Powder-keg Egypt awaits proper intercession

There are no signs that the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies will accept a quick political solution after the political scene changed irrevocably following the 30 June protests – or that it will even accept a solution in the near future.

The frenzied pace of events drives us to recall the scene in 1954. The military had launched a coup which won the support of the masses, but not of the Brotherhood, which eventually clashed with the military. The confrontation resulted in the execution of the Brotherhood's leaders, who had incited the Egyptian street against the army, especially Abdel Qader Ouda – then a judge.

The Brotherhood leaders were then the target of a detention campaign, with some Brotherhood members spending 20 years in prison, including Omar al-Telmesany, the Brotherhood’s third supreme guide, and Hassan al-Hudaiby, its second.

The many similarities between the two scenes of 1954 and 2013 demonstrate that it is virtually impossible for the Brotherhood to accept any initiative to resolve the current standoff.

The Brotherhood is a common factor in the 1954 and 2013 scenes. In each, the Brotherhood clashed with the military and its behavior has hardly changed even though 60 years have elapsed. In the 1950s, the Brotherhood’s insistence to form the entire cabinet prompted a confrontation with the military, which considered itself the core of the revolution. The same may be happening today, but this time the Brotherhood thinks of itself as the genuine core of the revolution which the army merely protected. That may explain why the Brotherhood has attempted to “Brotherhoodize” state institutions, operating under the same organizational concept of empowerment it adopted in the 1950s.

The Brotherhood has not changed even though the political context has. The military’s way of addressing the situation has not changed either, particularly since military officers consider themselves the chief protectors of the first republic which replaced the monarchy in the 1950s. Therefore, the military’s keenness on the state in its broad sense is greater than their keenness on the sustainability of parties and political currents that were formed later.  

Local consensus initiatives

Several initiatives have been proposed by political groups to resolve the crisis. Some of them have been reasonable and considerate of the political conditions, yet were still rejected by the Brotherhood, which insisted on the return of Morsy, the “legitimate president,” to power as a precondition for negotiations. There are other initiatives, meanwhile, which were only introduced by certain political currents as a means to achieve political gains and claim some space on the political scene. Those political currents have mostly suffered from exclusion and have had problems gaining members. They are trying to make their presence felt by launching hopeless initiatives.

One of the most important initiatives was the one proposed by Mohamed Selim al-Awa, an Islamic thinker, who called for the formation of a cabinet that enjoys the consensus of all parties. That cabinet would then call for elections straightaway. The Brotherhood turned down that initiative, pushing Awa to make his initiative public.

The Brotherhood also totally ignored an initiative by former Prime Minister Hesham Qandil.

Qandil’s initiative called for early elections, but the Brotherhood said that it was not acceptable to pile pressure on Morsy, the legitimate president. Perhaps the way the former PM, who has close ties with the Brotherhood, proposed his initiative suggests he knew in advance that the Brotherhood would reject it. He may have wanted to show that he still maintains some kind if standing on the political scene, even if he was removed from his official position by the revolutionaries.

This may be the same logic behind Jama’a al-Islamiya’s myriad initiatives, as if the Islamist group wanted to say: “ Here I am. I am back." Jama’a al-Islamiya has engaged in a war against former regimes and its popularity declined as a result, with most of its members dying and the others escaping after spending years in prison.

Another important initiative was the one proposed by Salafi preacher Mohamed Hassaan who said he obtained the approval of Abdel Rahman al-Barr, a member of the Brotherhood's Guidance Bureau, as well as Ayman Abdel Ghany, youth secretary at the Freedom and Justice Party and son-in-law of Khairat al-Shater, the deputy supreme guide.

Hassaan asked to meet with top army officers. Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi accepted the initiative by Hassaan, who represented the Brotherhood and the National Alliance in Support of Legitimacy, which was formed by the Brotherhood to reinstate Morsy. The initiative urged the state to refrain from forcibly breaking up pro-Morsy sit-ins in Rabea al-Adaweya and al-Nahda Square. Hassaan asked Sisi to make the initiative public to reassure the youth who support Morsy.

Despite the value of the initiative which could have led both parties to sit down together to resolve the seemingly impervious political stand-off, the Brotherhood disowned Hassaan and unleashed its electronic militias on him. He was insulted and even cursed at the site of the Brotherhood sit-in.

Failed foreign diplomacy

With McCain's statements on Tuesday describing the situation in Egypt as a powder keg and EU's vow on Wednesday to press ahead to ecourage diplomatic solutions, the West is clearly looking for a genuine solution to the escalating crisis in Egypt, particularly the U.S. because Western countries forged strategic allies with the Muslim Brotherhood when it was in power before 30 June.

The West's calculations were disrupted for the second time in two years, for neither did it expect the revolution in January 2011, nor foresee the massive protests staged on 30 June 2013. Perhaps that is why it publicly condemned the Brotherhood's opponents, abandoning neutrality which could preserve its interests if either the Brotherhood or its opposition rose to power.

Foreign envoys stepped up efforts to find a way out of the crippling and sometimes deadly crisis sparked by the Egyptian army's ouster of Islamist President Mohamed Morsy.

The position taken by the EU's envoy to Egypt shows that her goal was not to examine ways to reinstate ousted President Mohamed Morsy but rather to reach reconciliation to end the current political standoff. This explains the pressures on the army to accept reconciliation even after Egyptians took to the streets on 26 July to authorize the military to combat potential outbreaks of terrorism.

Catherine Ashton, EU foreign policy chief, gave some details of her visit to Morsy, including that he declined to meet with her at first or to speak about any solutions other than his return to power.

Leading U.S. Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham meanwhile called on Egypt's military-installed interim leaders to engage in an "inclusive" dialogue with Morsy supporters.

"Democracy is the only viable path to stability," said McCain, a former presidential candidate, calling for "an inclusive political process in which all Egyptians are free to participate."

Republicans McCain and Graham earlier met army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and other interim leaders amid an intense diplomatic push to end the stalemate caused by the military's 3 July overthrow of Morsy.

Adding his weight to the drive for a peaceful resolution to the crisis, United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon also urged for the release of Morsy, who has been formally remanded in custody at an undisclosed location since his overthrow.

Ban "reiterated his call for the release" of Morsy during a call with Egypt's Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy, the UN said in a statement late Tuesday.

"An inclusive and peaceful political process is the only viable way forward in Egypt," Ban stressed.

In Cairo, the senators also called for the release of members of Morsy's Muslim Brotherhood as well as the former leader himself, who stands accused of offences committed when he escaped from prison during the 2011 revolt that toppled veteran President Hosni Mubarak.

"In a democracy, you have to talk to each other. It is impossible to talk to somebody in jail," Graham said.

"The judicial system will deal with this in the future. Jailing the opposition is not the exercise of a legitimate power," he said.

McCain and Graham were the latest in a succession of foreign envoys to fly to Cairo in a bid to prevent any repetition of the bloodshed at a pro-Morsy rally that left at least 82 people dead on July 27.

U.S. Deputy Secretary of State William Burns, EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, EU envoy Bernardino Leon, Arab diplomats, an African delegation and German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle have all travelled to Cairo seeking to defuse the crisis.

The EU failed to achieve its goals and so did John McCain and Lindsey Graham, both members of the Senate's Armed Services Committee. The latter two described Morsy's ouster as a military coup.

The White House blamed U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry for his position when he said the Egyptian army only responded to popular will on 30 June when it ousted Morsy from power because by supporting the new regime in Egypt and taking sides, the U.S. would no longer be able to play the role of sponsor of reconciliation between the different parties.

Visits by the foreign ministers of Qatar, the United Arab Emirates, William Burns, U.S. deputy secretary of state, and the EU envoy to Deputy Supreme Guide Khairat al-Shater and Saad al-Katatny, the speaker of the dissolved People's Assembly, in prison provide evidence of U.S. and Arab efforts to reach reconciliation. The Brotherhood's rejection of all those initiatives, meanwhile, shows that that group still clings to illusions that Morsy would return to power.

Now what?

The Brotherhood may be turning down initiatives from a position of power since it can still mobilise millions of its supporters and Islamists across Egypt. However, it may not yet be aware that it is losing support amongst Egyptians as a result of the sustained protests. Its negotiating clout could be damaged as a result.

The Brotherhood can be compared to a young woman in her twenties who picks and chooses from a list of suitors but becomes less desirable for marriage as soon as she turns 30. The Brotherhood’s gains are dropping as it turns down one initiative after the other. The million-man rallies staged on 26 July to authorise the army to launch its war on terrorism may be another sign the Brotherhood is on a downward trajectory.

The Brotherhood may have to negotiate its own political survival if the protests continue after Eid.

(An earlier form of this article was published on Egypt Independent on 6/7/2013.)

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