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January 23, 2022

The two Egypts

The most important event of last week doubtlessly was the one (still not) consumed in Egypt. Coming in the wake of the armed intervention in the political arena, inaugurated in July this year, Wednesday August 14 the law enforcement troops dissolved by force the two centres of permanent peaceful protests organised by the supporters of deposed president Mohammed Morsi, in markets and mosques of Cairo. Simultaneously, as opposition and protests spread to other centres throughout the country the following days, governmental troops intervened in bloody clashes with hundreds of victims, a precise number being still unclear following the street fights that claimed lives in both camps – troops and pro-Morsi protesters. It is obvious that there are two camps on apparently irreconcilable positions: the supporters of the former president belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood, which chose to oppose the intervention of police and army and started a wave of arsons targeting government buildings and Christian churches all over the country, against the army supported by the secular-liberal camp.
One must mention that the intervention in force was decided after the failure of reconciliation attempts between the two sides, mediated by political forces from the country and abroad, which took place until the last moment. The peaceful dissolving of the two protest centres was turned down by the Muslim Brotherhood. The newspaper Al Ahram wrote, in its first issue after the intervention against protesters: „According to identical accounts from official and independent political sources, mediation broke down when Muslim Brotherhood strongman Khairat el-Shater, under custody on criminal charges, allegedly threatened ‚ violence’ if the demands of the Muslim Brotherhood leadership, including a safe exit for Morsi and el-Shater, were not accommodated.
This account is contradicted by Muslim Brotherhood sources who say that the ‘military’ were not interested in reaching a deal and were only making a semblance of pursuing one. The decision to start the operation to forcefully disperse the sit-ins was taken jointly by the police and military leadership without prior notification of the prime minister or the vice president”. Military leaders instated a state of emergency the very first day of the bloody clashes that started last Wednesday, public rallies were prohibited, a curfew is in place at night, while both army and police detained in mass the militants of the opposite camp. Egypt is on the verge of a civil war that seems inevitable.
The two camps were defined during the previous period, through a large-scale transformation process in which the Egyptian society was massively involved since the deposing of the authoritarian army-supported regime led by Hosni Mubarak more than two years ago. To put it in usual and simplified terms, these camps are designated as religious-Muslim, with the backbone in the Muslim Brotherhood, and secular-liberal, relying upon the liberal and secular forces mixed with representatives of religious minorities – first of all the Christian Copts – and of the old regime. In the general opinion, between these camps stands the role of the army, which sees itself as a factor of equilibrium and a guardian of order, against the excesses of a troubled revolutionary process that goes on against the background of a precarious economic situation and a rapid weakening of public authority. The real picture is much more complex, with the two camps disputing the way to go in order to give the country a future of prosperity, democracy, peace and order. First, it is worth mentioning, for a correct understanding of events, the fact that the Egyptian society went through immense changes over the last two or three decades. In demographic terms, there was an exponential growth that took Egypt to more than 80 million inhabitants today, of which 33 pc are aged under 14. Weather changes resulted in poor harvests, food prices went up and one in three Egyptians today lives under the poverty threshold, which is 2 USD/day. About 14 million people (17 pc of the population) are in a situation of food insecurity and the number increases each year, in the absence of sustainable economic policies. Egypt’s paupers use more than half their income for food, which most often has a low nutritional content. Illiteracy reaches an amazing 70 per cent and unemployment is on the rise, Egypt’s survival depending on repeated loans from abroad. This gives the image of a society with many, various and wide fault lines, where the religious option – mostly radical – gained ground as it has been demonstrated by the electoral process conducted over the last two years, when the candidates of the Muslim Brotherhood, toughly repressed by the former regime, obtained the majority and came to power in the state and also at the level of the supreme magistracy. In this oversimplified picture, a specific individuality was taken by the secular-liberal camp, deriving from the former regime, though not its defender, part of the revolutionary process and also one of its drivers, but opposed to a society organised along religious coordinates. In this camp, we can mention the partisans of liberal democracy, the pro-western militants and religious minorities (especially the Christians) or the business circles, the state bureaucracy, the intelligentsia circles etc. As it was seen in the days that followed the military intervention of August 14, these secular-liberal categories became targets of attacks staged by radical protesters, with many Coptic churches set ablaze, government buildings attacked, residential districts of large towns having to defend themselves with bands of vigilantes created on the spot.
Today’s Egypt is made of two different “countries” that stand pitted against each other, on their respective barricades. This worries the international public opinion – the chancelleries of big powers and also of Arab League member states, which call upon authorities to show moderation and rapidly resume the democratic process – is the fact that the pro-Morsi camp of protesters increases its militant stance and apparently chose the road of confrontation. In this context, one should mention two aspects with impact on the future evolutions in Egypt and with a decision upon whether the country will take the Algerian road of the ‘90s – repression and military authoritarian leadership – or will be able to avoid it and replace it with reconciliation and democratic construction. The first fact is the orientation of the Egyptian new military leadership, which unlike the previous one, defined as reactive to revolutionary evolutions, proves to be proactive, decided to format and divert the evolutions of the society, instead of following them. The second fact – mainly a consequence of the first – is represented by the reality that the Muslim Brotherhood currently is deprived of its central leadership – eliminated and almost integrally arrested – which could engage dialogue and reconciliation. As it is known, the Muslim Brotherhood is a hierarchic organisation, the orders and commands from the top being obeyed through the bottom along a strict vertical line, and the absence of the directing centre induces confusion, chaos and arbitrary that can turn martyrdom and jihad – one of the central elements of the philosophy of this religious organisation – into real landmarks. In absence of a dialogue between the two camps summarily presented above, civil war seems as certain. It can be averted at the last moment by dialogue and accommodating the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood to the new conditions and balance of power in the country and reintegrating it in the democratic political process by abandoning violence.

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