The Terrible Lesson from Egypt

It is important for us, as supporters of democratization in the Arab world, to take a stand against what is happening in Egypt. Like it or not, the Muslim Brotherhood is a key player in Egyptian political life. Killing people will not solve any problems, quite the contrary. The bloody assault against the Brotherhood protesters is a shame and a serious crime.

Day after day, Egypt is moving toward a civil war. This is the primary consequence of the overthrow of President Mohammed Morsi by the military in July. What a terrible decision it was. Who could seriously believe then that the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters would accept this coup without reacting? In deciding to arrest the first president democratically elected in the history of Egypt, the military made a major mistake. It has endangered the integrity of the country and opened a Pandora’s Box that will be difficult to close. And, contrary to the claims of many Egyptian “democrats”—some of whom have become pathetic in justifying their support for the coup—the first responsibility for the bloodshed at the pro-Morsi sit-ins rests not with the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood but with those who gave the order to open fire.

It is not my aim to defend the Muslim Brotherhood or Morsi’s record, and certainly not to promote the hagiographic texts that are circulating about him on the Internet. The man has made significant errors. He did not take the measure of his mission, and did not realize that he was dividing and polarizing his people. Above all, he did not understand his vital role to protect the democratic transition through a policy of openness rather than governing for the sole benefit of his loyalists. But whatever his faults are, he certainly does not deserve to be imprisoned without trial.

It is important for us, as supporters of democratization in the Arab world, to take a stand against what is happening in Egypt. Like it or not, the Muslim Brotherhood is a key player in Egyptian political life. Killing people will not solve any problems, quite the contrary. The bloody assault against the Brotherhood protesters is a shame and a serious crime. The sit-ins were a reaction to the political crisis created by the military and its supporters; as such, the protests should have been resolved through a political compromise, and in a peaceful manner.

The Egyptian military clearly has other goals. Since the beginning of the summer, it intended to cross swords with the Islamists. Maybe the generals feel that they are capable of eradicating the Muslim Brotherhood. Perhaps they decided to sacrifice people in the name of the “safeguarding” Egypt. Maybe they have in mind the Algerian experience in saying that, ultimately, political Islam can only be defeated by force. (Though at what cost is the question the Egyptian military men do not seem to ask.). Or maybe the Egyptian military has no strategy but is simply confident in its ability to restore order. Or, rather, in its ability to establish an iron order in Egypt.

An iron order: this is where Egypt is headed. Blood calls for blood and violence in the streets leads to a state of emergency and dictatorial power. How naive are the Egyptian democrats who supported the coup against Morsi and who have thought that Sissi and his friends will offer them a wide access to the real power. Sure, they may have some backseat because the world won’t accept a total junta. As under Mubarak, democracy will be officially proclaimed. But we all know, as under Mubarak, that there will be red lines enforced by threats of imprisonment, as well as other problems characteristic of dictatorships.

What can we do for Egypt and the Egyptians? This may sound naive, but it is important to increase the calls for calm and reconciliation. Recent attempts at mediation have failed? They must be repeated again and again. Of course, we can hardly count on the Arab countries, some of which—we look toward the Arabian Peninsula—are rubbing their hands together at the failure of the post-Mubarak transition. What would Europe and the United States like to do? What can they do? We all know that only Washington is capable of putting pressure on the Egyptian military to bring it to negotiations. Will America do so  One thing is certain, no one—not even Israel—has an interest in Egypt becoming a land of fire and blood.

What happens in Egypt should prompt Tunisians to think about the consequences of hampering their own democratic process. Supporters as well as opponents of the Ennahda party have to study the Egyptian chaos to know what mistakes to avoid. Perhaps that will provide more helpful than the advice and repeated warnings that Tunisians have received from their Algerian neighbors. Algerians endured a terrible civil war in the 1990s, yet have had great difficulty convincing Tunisians about the need for prudence and national dialogue. These are the two conditions to strengthen civil peace. This is something priceless, as Egyptians are discovering today.

Akram Belkaïd is a columnist for Le Quotidien d’Oran and also writes for Le Monde Diplomatiqueand Afrique Mediterranée Business. He is the author of numerous books, including Retours en Algérieand Entre Arabe Aujourd’hui.

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