Egypt: What Now?

An Article by Chandra Muzaffar, President of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST)
Malaysia, 22 July 2013

In the wake of the military coup of July 3rd 2013, the question that is on the lips of many people is what is going to happen now in Egypt? How will the situation evolve? What is the future of the 80 million people who live in that ancient land?

It would be hazardous to try to predict the future, given the uncertainties that befuddle the present. There is however one possible scenario that one hopes will not be the fate of Egypt. Egypt should not become another Algeria. A military coup against the Islamic Salvation Front which had won the first round of a democratic election in 1991 in that country led eventually to an orgy of violence that lasted almost 10 years and left 100,000 people dead.

To avoid such a horrendous catastrophe, the military should exercise maximum restraint in dealing with supporters of deposed President Morsi just as the protesters should refrain from resorting to violence in whatever form. The 55 mainly Morsi supporters killed outside the Republican Guard Headquarters in Cairo at dawn on July 8th by military personnel is the sort of incident — if it recurs in the future — that will trigger mass, perhaps uncontrollable violence.

If the situation does not descend into such violence, the current military backed leadership may be able to implement its road map: a referendum on amendments to the present Constitution, followed by a Parliamentary Election in about six months and then a Presidential Election. Apart from ensuring that the outcome of the referendum is in its favour, the military would be keen on gaining control of the legislature and installing its own candidate as President.

For the military to achieve its post-coup political agenda there is a vital prerequisite. It has to deliver on the economy. If within the next six to nine months, it shows that it is capable of providing jobs, checking the cost of living, ensuring a regular supply of water and energy to various parts of Cairo, and meeting some of the demands for affordable housing, it would gain a degree of credibility and win the confidence of a segment of the citizenry.

But even if there is some economic improvement and a measure of political stability, it is quite conceivable that the fundamental challenges facing the Egyptian people will remain. Since the military will retain real power, any attempt at creating democratic structures of governance would be merely cosmetic. It will continue to protect its almost 40% stake in the Egyptian economy which in itself is an impediment to economic reform. At the same time, the military can also be expected to pursue the type of crony capitalism which characterised the Mubarak regime and which bred massive corruption.

The military will remain as committed as ever to preserving, and perhaps even strengthening, its close ties to both Saudi Arabia and Israel. Indeed, it has been argued by some analysts that it was Morsi’s opposition to a dam project which Saudi Arabia and Israel favoured that was the last straw that broke the camel’s back. The project seeks to divert the waters of the Nile to Israel. A month before his ouster, Morsi had apparently declared that, “We have very serious measures to protect every drop of Nile water.” It is reported that the dam is now scheduled for completion in 2017.

As critical as its relationship to these countries are the military’s deep ties with Washington. It is well-known that it receives an annual US aid package of 1.5 billion dollars. Even after the coup the US government has decided to go ahead with the shipment of four F-16 fighter planes to the Egyptian military. In fact, by refusing to describe Morsi’s overthrow as a coup, the Obama Administration is sending a clear message to the post-coup leadership— whose pivotal figure, General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi, is close to Washington and Riyadh — that it is on the side of the military, its longstanding, most trusted ally in Egypt.

If this is the possible scenario in the event of a military backed leadership perching itself in power after elections next year, how would Morsi’s Ikhwan-ul-Muslimin, the Muslim Brotherhood,  address domestic and external challenges on the off chance that it emerges victorious in the polls? The Ikhwan, there’s no need to emphasise, has to adopt a different approach, even display an altogether  different mindset, if it is to transform Egyptian society.  To start with, it has to be more strategic in dealing with the military. A head-on collision with the latter will not serve the interests of Ikhwan or the nation. Perhaps, the Ikhwan should take a leaf from the book of Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Erdogan, on how he succeeded to emasculate the powerful military over a decade.

Part of the strategy should be a totally inclusive approach to politics and society. Inclusiveness does not merely mean offering important positions to liberal and left leaders which is what Morsi tried to do. It means listening and responding to all sections of society, and not just confining one’s interaction to Ikhwan’s constituency. Absorbing the values and attitudes of diverse elements in society would invariably demand that certain aspects of one’s dogma be set aside. It was partly because Morsi and the Freedom and Justice Party established by Ikhwan was not able to transcend dogma that they alienated segments of the female population and the artistic community.

Perhaps it was also because of its attachment to dogma, that it failed to prioritise the economic woes of the people. Its emphasis was upon securing an IMF loan and obtaining aid from wealthy neighbours such as Qatar and Saudi Arabia. It was not able to focus upon the implementation of its An-Nahda (Renaissance) economic programme, partly because of the political environment.

There was also a great deal of inconsistency in Ikhwan’s foreign policy. On the one hand, it offered moral support to Hamas; on the other hand, it closed down an underground tunnel to Gaza presumably at the behest of Israel. Initially, Morsi sought to reach out to Iran. Shortly before his ouster, he ordered the closure of the Syrian Embassy in Cairo in a bid to please the sponsors of the Syrian rebels in the region such as Qatar, Saudi Arabia and Turkey and their Western patrons. In both its foreign and domestic and policies, the Ikhwan appeared to lack a clear, coherent vision which could be translated into specific policies.

If this is the situation vis-a-vis the military, on the one hand, and the Ikhwan, on the other, what hope is there for the Egyptian people?

22 July 2013