What’s next for Egypt?

Hisham Melhem

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The ultimatum made by Egypt’s Defense Minister Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi to President Mohamed Mursi to meet the demands of the people, which Mursi rejected under the premise of electoral legitimacy, had placed Egypt in an unprecedented crisis and deepened the political and ideological polarization in a manner that threatened civil peace.

Egypt is now in a state of political loss that comes against a background of a severe economic crisis that has placed the country on the brink of bankruptcy and led to dismantling state institutions.

Each Egyptian party has spoken of a roadmap in the recent days. The painful truth is that no party alone has a roadmap to save the country. The army doesn't have such a roadmap and it cannot endure the governance of the country directly. The same goes for the opposition - with all its parties. And of course neither Mursi nor the Brotherhood who led the country to this dead end have planned this roadmap.

From June 2012 to June 2013

The changes that Egypt witnessed between June 2012 and June 2013 are truly amazing. A year ago, the liberal-secular parties' "alliance" led to taking the military back to the barricades and electing Mohammed Mursi as president. In a year, the Islamists imposed their constitution, engaged in a war against the judiciary and Mursi put himself above the law and tried to dominate and "implement a “Brotherhoodization” of state institutions. These practices angered the opposition and paved way for the military to restore its reputation (which is exaggerated) as a national institution.

The military coup will backfire against him because it will push the extremist Islamists towards a violent secret struggle.

Hisham Melhem

Most Egyptian institutions are today suspended, disbanded or in a state of gradual collapse whether they are the parliament, the judiciary or the internal security forces (that practically announced disobedience against Mursi) and others. Statistics show that there's a chaotic security situation: crime rates increased 300% and the number of armed robberies doubled 12 times since 2011.

Egyptians are becoming armed at an unprecedented rate. Islamic shariah is being implemented in Sinai by local committees. Local authorities in some cities assign "baltageya" (thugs) or "local committees" with the task of maintaining security in some neighborhoods because they don't trust the police.

Sissi's options are limited. The military coup will backfire against him because it will push the extremist Islamists towards a violent secret struggle and it will also risk losing American military support due to the strong opposition at Congress and in the media.

Washington, which had developed good working relations with Mursi, urged the Egyptian army to pressure him to reach a settlement (or a partnership) with the opposition. Obama's administration refused to criticize Mursi's violations publicly. It's now treating him like it used to treat Mubarak and it rejected the Congress' efforts to suspend aid. Washington's ambassador to Egypt, Ann Paterson, criticized the opposition for resorting to the streets.

Mursi paid his debt by tightening the siege around Gaza and drowning its tunnels. He took a strict stance regarding Iran and the Syrian regime. But Obama could not save Mursi.

This article was first published in Lebanon-based Annahar on July 4, 2013.

Hisham Melhem is the Washington bureau chief of Al Arabiya. He is also the correspondent for Annahar, the leading Lebanese daily. Melhem's writings appear in publications ranging from the literary journal Al-Mawaqef to the LA Times, as well as in magazines such as Foreign Policy and Middle East Report. Melhem focuses on U.S.-Arab relations, political Islam, Arab-Israeli issues, media in the Arab World, Arab images in American media. In addition, Melhem has interviewed many American and international public figures, including Presidents Barack Obama and George W. Bush, Secretaries of State Colin Powell and Condoleezza Rice, Secretary of Defense Robert Gates, and Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff Admiral Mike Mullen, among others. Twitter: @Hisham_Melhem

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