what he has done, but he should be aware that while it is easy to light the first spark it is not so easy to put it out.

Furthermore, it caught everyone’s attention when Al-Sisi mentioned in his statement to the masses that a dialogue and national reconciliation was in progress at the presidential headquarters. This created confusion over the purpose of his message, calling on the one hand for confrontation with the Brotherhood while on the other saying that dialogue is under way.

He should, of course, have waited for the outcome of the dialogue before taking further steps, but his statement suggests that the dialogue is not fully inclusive and is meant only for the coordination of coup supporters. Those preferring the democratic approach and out on the streets voicing their opposition, meanwhile, are to be dealt with violently.

I fear that General Al-Sisi may have made his dangerous invitation too soon, without a full assessment of the consequences. His haste drove him to claim that he had sent messages to President Morsi through Dr Mohammad Salim Al-Awa but when I asked Al-Awa about this he denied delivering or receiving any such messages.

It may be too much to hope that Al-Sisi will seek to rectify the impression his speech left on Egypt’s intellectuals. I hope that he understands, and he deals with, the huge embarrassment that he has caused the President of the Republic, the Prime Minister, and his Ministry with his initiative to make such an invitation for violence in the way that he did. The best solution to the current crisis is by achieving a political settlement in a peaceful, civilised and democratic manner, not by calling for civil war.

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