by Emile Nakhleh
via IPS News
The revolutionary aspirations for justice, dignity and hope that Egypt’s young people brought to the world in January 2011 were crushed Wednesday by the military’s bloody crackdown.
Declaring a State of Emergency and putting the army on the streets is a sure sign that the January 2011 revolution, which toppled Hosni Mubarak, has been upended. Many Egyptians are worried that key elements of the Mubarak regime are back in the saddle. Egypt may be sliding into civil war and state failure.
Muhammad El-Baradei’s resignation as vice president indicates that Egyptian liberals who supported the military in ousting former democratically elected president Mohamed Morsi are becoming clear-eyed about the military’s intention to scuttle the post-Mubarak democratic experiment.
General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi’s appointment of over a dozen and a half-retired army generals as governors throughout Egypt is yet another sign that the military is here to stay.
The massive street demonstrations, which al-Sisi called for as a “mandate” to depose Morsi, would soon reappear demanding his own ouster. It will again mobilise the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters.
No matter how much they despise the Muslim Brotherhood, Egyptian liberals now realise that military rule cannot be synonymous with democracy.
In an op-ed posted on IPS and LobeLog a month ago, I warned of the strong possibility of the military hijacking democracy in Egypt. The army did just that Wednesday, 44 days after it ousted Morsi from office.
Prominent liberal leaders who are currently serving in al-Sisi’s provisional government protested for months against the rule of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces or SCAF. Following the fall of Mubarak, the military under General Mohamed Hussein Tantawi engineered their return to power and defended their autocratic rule in the name of combating instability and chaos. They were forced out by street protests.
This time around, the military again used a similar argument to repeat the same pattern. In addition to the appointment of new governors, al- Sisi and interim President Adly Mansour have brought back rules and procedures as well as senior elements from the Mubarak era.
Once the military emasculates the revolution, the Egyptian people will be out in the streets demanding a return to genuine democracy. Because of civil strife, factional divisions, and rogue elements from the old regime, it might be too late to recapture the revolution of 2011.
The Obama administration endeavored but failed to broker a deal between the military and the Morsi supporters, including releasing Muslim Brotherhood prisoners, and respecting the right to peaceful protests and assembly. The failure signals Washington’s diminishing influence over the Egyptian military despite the billions in foreign and military aid Egypt receives from the United States.
Whether in Egypt or Bahrain, the United States has been caught in the middle of deeply divided countries. According to media reports, some Egyptian revolutionaries and some pro-government Bahrainis are no longer interested in receiving U.S. aid.
In Egypt, U.S. aid is perceived as supporting military dictatorship. In Bahrain, the U.S. military presence is perceived by pro-regime elements as empowering the pro-reform movement, including the Shia opposition, and restricting the government from cracking down on the opposition.
Secretary of State John Kerry’s statement condemning the bloody violence perpetrated by the military and police against peaceful sit-ins was forceful but ineffective. The military has already done its nasty deed without any fear of international condemnation.
The Egyptian military has co-opted most of the Egyptian media and is feverishly attempting to win over international media. The regime has restricted media activities and banned some international journalists from operating in the country.
Unfortunately, three international reporters were killed on Wednesday during the one-day bloody crackdown.
U.S. policymakers should ask what leverage, if any, Washington still has to influence events on the ground. Despite its perceived weakened position in the region, the United States continues to have a special relationship with the Egyptian military. If the Egyptian military wants to bring the country back from the brink, it should take several urgent steps. Washington most likely would stand ready to help if called upon.
First: The bloody confrontations with peaceful protesters, including the Muslim Brotherhood and other opponents of the recent coup, should stop immediately.
Second: A return to civilian rule through parliamentary and presidential elections should be accomplished within a few months. All political groups and parties, including the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist groups, should have the opportunity to participate in these elections without fear or intimidation.
Third: All political prisoners, including deposed president Morsi and the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood, should be released immediately and be invited to participate in national reconciliation talks under the auspices of al-Azhar.
Fourth: The Egyptian military regime fully realises that a stable Egypt is pivotal to Middle East stability, but that enduring domestic stability cannot be imposed by the barrel of a gun. If Egypt does not return to civilian rule, descending into chaos, political violence, civil war, and possibly state failure is not unthinkable.
Photo Credit: Hossam el-Hamalawy
The most obvious comparison to what is happening in Cairo is to the bloodbath that took place nearly a quarter of a century ago in Beijing. The idea that the Americans, or anyone else, can get the two sides in Egypt to sit down and compromise is wishful thinking at best. The events in Cairo will be a scar on Egyptian society for a generation or more. The military junta ruling Egypt has burned its bridges with the opposition. Just as the Chinese government’s violent crackdown on the students in Tiananmen Square still haunts the ruling Chinese Communist Party, this event will rob the military junta of any possible legitimacy in the eyes of most of its citizens. For Al-Qaeda and the Salafists this event is a dream come true and could result in decades of increasing political instability and terrorism in the heart of Islam.
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