Saturday, 6 July 2013

The Muslim Brotherhood and the control of Egypt's military

Egyptian troops clashed with supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi in the Sinai city of El Arish, Suez, and Ismailia on July 5, witnesses and security sources said. Protesters reportedly tried to enter government buildings in all three towns. Some threw rocks, security sources said, and troops responded by shooting in the air and firing teargas into the crowds. 

Earlier this week on July 3, Egyptian military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announced that the country's president, Mohammed Morsi, had been removed from office in the wake of popular unrest. The ousting of Mr Morsi was completed after he refused to step down and issued defiant calls against the military regime. The ruling Muslim Brotherhood was not involved in the military’s decision to intervene in Egyptian politics, and it is presently unknown whether democratic elections will be restarted.

Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi announces the
removal on Egyptian President
Mohammed Morsi on state television
At many times during these demonstrations, violence has occurred leaving dozens of people dead throughout Egypt and the Sinai Peninsula. The Muslim Brotherhood can be expected to continue to engage in protests that, coupled with a security crackdown on the group, might result in violence as pro-Morsi demonstrators clash with opposition groups and military forces clash with both. The military’s recent decision to intervene reveals the truly desperate political and economic morass in Egypt, and the inability of Mr Morsi to rule.

While it might not appear to be, the Egyptian military have grudgingly acted against their interests to remove the democratically-elected leader of Egypt. Mr Morsi was only in power as the head of the Muslim Brotherhood political party for a year. His tenure was plagued with obstacles, both social and fiscal, and as he could not enact policies to assuage Egypt’s dire existential problems, the Egyptian people have clearly decided Mr Morsi is unfit to govern Egypt. What Egyptians plan to replace him with, if they can at all, is far less certain.

Unfortunately for the political Islamist movements across the Middle East, the overthrow of the failed Muslim Brotherhood experiment undermines the international efforts to bring such groups into the political mainstream. Many of the policies which led to demonstrations in Cairo were highly unpopular and reflected conservative religious ideals. The situation was made worse by the MB’s heavy-handed efforts to ride over minority parties and also in their failure to protect minority groups such as the Egyptian Coptic Christians from increasingly violent attacks over the past year.

This is not the desired result the military - which is still in control of Egypt – wanted in the slightest. Egypt’s generals preferred for Mr Morsi to remain in power to absorb more of the public’s ire, as he was the face of a democratically-elected regime, while the military retained control of Egypt’s economic and political structure and continued to try to restart its struggling economy.

But this was not to be. The military now face a situation in which they are both in control and own full responsibility for Egypt’s future. They will be looking to return to the background shadows as soon as they can build an alternative for Mr Morsi which will have the military’s interests as top priority.

Worryingly, what the Egyptian military have done by removing Mr Morsi is both lend legitimacy to violent demonstrations as a process of enacting political change and destroyed the burgeoning democratic system. Neither of these precedents will be healthy for Egypt in the long run. As any elections are conducted in the future, the factions will be even more polarised than before. And if an unsatisfactory result occurs for any of the involved parties, they have essentially been told that demonstrations will resolve those issues. Mob violence is never a wise thing to succumb to, but the lesson is clear for protesting Egyptians: the more violent and destructive they become, the more chance they have of victory.

Egypt needs a coalition government which takes into consideration the Islamist ideals, the growing desire for secular principles, and one which keeps the military leaders satisfied. On paper, this is simple. In reality the disparate groups of Egyptian politics will continue to make this all but impossible. While the military are finding it increasingly difficult to maintain the status quo of holding power and using their time-tested strategy of a civilian government partner, their positions throughout the judicial spectrum will ensure they remain in control for the foreseeable future.

The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) will now have to regroup and consider a response to their forcible removal. The group has existed for decades and will be used to being side-lined so they should remain mostly cohered. The MB also preserves much of their support from the lower-income and religiously motivated Egyptian populace which put them in power in 2012. However, as new political movements form in Egypt, most notably as part of the Tamarod movement, the MB will find greater obstacles in the future. Leaders of the MB have refused to suggest violence as a response to the military’s actions, but splinter groups can be expected to leverage the frustrations of many Egyptians and some violence could occur nevertheless.

The past week brings into focus that nothing has changed in Egypt. It may be useful to paint the military’s actions in the framework of a coup, but the reality is that the generals were never out of power in the first place. Mr Morsi, as was Hosni Mubarak before him, was simply the military’s crucially important civilian partner.

Protests and counter-protests are likely to continue over the next few days as the reaction to the military’s actions settle in. The Muslim Brotherhood will contest the decision to remove them from power while the opposition political parties will support the move. However, since the Islamists still have strong majority support in the country, in all likelihood a new Islamist president would be elected in new elections and probably would continue to carry out the policies of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood while the military hold the strings once again.

In other words, little is likely to change for a struggling Egypt. 

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