What’s next for Egypt’s military, Islamists and secularists?

Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
Dr. Majid Rafizadeh
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Egypt is currently witnessing one of the bloodiest weeks since the pro-democracy Egyptian Revolution began two years ago, with the death toll from the Egyptian security forces’ bloody crackdown on supporters of the deposed president Mohammed Morsi soaring beyond 500 across various cities of the nation. The violence has spread from Cairo to Alexandria, Aswan, Assiut, Fayoum, Suez and other cities throughout the country. According to the Health Ministry of Egypt, more than 3,700 people, including police forces and civilians, have been seriously injured after the Egyptian security forces stormed two camps created by the supporters of ousted President Mohammed Mursi in Cairo last month.

This latest series of events, and the declaration of a state of emergency, are further signs of the extent and the ferocity of violence. The major questions that have been raised are: What is the next phase that Egypt will encounter both domestically and internationally? Is Egypt heading towards another conflict-inflicted state, such as the condition in Syria? And will the mass killings and growing tally of dead bring the Muslim Brotherhood, secularists, and Egyptian military to the negotiating table to form a compromise?

Domestically speaking, it is unrealistic to envision and difficult to argue that the various political pillars of Egypt will be capable of reaching a political resolution anytime soon. It seems that the political and positional gaps between the Muslim Brotherhood, the secularists, military, and Egypt’s security forces are too deep to bridge. While the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) and senior officers in the Egyptian military have introduced a road map and military-drafted political process calling for the amending of the constitution adopted last year and for parliamentary and presidential elections to be held early next year, the Islamists and Muslim Brotherhood have demanded that ex-president Mohammed Mursi be reinstated into the office of the presidency. For the Muslim Brotherhood leaders, any political transition or plan that comes short of reinstating Morsi into power will not satisfy their demands. Gehad el-Haddad, a spokesman for the Muslim Brotherhood, concretized this message on his Twitter feed, stating, “we will push forward until we bring down this military coup.”

Will the mass killings and growing tally of dead bring the Muslim Brotherhood, secularists, and Egyptian military to the negotiating table to form a compromise?

Majid Rafizadeh

In addition, these developments signal that both sides of the political spectrum are determined on retaining their current political positions, leaving little room for negotiation and compromise. With the assault on the camps setting off a violent backlash across various locations in Egypt and despite the growing tally of dead, Muslim Brotherhood leaders and supporters of Mursi have continued to urge the people and their followers to take to the streets. The defiant Muslim Brotherhood declared yesterday that it would not back down from a crackdown by the security forces and Egypt's interim government, vowing to “bring down this military coup.” Even with a citywide curfew declared, the Muslim Brotherhood has continued to call for renewed demonstrations. They have warned that further violent confrontations will occur on the streets if their demands are not met, and that they will continue standing against any military power including armored vehicles, bulldozers, tear gas, birdshot, and live ammunition.

Strengthening resolve

These recent actions and statements will likely further reinforce the interim government’s determination to oppose the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists. From the SCAF and Egyptian senior officers’ perspective, the Muslim Brotherhood and the Islamists attempted to monopolize the power, effectively violating the constitution under the presidency of Mohammed Mursi, and dominating the free elections over the past two years. While the interim government and the senior military officers at the SCAF were hoping that they can broker a political resolution that might persuade the Islamists to abandon their calls for protests and demonstrations— and rejoin a renewed democratic and transitional process despite the removal of ex-president Mohammed Mursi— the recent violence and crackdown makes it more difficult to achieve this objective.

This past week of Egyptian developments seems to have extinguished any such hopes for compromise, and the further violence will more likely work to further polarize and create greater division not only among various political pillars and parties of Egypt, but also among social communities in Egyptian society as well. This sentiment is reflected by recently resigned former vice president of Egypt Mohamed ElBaradei, who wrote a public letter to the president stating, “we have reached a state of harder polarization and more dangerous division, with the social fabric in danger of tearing, because violence only begets violence… the beneficiaries of what happened today are the preachers of violence and terrorism, the most extremist groups,” adding, “and you will remember what I am telling you.”

International reaction

Although the recent developments have drawn strong reactions from around the world, international diplomatic pressure— particularly from the West and the United States— has not been effective. Those in power and in the U.N. have not been able to articulate a plan, which would broker a political resolution, persuading the Islamists to abandon their calls for protests and demonstrations, and urging them to rejoin a renewed democratic and transitional process. Several bids by various countries and unions to reconcile the two sides in Egypt in an inclusive political process have failed. The office of U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said that he regretted that force and violence were used while, “the vast majority of the Egyptian people want their country to go forward peacefully in an Egyptian-led process towards prosperity and democracy.” In Paris, President François Hollande summoned the Egyptian ambassador, citing the “bloody violence” of the events and calling for “an end to the repression.” As the country teeters into political limbo, the Principal Deputy Press Secretary for the United States Josh Earnest said the violence “runs directly counter to pledges from the interim government to pursue reconciliation” with the Islamists. After the bloodiest developments, the spokesman for President Obama noted that the United States was continuing to review the $1.5 billion in aid it gives Egypt annually, as most of the funds are distributed to the military and SCAF.

If various political pillars in Egypt including the Islamist, secularists, military and the SCAF insist on the retention of their current political positions, the internal and political goals will be too divided to form a cohesive goal for the nation. This inability and unwillingness to compromise will reinforce the crisis and further polarize both the Egyptian political establishment and Egyptian society.


Dr. Majid Rafizadeh is an Iranian-American scholar, author and U.S. foreign policy specialist. Rafizadeh is the president of the International American Council. He serves on the board of Harvard International Review at Harvard University and Harvard International Relations Council. He is a member of the Gulf 2000 Project at Columbia University, School of International and Public Affairs. Previously he served as ambassador to the National Iranian-American Council based in Washington DC.

Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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