The sense among many activists and observers of Egypt is resignation and pessimism. Many fear that Egypt is on the wrong track, heading away from democracy, and back to an era of autocracy and a police state. This feeling is understandable, but it is not helpful. The key to the salvation of Egypt is not to lose faith, but to accept that progress will take time, tenacious effort, and patience in order to fulfill democratic aspirations. The current mood, with its negative emotion, is neither productive nor healthy. We cannot allow ourselves to drift away and lose focus.
Currently, Egyptians are divided into two camps: some are rightly watching the army as hawks, citing the many violations of human rights and press freedom, while others are focused on the Muslim Brotherhood, their allies and their perceived bad policies. Both camps, however, are not doing Egypt any good.
There are several steps that can help in shaking out the current politics of emotion and replacing it instead with some rational mature discourse.
First, understand the micro-elements of June30
The best explanation I have heard so far was from Egyptian diplomat Ashraf Swelam. In his view, June30 was a revolution, counter-revolution, and state-revolution all at the same time. The three elements without doubt existed. Unfortunately, the Muslim Brotherhood, as well as many western analysts, lump it all together and label the elements collectively as the “deep state.”
A) The counter-revolution or Mubarak’s felool are still around, and many of them are still influential within the various pillars of the state, but they are not the predominant part of the equation. In fact, they may end-up as the big losers, especially with their possible ban from running in elections.
B) There are other public servants who rejected Morsi simply because they were against his ineffective governance and bias towards those loyal to him. It is fair to say that on June30, the state pillar revolted against its head (Morsi).
C) The wider Egyptian public who joined in June30 was not tricked or ill advised. They also had legitimate grievances and felt that the street, and not the ballot box, was the proper source of legitimacy in an infantile democracy. As for the army, it provided the umbrella for all of the three elements to unite.
Second, the Muslim Brotherhood
It may be difficult to believe, but there are many non-Islamists who want to have an inclusive democracy that includes the Muslim Brotherhood. However, it is crucial for the Brotherhood to help itself before others can help. There are several self-inflicted mistakes that the Brotherhood insists on committing despite continued counter-productive outcomes:
Alliance with radicals
Despite vehement denial that the group has any links with radical Jihadis, the Brotherhood continues to release statements painting Dalga, Kerdasa, and other militant strongholds as “anti-coup,” ignoring that militants have entered these towns and terrorize some the citizens, particularly Christians. As long as there are pockets of lawlessness and violent resistance, the army will continue to play the security card to justify ruthless crackdowns. Assem Abdel Magid and his group are a fringe group that the Brotherhood should disown and not defend.
Here is one example cited by Mina Fayek. The Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice party’s Arabic website denies that Copts have faced violence and also accused them of spreading false news. Conversely, an English statement was released from the Muslim Brotherhood’s London office condemning the attacks on Dalga’s Copts, expressing “solidarity” with their “Christian brothers and sisters.” Doublespeak harms the Muslim Brotherhood cause and deepens the mistrust of them among the wider public.
There is a school of thought among the Brotherhood that considers that now is not the time for reflection, but rather it is the time to fight to be a political survivor. This is wrong. Reflecting on the past is actually part of the fight, because again, it strips the military of excuses not to include the Brotherhood in Egypt’s political future.
Third, accept that there is no quick fix to the current crisis
Like their rush to rule the country after the January 2011 revolution, the Muslim Brotherhood and their anti-coup allies continue to maintain the formal goal of “reversing the coup.” The problem is that the Egyptian military is not a rotten tooth that can be easily extracted; it is a deeply rooted pillar of the Egyptian state. Besides their economic and political influence, the army is considered a melting pot that provides soldiers with a uniting bond that no other institution in Egypt provides.
Any “eradication” process as Amr Darrag and other Islamists talk about will potentially set the country on a fast track to a failed state, simply because there is no detailed reform replacement program that will be capable of governing the day after. In fact, the lack of a realistic, solid reform project was a key reason why the Muslim Brotherhood failed in the first place. The Brotherhood’s ongoing protests may salvage the group as I have written last week, but will not salvage Egypt, as they just want to send the army back to their barracks, but they have yet to produce their own roadmap for the future.
Nonetheless, the rise of fortune for general Sisi and the wave of nationalism that followed is not good news for Egypt. Dictatorship generally goes through three phases. First, there is an early control phase, followed by an uncertain phase, which is mainly a time to test the waters and “clear” enemies, and then the last phase that establishes a permanent autocratic regime. Egypt is currently in the second phase and there are many balloons being floated to gauge the public mood. As I have written before, Egypt has always needed to consent to autocracy; therefore, the military elite will not feel comfortable ruling without good public support.
Arguably, the military today enjoys considerable “love” and support, however, this will not necessarily be permanent. It is our responsibility to keep the current leadership in Egypt on its toes, and prevent them from having an easy time or enjoying a drift into autocracy. The trick is to do this without undermining the functionality of the state.
It is time for both Islamists and “true” liberals in Egypt to downgrade their rather ambitious goal of “reversing the coup” to a more achievable goal of taming the military and minimizing its impact on political life. This can start with small goals, like campaigning against military privileges in the constitution, and banning ex-military from running in the presidential election, and more importantly field an alternate candidate for presidential election. It will not be easy as the pro-military are loud and influential, but it is not impossible. By focusing on small goals, Egyptians can gradually shift the tide and build their democratic future.