On July 3, 2013, in a move that shocked some members of the international community, the Egyptian military forcibly removed from power President Mohammad Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood (MB). With overwhelming support from Egyptians, the military deposed Morsi’s government, maintaining that they stepped in as a response to serious political and social unrest triggered by the failure of Morsi’s MB government to deal with Egypt’s problems and the government’s unwillingness to respond to legitimate concerns expressed by people and various political parties. Egyptians refer to what happened as a “military intervention at the behest of Egyptians.”
The list of Morsi and MB’s failures in governance are long. They include, but are not limited to, their go-it-alone mentality, majoritarianism, nepotism, favoritism, adoption of sectarian language, initiating creeping Islamization of the government, a hastened process for writing a new constitution, and a poorly managed economy.
It must be noted that Morsi’s incompetence managed to unify all opposition groups against his government and the MB. The secular, independents, minorities, liberals, nationalists, the April 6th Youth Movement, some Salafists and pro-Mubarak elements worked together in the rebellious Tamarod movement. Tamarod was a grassroots movement established to register opposition to Morsi’s government, which demanded that he call for an early presidential election. The Movement collected more than 22 million signatures in support of its demands and organized the June 30 protests that initiated the coup on July 3.
In the aftermath of the coup, the MB continues its intransigence in the face of popular opposition, calling on its supporters for protests to reinstate Morsi, well aware that it will lead to further bloodshed. In response, the military-backed interim government, supported by the overwhelming majority of the Egyptians, is showing no leniency, cracking down on the protesters with brute force.
The violence in Egypt has already led to more than a 1,000 deaths and attacks against religious minorities and their sanctuaries. The MB plans to exploit the death toll by making martyrs out of them to earn sympathy both domestically and internationally, with the hope of triggering international response to the coup and using it as a political bargaining chip in the future.
In the meantime, the military-backed interim government has securitized its political problems, maintaining that the MB and its sympathizers are an existential threat to the peace and security of Egypt. Therefore, the government feels entitled to use whatever means necessary to annihilate the security threat.
The military’s spokesperson Ahmed Ali recently stated, “When dealing with terrorism, the consideration of civil and human rights are not applicable.” This illustrates the interim government’s resolve to deal with the MB as a security threat rather than a political one. There are calls for the government to brand the MB a terrorist organization and disband it.
How does this solve the problem over the long term? I would argue it does not. Rather, it encourages the MB and other Islamists, who are arguably a sizeable portion of the Egyptian society, to take their activities underground, further radicalizing them.
The MB has proven they are a resilient organization. The Brotherhood has struggled with consecutive governments; they have been apprehended, tortured, imprisoned and even at times executed, but they have survived. Despite the overwhelming majority of Egyptians having risen against the MB and Morsi’s government, it does not spell an end to the MB as a political movement or an ideology.
No government can beat Islamism as an ideology and Islamist movements such as the MB on the battleground. In Egypt, the answer to dogmatism and narrow-mindedness of radical Islamists and Salafi groups is a discussion about the values and advantages of the rule of law, equality before law, tolerance, inclusiveness, and a liberal economy.
However, Egypt, like many other Middle Eastern countries, has a culture of authoritarianism. In an authoritarian regime, political opponents are enemies to be annihilated. Neither the government nor the opposition is willing to compromise with the other. They want to monopolize power and do not want to share it with people who do not share their worldview.
In democracies, on the other hand, political opponents are colleagues with different opinions that must be dealt with politically. There is a process of give and take and everyone is aware that sooner or later the opposition will replace the government. Egypt has not had a democratic government for decades.
It is also worthwhile to be reminded that revolutions do not usually create democracies in the short term. It takes years to create a democratic state and the process is often bloody and controversial. One just needs to review the Glorious Revolution in England, the French Revolution, or the American Civil War to appreciate how democracies took shape.
With more than a thousand people now dead, the Egyptians need to decide immediately how they want to establish peace in their country. Both sides to this conflict have made mistakes. It is the Egyptians who need to start a campaign of soul-searching and decide how to best deal with the bloody events following the popular coup. It is uncharacteristic of such a great civilization and a country to cheer the killing of the MB sympathizers who are their fellow countrymen. Violence always breeds violence and hatred brings more conflict.
Furthermore, Egyptians should ask their government to immediately address the culture of impunity under which the security forces have been operating for decades. The former dictator Hosni Mubarak, Morsi, and now the interim government have not implemented meaningful reforms to change the security sector’s abuse of power and excessive use of force in dealing with opposition. The governments have changed but the security sector’s brutality has not.
Moreover, Egyptians should demand a move toward good governance. The interim government is not concerned with re-election and it has the support of the overwhelming majority of the people. Therefore, it can make difficult decisions and act on them. The interim government first needs to restore the functioning of the state, and then implement reforms demanded by the International Monetary Fund (IMF). Some aspects of the reform, such as cutting subsidies are painful in the short term, but Egypt needs foreign investment; investors and international entities require those reforms. It is time to move towards good governance and take deliberate steps to improve the economy.
Egypt is no stranger to revolution. During the January 25, 2011 revolution that ousted Hosni Mubarak, the people demanded, “Bread, freedom and social justice.” None of these have been achieved so far and the people of Egypt are impatient for change. It is time for all Egyptians to work together and move the country forward. This will not be an easy process, but let us never forget Martin Luther King, Jr. when he said, “we must accept finite disappointment, but never lose infinite hope.”