Polarized Egypt not good for democracy
A new popular uprising has brought down the country's first elected leader, deposed by the military after days of mass rallies and demonstrations that demanded the ouster of President Mohammad Mursi. The world saw it as a military intervention, but millions of Egyptians insist that it was not. Gen. Abdel Fattah Al Sisi was quick to transfer power to a temporary civilian president who will oversee a transitional period that will end with fresh legislative and presidential elections and a new constitution. That is the proposed road map for now, but many things could go wrong.
The Muslim Brotherhood has rejected these developments, insisting that Mursi remains the legitimate president of Egypt. Its leaders have challenged the new authority and called on their followers to protest all over the country.
Likewise millions of Egyptians took to Al Tahrir Square in Cairo and other public arenas to support the military. Predictably violence broke out in a number of places and many people were killed.
The biggest challenge for the army now is to preserve public peace as the country attempts to conclude a political transition. But bloody confrontations on Monday between supporters of Mursi, whose whereabouts remain unknown, and the army at the headquarters of the Republican Guard in Cairo left dozens dead and hundreds injured. The Muslim Brotherhood called for an uprising and accused the army of carrying out a massacre. But witnesses, including Brotherhood supporters at the scene, said the armed forces fired only warning shots and that thugs in civilian clothes carried out the shootings.
Attempts to involve the Islamists into the new political process are likely to fail. There are fears that young followers of the Muslim Brotherhood will become radicalized. The army will find it difficult to stay away from the streets as acts of violence occur in many cities and towns. It may be forced to declare a state of emergency in Sinai and other troubled areas.
And just as anti-Mursi groups denounced every step he had taken during the past year, the Islamists will try to derail efforts by interim President Adli Mansour to kick-start a new political process and achieve national reconciliation.
Egyptians are now heavily polarized and regardless of where the majority stands, the fact is that it will be difficult for the army to oversee the implementation of its road map as quickly as possible.
Both sides accuse each other of resorting to violence. The Islamists say that they are being targeted by the military, while their opponents accuse them of attempting to ignite a civil war.
The military coup has complicated what was already a complex situation. It is difficult to imagine a quick and painless way out of the current standoff. A number of sinister scenarios are now beginning to form. The most dangerous would be a repeat of the Algerian crisis of the 1990s when civil war broke out after the military canceled the results of legislative elections which the Islamists had won.
For the Muslim Brotherhood, a movement that had survived political turmoil in Egypt for more than 80 years, Mursi's election last year fulfilled their most important objective. His removal by the military last week can only be understood by them as a declaration of war. For the movement resisting the status quo is a matter of life and death, not only for them but for other Islamist parties and groups as well.
The irony is that deposing Mursi has overshadowed his poor public record in running the affairs of the country in his first year in office. Now he and his followers have become victims of what they see as a plot against legitimacy. The argument has shifted from Mursi's mismanagement of Egypt to whether the country can move on after the military intervention.
Regardless of what happened the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties and groups remain an important player in Egypt's political, social and religious life. Their exclusion, whether intentional or not, will have a direct impact on the future of the country.
For now the challenge lies in stemming the cycle of violence as quickly as possible in order to avoid a repetition of terror attacks that occurred in the 1980s when radical groups waged war on the state. But for this to happen, the new Egyptian leadership must be able to demonstrate resolve and wisdom. Already the Salafist Al Nour party has withdrawn from political negotiations after it had supported the removal of Mursi.
As a result a new political reality will soon emerge of two groups locked in a bitter fight against each other; one liberal and secular supported by the military and the other Islamist. It is a dangerous scene that carries within it signs of further instability three years after the January 25 revolution.
Had Mursi bowed to public pressure and called for snap presidential elections or was even allowed to conclude his four-year term the Egyptian people would have voted the Islamists out of power. That would have been an important threshold for that country and the region as a whole. Instead we now find ourselves looking at a polarized country with the specter of violence and radicalization looming large.
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