By Paolo von Schirach
August 16, 2013
WASHINGTON – Ironically, former strong man Hosni Mubarak turned out to be right. He used to say that Egypt needed to be ruled with an iron fist (his own), otherwise the banned Muslim Brotherhood would take over. Well, the secularists dreaming of a modern democratic Egypt started the mass protest movement that led to Mubarak’s final demise. But the not so democratic Brotherhood, because of its better organization and genuine grass root support, managed to win elections, shape the new Constitution and get the presidency. Which is to say that Egypt went from Hosni Mubarak, a secular autocrat, to Mohammed Morsi, an Islamic leader with clear autocratic tendencies. Bad tendencies clearly demonstrated in his determination to govern by decree while creating a climate of intimidation that threatened the physical safety of opponents and of Egypt’s large Christian minority.
This was no democracy
So, let’s be clear on one basic fact. Even though Morsi was duly elected, he was not running a real democracy with genuine respect for the rule of law and protection of the rights of minorities. He was running a semi-dictatorship, with the almost open aspiration to make it into a total dictatorship. On top of that, he proved to be a most incompetent economic manager, allowing Egypt’s economy to get close to a real collapse. Therefore, the claim that by deposing him the military inflicted a mortal wound on a fledgling democracy is inaccurate, in fact fanciful.
The military’s plan did not work out
That said, now the military is in charge. However, its initial plans about forming a national unity interim government that would lead to genuine elections proved to be unworkable, simply because the Muslim Brotherhood, even with Morsi out of power and under arrest, did not accept defeat. They completely refused to join the interim government as part of a coalition and pledged to fight back by engaging in open protests. The bloody developments of the last few days tell us that the generals cannot reach any agreement with the Muslim Brotherhood, so that they would join the interim government and agree to participate in a new democratic experiment. Confronted with the Brotherhood daily protests and their vocal demands to have Morsi reinstated, the generals now have only one option, and it is an ugly one.
If they want order in Egypt, they have to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood as a viable political movement capable of opposing their authority. This means that the killings and the bloodshed that we have seen in the last few days will continue until the Brotherhood will have enough resources and willingness to resist and fight back.
In other words, this is beginning to look like another Algeria. In Algeria secularist forces prevented the Islamists to govern and then they proceeded to slaughter them.
Any pious Western invitation to stop the violence and open a dialogue so that a fair compromise involving all the parties may be reached is silly. The Muslim Brotherhood zealots do not negotiate. They want to make a point, even if this will result in their own demise. And objectively the Muslim Brotherhood has residual strength and some genuine popular support. This support provides comfort and encouragement to keep resisting. Besides,the Brotherhood feels that its cause is righteous because Morsi was after all the elected President. They have a point when they ask for the recreation of the legitimate constitutional order destroyed by the military coup.
If this is indeed the context, here is the very unpleasant scenario now unfolding. Until the Brotherhood gives up the fight, we can expect a lot more bloodshed. This is not a battle for political power, a battle in which truces and compromises can be negotiated. This is a fight to affirm principles. This is a fight to the end.
America looks bad
All this places America and the West in an extremely uncomfortable situation. Washington did not realize how deeply divided Egypt is when it sided with the generals in the hope that, with Morsi out, there would be a quick and credible transition to a new and improved democracy, with a secular constitution and everybody behaving. No such thing is forthcoming.
Fight to the end
Unless the Brotherhood surrenders, the military will have to be thorough; and that means most brutal. Sadly, many more people will be killed. Washington and Europe cannot be on the side of the killers, whatever the motivations behind a slaughter. So, expect a hasty withdrawal of American support, even though the public relations damage has already been done.
Sadly, this is war. And a state of war ends only when one side gives up and admits defeat. Rational people will do this sooner. Religious zealots usually want to fight till the end.