A resolution to the crisis in Egypt doesn't look as if it is on the agenda as we enter the revolution's fourth year. This should not surprise us, as revolutions rarely stabilise a country in the first two or three years. When the revolution was against decades of oppression and corruption in a country as important as Egypt, then the road to stability must be laced with many obstacles and difficulties that take longer to overcome. As such, the problem is not the existence of a crisis, but the road that the revolution is taking and the traps being put in its way.
Moreover, societies that revolt against their oppressors not only suffer from the crisis of the new authority, especially during the transitional phases, but also remain victims of the crisis. This is because repressive regimes suppress freedom and monopolise authority and wealth, as well as destroy the activists within society and tighten its grip on and eliminate alternatives.
If we apply this idea to the Egyptian scenario just a few days before the January 25 anniversary of the 2011 revolution, we find that the current authority is facing a crisis and that the majority of Egyptians are also suffering, including the Muslim Brotherhood. In fact, the overwhelming atmosphere is one of crisis in the capital Cairo.
The media is waging a fierce campaign against the opposition, pushing an agenda for its political elimination; it is resisting the idea of national reconciliation in an appalling show of support for oppression. This atmosphere drove the Deputy Chief Justice to urge the formation of a war council to manage the country, not for the purpose of its development or to save the economy, nor to improve its management or education, but to eliminate opposition groups and silence them; they are all regarded as "terrorists" or members of a fifth column. A well-known journalist took it too far when he claimed on television that there is an American conspiracy to assassinate General Al-Sisi and warned that if it happened then all US citizens in Egypt would be killed and the homes of their agents would be attacked and they too would be killed.
Hysteria is endemic in some circles in Egypt regarding the four-fingered Rabaa Al-Adawiyya symbol and is reflective of the tension in society. Who would have thought that if a young man flashed the symbol at an air force pilot in Asyut he would be reported and arrested? Or that a 9th grader in Kafr el-Sheikh would be taken in for questioning and detained for 15 days because his teacher found the Rabaa sign drawn on his ruler? Who would've thought that a young lady studying medicine would be prevented from taking her exams because they found the sign on her shirt? All of these incidents bring to mind the actions of the Nazis and Fascists of days long gone.
In terms of authority, after the results of the referendum on the constitution are announced the structures of the government are expected to be established. Beginning with presidential and parliamentary elections, the authority's challenge will lie in its ability to deal with a range of thorny issues inherited from the previous year, which represent some heavy tests, the most prominent of which are as follows:
- Determining the relationship between the counter-revolution and Deep State represented by the members of the old regime, along with its agencies and network of interests, who contributed to the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood and are now waiting for their share of the political spoils. This is especially true because these parties are backed by regional states that rushed to support the June 30th protest on the basis of hostility towards the January 25th Revolution; it poses a difficult problem for the new authority, which cannot combine the goals of the January Revolution and its large number of supporters and the allies of the June 30th protest because both groups oppose each other.
- Determining the fate of the civilian and democratic state for which the January 25th Revolution fought, especially after the new constitution laid out a political role for the military institution by preserving the position of the Defence Minister (Al-Sisi) for the next eight years. If the current predictions are accurate and Al-Sisi runs for president, then that leaves the door open to the militarisation of the state. In light of the growing role of the security institution, imposed by the current situation, the idea of establishing a civilian state appears to be in great danger.
- The individuals wounded in 2013 pose a challenge which the new government does not know how to deal with. Around 1,800 to 2,000 people wounded by the security forces are likely to take their cases to court and the trials may continue throughout the year, not to mention their effects on the social environment. In addition, there are 21,000 people in detention, according to the Wiki Thawra (independent) website, who we cannot imagine staying in prison forever. The website also reported that 2,665 people were killed, in addition to the 15,913 others who were injured during the clashes in the year up to 11 November 2013. This is a serious legacy for any new government's inbox which cannot be left unresolved.
- The "war on terror" poses another challenge, as there are at least three fronts that warrant the continuation of this open war that have the potential to exhaust the state's energy and resources. Of these fronts, one is internal and is represented by the opposition of the Muslim Brotherhood after declaring it a terrorist organisation. The second is in Sinai, where some groups have formed and developed under the movement's wing, but the government has failed to eliminate them. The third front is in Gaza, as a Reuters report dated 15 January quoted Egyptian officials as saying that the government's "war on terror" will not be complete until the Hamas government governing Gaza for the past eight years is overthrown.
- There is also another extremely dangerous and important issue regarding the future of Egypt's water supply. The government is faced with the question of how to deal with the issue after the trilateral talks held recently in Khartoum failed, with the Ethiopians refusing to budge on their position regarding the new Al-Nahda Dam on the upper Nile. This is being built very quickly; 30 per cent of the project scheduled to end in 2017 has already been completed. Once commissioned, the dam will lead to a reduction of 12-14 billion cubic metres of Egypt's share of the Nile waters. This means that it will lose between 25 and 40 per cent of its electricity supply, in addition to 4 to 5 million acres of agricultural land, leading to the displacement of 5 to 6 million farmers.
- The mother of all crises facing the government is that if it puts all its effort into dealing with the aforementioned issues, it will not be able to do anything about the basic goals of the revolution, especially those regarding human and economic development and social justice.
The crisis created by the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood has led to a vacuum in Egypt's political arena due to the severe weakness of its popular institutions and civil organisations. The oppressive regime not only destroyed any alternatives but also worked to infiltrate the various popular institutions and subject them to its authority. This applies to the institutions that are legally independent (legislative authority, universities, judiciary and media) or those formed by means of elections (such as local councils and labour unions). It also applies to cooperatives in various fields, including agriculture, production, consumption, etc.
This also occurred with regards to political parties, human rights organisations and professional unions which, if they resisted infiltration and localisation, would either be put under observation by the government or legally and illegally trapped by the law. Basically, the oppressive regime has globalised the public field, apart from exceptional cases, which in any case only remained so temporarily and did not make any effect or were insignificant. This did not allow for the various elements of civil society to grow sufficiently to become a real force capable of representing society or to rein in the government. As a result, the government has become the only element of force in the community, especially after the exclusion of the Islamists, who were not successful in their experience in government.
Due to the weakness felt by most of the most political groups and civil society organisations, they resorted to an alliance with the military and security institutions. This was a paradox for a democratic path when they wanted to challenge the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood and fill the vacuum that would be left by them.
Therefore, instead of investing in the revolutionary atmosphere by raising the government above society in a manner which would restore its vitality and groom civil leaders, fragile civil society entities used the military establishment to open the door to the growth of its political role. This paves the way for the militarisation of society in the foreseeable future, thus contributing to the weakening of society rather than strengthening it.
The Muslim Brotherhood crisis is multi-faceted, especially since its classification as a "terrorist organisation" for the first time in its history, which has put it in an awkward position, despite the fact that the designation has no legal validity. As a declaration by the Council of Ministers it is considered to be a political position, not legal, and so it was not published in the Official Gazette. Therefore, the "terrorist" designation's impact is limited to political and media discourse.
However, such discourse has had its impact in increasing the popular rejection of the movement. Other factors include the mistakes made during Mohamed Morsi's term as president.
The Brotherhood's alliance with other groups differing in their intellectual approach, despite an Islamic reference, added to the burden and spurred acts of violence against the movement and its institutions.
The arrest of all of the Muslim Brotherhood leaders put everyone in the same basket; the distinctions between "moderate" and "extremist" (relative terms in any case) have been blurred. This move cut the lines of communication between the leaders and their support base, opening the door to foolish and excessive practices and initiatives.
Protests being carried out by the Brotherhood youth do not seem to have a clear goal and are expensive; those taking part on a regular basis for over six months know that they will face arrest or death sooner or later. During the constitutional referendum on 14 and 15 January, 444 people were arrested, according to a statement by the Minister of the Interior.
The continuation of such protests provides for ongoing bloodshed with no clear purpose other than raising the voice of protest and anger. Even the slogans calling for the restoration of legitimacy that are usually chanted in these protests represent another face of the crisis; the protesters are still attached to a phase that has already been overtaken by reality. The problem of legitimacy is a Brotherhood problem, while the restoration of democracy is the problem of the nation and society.
I know that the state of hysteria that hit the community has affected our minds and ruled our reactions; that a large group of the elite succumbed to this state; and that some of the elite have joined the ranks of those who have been calling for more political genocide. I also know that the call for the re-rationalisation of our minds and the healing of divisions in the nation will be dismissed as foolish and impractical.
However, I will remind everyone of the words of Britain's wartime Prime Minister Winston Churchill: "If we open a quarrel between past and present, we shall find that we have lost the future."
This saying is the most applicable to the current Egyptian reality, because the current struggles are consuming the present energy on the basis of past bitter battles, of which the future will be the victim. The future is our dream and the hope that we are counting on.
This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Shorouk news on 21 January, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.