Will the Egyptian Army take over completely?
A combination of violence, polarization and political vacuum is threatening to bring the Egyptian revolution closer to the kind of civil war in Algeria rather than moving toward a renewed democratic process.
The ingredients are there for everyone to see, and Monday’s heavy casualty of supporters of ousted Egyptian President Muhammad Mursi in clashes with security forces was only the precursor of the things to follow. The pullout of Salafi party El-Nour from the political process, has only deepened political polarization, painting the political struggle, rightly or wrongly, as one between Islamists on one side and the liberals and secularists, supported by the military, on the other. But more importantly is the fact that all these developments are taking place at the time when there is a clear political vacuum in running the state. Another significant development is the increasing role of the army in domestic security, a role that is usually reserved for the police.
The arrangements whereby the military provided the required support to the opposition to oust Mursi and leave the political process to the civilians seem to be falling apart. The veto power that El-Nour Party exercised against nominating Mohamed ElBaradie as prime minister and its denunciation of the killing of the Mursi supporters also exposes the fragility of the post-Mursi political set-up. It is now faced with the tough choice of ignoring El-Nour Party and forge alliance between liberals, secularists and the army or give more time and put in more effort to re-engage the Islamists somehow.
The deteriorating condition in Egypt does not allow the luxury of wasting more time trying to persuade Islamists, or part of them at least, to join the political process again so as to have an inclusive exercise.
That may prove to be more than difficult to achieve, which in itself offers the army the temptation to take over completely. At stake is Egypt’s national security, the same pretext that was used to justify ousting Mursi, in addition to the political vacuum that exacerbates an already vitiated situation.
It looks like a recipe for Egypt to return to what it had faced half a century ago. The 1952 military coup resulted in the army facing the dilemma of whether to engage in a political game or take on the onus of running the country on its own. In the end, it found it easier to take over completely. The deteriorating situation in terms of security and economy begs more in favor of such intervention than against.
But these are not the 1950s and 1960s. The political culture has changed completely not only in Egypt, but throughout the world. And with the communication revolution having a huge impact on the political process through the social media, the ability of the state to impose its will is clearly curtailed.
It, however, remains to be seen to what extent the masses who poured into Cairo’s streets for the ouster of Moursi and in support of the army will continue to do so for more stringent and drastic measures. After all, it is easier to stage protests and put up effective opposition than agreeing to tough economic reforms that require sacrifice, discipline and increasing productivity.
What is happening in Egypt is a clear signal to what the rest of the region can expect in future. This particularly holds good for the Islamists who dominated the political scene following the Arab Spring. In the past, Egypt wielded enormous clout in the region given its strength culturally, politically and economically. That is not the case now, at least to some extent. Cairo is no longer the only metropolitan center of the region. Many new and influential centers have sprung up in the Gulf and in North Africa and all have their own ways of having an impact, something that was unthinkable a few decades ago.
However, with the growing turmoil, it is more likely that priorities will change, and security and protection of national interest and its people will prevail over politics. If various political parties and groups have genuine passion for their country, they need to start a serious soul-searching process. Democracy, after all, is about conceding the loss more than winning and about sharing with others, not excluding them. And unless that takes place, what is going on will only serve as an open invitation for the army to fully take over and put an end to a less than three years of tumultuous political process.