Those discussing future developments in light of the new presidency neglect the issue of political Islam in Egypt. That’s strange as it is now a serious crisis that cannot be ignored and should not remain without a solution.
I already know what the tone will be like in Egypt’s current atmosphere of terrified hysteria. The majority of those concerned with the matter are not ready to talk about it; some consider it to be closed “forever”, while others describe efforts to address the issue as spying, treason, terrorism and conspiracy. Yet others regard it as a malicious ploy by the Muslim Brotherhood to revive itself after being taken apart over the past seven months.
Anyone wanting to know more about these reactions only has to follow the string of accusations made against political science professor Hassan Nafaa, who proposed an initiative that has been published recently. He called for addressing the issue politically by means of a committee of wise men and mediators seeking to mend the rift and treat the wounds. Although the man is independent and was opposed to Mohamed Morsi’s policies, he was not spared from accusations, defamation and insults directed at him from those who have surrendered to the hysteria. The latter has seen spouses who support the Brotherhood being regarded as terrorist sleepers and so permission has been given to divorce them; calls to execute Brotherhood members; the raising of Al-Sisi as Egypt’s saviour, like a messenger from God; and descriptions of the Brotherhood as a worse enemy than the Zionists. Indeed, all of the world’s ills have been placed at the feet of the movement.
After all of this, anyone supporting Nafaa’s proposal is risking their lives and will not come out unscathed. Nevertheless, in the face of the hate campaign waged by the neo-fascists and their supporters, I would like to say that the call to consider the matter politically and not settle for a security solution alone is for the sake of Egypt, and not the Brotherhood. This is due to the fact that civil peace and the simplest rules of co-existence and stability, which Egypt has not witnessed for the past three years, depend on the government’s ability to contain political opposition, not eliminate or exclude it, and its effectiveness in building bridges and not walls.
Any talk of bridges or understandings does not mean that tolerance will be given to anyone proven to have engaged in any terrorist activities or bloodshed. However, evidence of such acts will not be accepted through leaks, security reports and media campaigns. The only way to prove such acts is through independent investigations and an honest judiciary.
Those who say that the issue has been closed forever are not only trying to dictate the unseen future, but also giving in to their whims and wishes rather than accepting the facts and the reality or reading history. We have yet to witness an idea eliminated by means of a ministerial decree or a security crackdown, even if it is not linked to the people’s doctrine and religious conscience.
In this context, I would like to note that the former Syrian president Hafez al-Assad issued a law in the 1980s providing for the execution of anyone affiliated with the Brotherhood, and the same was done by his Libyan counterpart Muammar Gaddafi, who called the movement’s members “traitors” and actually executed some. Former Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali did not hesitate to oppress and persecute the members of Ennahda Party for 20 years, but none of these tyrants’ hopes were realised. The members of these groups are active in the Syrian National Coalition and the governing authority in Libya, and are key players occupying the majority of the seats in the Tunisian parliament.
In the case of Egypt, we are talking about a matter that, according to independent sources, includes the names of about 40,000 victims (at least 2,700 killed; 16,000+ wounded; and more than 21,000 detainees, including 200 women and girls). If we bear in mind that each and every one of these victims was part of a family consisting of an average of five people, it would mean that the continuous clashes during the past seven months have harmed about 200,000 people directly. This means that the fate of a large number of Egyptians is dependent on a responsible and wise reaction (note that I did not mention the rest of the political Islam factions), and it is unwise to write-off all of these individuals as terrorists.
There is a practical consideration that forces us to reconsider the current security approach because the Egyptian state is fighting a real and fierce war against terrorism in Sinai, the activities of which have started to spread to other provinces in the country. It would not be wise or a good measure for the state to fight wars on two different fronts at the same time. It would, perhaps, be wiser to pacify the internal front temporarily by means of peaceful understandings, at least until the war in Sinai is won by the state.
It is interesting to note that the issue which the rulers in Egypt consider to be closed is still open for discussion in the outside world. All that the Egyptian authorities did was issue a decree and then bury their collective head in the sand.
Reports issued by Amnesty International, discussions in the European Parliament and comments published by British newspapers all condemned the security policy employed by the Egyptian government in its dealings with the current crisis. If it is true that EU judicial forums will consider some of the cases related to the issue that would mean that the controversy over the Egyptian situation will continue throughout the upcoming months.
In this context, I was struck by the memorandum presented to President Obama by two experts from the Brookings Institution (one of the most important research centres in the US), written by researchers Tamara Cofman Wittes and Daniel Byman. A summary of the memorandum was presented by my colleague Professor Mohamed Elmenshawy and was published in Shorouk newspaper last Friday, February 7.
The memorandum highlighted the need to encourage the Egyptian government to reconcile with the Muslim Brotherhood leaders who are looking to resolve the crisis involving the group’s relationship with the state. It warned against the alarming escalation of violence in Egypt and said that the Muslim Brotherhood did not ask its members to bear arms and use force. It also noted that there is increasing pressure to do so on the youth of the group, which is reinforced by the government’s violations against them and the group’s leaders.
The authors suggested a number of measures that will reduce the risk of the Muslim Brotherhood resorting to extremism. For a start, Washington could tell Cairo that the Brotherhood resorting to radicalism is not inevitable, and in order to reduce that possibility, the Egyptian government should allow some Brotherhood leaders and other Islamists who have not been violent to carry on with their political and social lives, even if the legal ban on the movement stays in place. This is because the presence of Salafi and non-Salafi organisations would be reasonable to the Brotherhood and will reduce the attractions of radicalisation.
Second, the report suggests that the US administration must stress its support of the Egyptian army in any limited operations carried out against the radicals who are targeting US interests directly, such as the security of Israel. However, Washington must stress that it does not regard all Islamists as terrorists.
While the US administration should support efforts to combat terrorism, say Wittes and Byman, it should not consider the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist group. Indeed, the US administration must continue to deal with all the Islamic forces and figures that have not committed violent acts, including the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt and abroad, and pressure them to adhere to peaceful alternatives in the context of the US upholding its democratic principles and refusing any calls for or encouragement towards violence.
Despite the fears of Washington’s allies, such as Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, regarding a democracy that puts the Brotherhood in power, the researchers say that Washington must convince them that the group’s turning to terrorism and radicalism is not in their best interest. Therefore, Washington must alert these governments of the risks of supporting the police in the complete exclusion of the Brotherhood in an attempt to eliminate the group.
With regards to the CIA, the Brookings team say that it must make data-gathering on the Egyptian Islamists a top priority, and must focus on any relationship that may exist between the Muslim Brotherhood, Al-Qaeda and Palestinian jihadist groups. The agency must also work closely with its Israeli counterpart to collect and analyse the information, and should also examine the information given to it by Egyptian intelligence.
Some will be quick to say that the US administration supports the Muslim Brotherhood and defends it, based on the claims made by the Egyptian media. I would like to comment on this with two points. First, Washington will always put its own interests first and foremost, and is willing to interact with any party that protects these interests, whether it is the Muslim Brotherhood or any other party, so it is not necessarily accurate to say that the US is keen on democracy in Egypt or any other “friendly” countries; it is more keen on the stability that serves its interests.
The second point is that the American position, which seems to be positive towards the Brotherhood, will remain so tactically as long as the group does not threaten its interests, but we should not forget that the relationship between Washington and the governing authority in Egypt is a strategic alliance, contrary to what many envision and what is being promoted by the media.
As I have said before, this relationship has different branches while the origins are constant and unaffected. They are represented by services provided to the United States in three areas: ships using the Suez Canal, the use of Egyptian airspace and intelligence cooperation.
I do not believe that the American memorandum will become a guide or road map followed when dealing with the Egyptian nation. In discussing it, I wanted to draw attention to the fact that the matter is still alive and in the minds of western strategists, and that the claims being made about the matter being settled once and for all and the door of political thinking as a solution for the matter being closed permanently are not supported by the evidence.
One of the main problems that afflict the Egyptian approach to dealing with the issue is that some believe that it is a decisive battle that must be won by the group in power at any cost to those on the streets and detained in prisons and central security camps.
We need to rectify this vision urgently in order to knock on the doors of victory for the nation at the end of the day, not a victory of one group over another. One of the signs of despair in our time is that such calls are faced with opposition and accusations from parties who insist on transforming the confrontation into a new massacre leaning towards genocide.
This is a translation of the Arabic text published by Al Jazeera Net on 11 February, 2014
The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.