Egypt’s political roadmap is at stake

Abdullah Kamal
Abdullah Kamal
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The Egyptian presidency, reacting to condemnation by U.S. President Barack Obama, has implicitly warned that a political roadmap for the country is at stake. “The presidency fears that the statements, which are not based on realities, will strengthen the violent armed groups and encourage their course of action, which is hostile to stability and democratic transition in a way that could hamper the implementation of the future map,” said a presidential statement on Thursday.

The presidential warning, with its serious implications, came at the end of a day full of diplomatic barbs fired at Egypt’s interim rulers. Several countries summoned on Thursday Egyptian ambassadors in reaction to the police’s evacuation of two mass protest camps in Cairo set up by the Brotherhood’s followers. Around 600 people were killed and more than 2,000 injured in Wednesday’s evacuations and subsequent violence across Egypt.

Cairo does not appear to be much concerned about international reactions. Egyptian authorities are going ahead with a large-scale security plan targeting the Brotherhood. This security pursuit seems to be unavoidable in view of a lack of effective media and diplomatic campaign to keep the world posted on the real situation in Egypt. This unplanned indifference on the part of Cairo has spawned international perplexity over Egypt.

A U.N. Security Council meeting late Thursday produced a non-surprising call for Egyptians to seek national reconciliation. Editorials in major world newspapers have concluded that the West no longer holds leverage and influence on Cairo.

The biggest challenge that faced the ruling alliance was the Brotherhood’s rejection of national reconciliation as the Islamist group insisted on Mursi’s reinstatement.

Abdullah Kamal

The ongoing showdown in Egypt involves two key sides and, indirectly, several foreign parties.

The first side is the ruling authority emerging from the June 30 revolt that eventually led to the fall of President Mohammad Mursi of the Brotherhood. This camp comprises an alliance of state institutions, an elite arising from the forces that forced Hosni Mubarak to step down in 2011, supporters of a civil state and the Christian minority. In the forefront comes the army with its chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.

This coalition is riding a wave of popularity, which was evident in the unprecedented street protests on June 30, demanding Mursi’s ouster. It was again clear on July 3 when Sisi announced a roadmap for a transitional period. On July 26, millions of Egyptians turned out in response to a call from Sisi to give the army and police what he called a “mandate to deal with terrorism.”

A new political and revolutionary reality

This camp has established a new political and revolutionary reality, initiated the process of amending the Islamist-drafted constitution and appointing new provincial governors. However, this camp suffered a hard blow this week when Nobel Laureate Mohamed ElBaradei resigned as vice president in protest against the crackdown on the Brotherhood vigils in Cairo. The army-led alliance soon rallied from the blow thanks to massive condemnation in Egypt of ElBaradei's decision to quit.

The biggest challenge that faced the ruling alliance was the Brotherhood’s rejection of national reconciliation as the Islamist group insisted on Mursi’s reinstatement. The group sought to strengthen its position by holding weeks-long protest camps in Cairo and Giza also aimed at disrupting the country’s political process.

The Brotherhood message to the Egyptian public was that if Mursi’s toppling was meant to bring about stability, this would remain elusive. At the same time, the Brotherhood touted its vigils as peaceful protests, taking advantage of European-U.S. pressure on Egypt's new rulers.

The interim authorities initially signaled readiness for negotiations and allowed the E.U. foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton to meet Mursi in his detention for two hours. However, Ashton was not able to convince him into ending his backers’ vigils or urging the Brotherhood to join the country’s political process. Some sources quoted Ashton as saying that she had met a defeated man with no alternatives.

Under public pressure, the interim rulers ended negations and said efforts for a peaceful solution to the crisis have failed. The presidential office also reacted angrily to remarks made by U.S. Senator John McCain who called the June 30 revolt a coup.

The second side to the showdown is the Brotherhood and its Islamist allies, except for the ultra-conservative al-Nour Party. This camp based its strategy on the assumption that the military-backed rulers would not be able to clear the two sit-ins for fear of causing high casualties and a subsequent sharp reaction from the outside world.

Accordingly, the Islamist camp planned to prolong the vigils until the Egyptian authorities accept Mursi’s reinstatement or at least other demands made by the Brotherhood.

A secret situation assessment paper dated August 1 and belonging to the Brotherhood argued that international pressure would stop the ruling authorities from taking violent action against the protest camps in Cairo. “The authorities may blockade the sit-ins or embark on a special operation against the group leaders,” read the document, made available to me.

Based on this document, the Brotherhood pinned hopes on mounting global pressure, economic failings in Egypt, incoherence of the ruling alliance and a shortage of political solutions. The same document recommended an alternative plan for the possible clearance of the vigils by preparing for successive street protests and getting ready for a long battle with authorities.

High death toll?

The crackdown on the two sit-ins, however, undermined the Brotherhood’s expectations as it did not result in a high death toll, or at least the expected toll. As Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim said, the evacuation of the Rabaa al-Adawiya camp was expected by international standards to result in 1,500 deaths.

Another official at the Interior Ministry told human rights advocates at a meeting before the clampdown that the clearance of both vigils could lead to 3,000 deaths. The scene on August 14 ended with police discovering mass tombs buried by the Brotherhood under a speech stage and a mosque garden in the Rabaa al-Adawiya camp. Preliminary reports suggest that the bodies were of people who had been tortured to death by the Brotherhood or protesters who were killed after expressing wishes to leave the site.

The Brotherhood continues to make miscalculations that prompt the group to escalate the situation with untold consequences. The group labored under the illusion that what took place in Egypt on June 30 was not a popular revolt, only to be surprised by the unprecedented rallies held by Egyptians to give the army the anti-terror mandate. The group predicted that the government would not use force to evacuate the protests or that such evacuations would result in a very large number of deaths. These expectations proved wrong.

The group also anticipated that international pressure would prompt Egyptian authorities to give in. However, the government has said it would use live ammunition against attackers of state institutions.

Following violent acts by the Brotherhood across Egypt on Friday, a group of Muslim clerics at the Cairo-based prestigious Sunni al-Azhar institution issued a fatwa (religious edict) saying the Brotherhood has deviated from Islam and committed infidels’ acts.

The Brotherhood’s resources

The violence comes a day after Mohammed Badie, the Brotherhood's head, made orders to his followers to carry out nationwide massive-scale unrest, as several Brothers disclosed in press remarks.

A key covert side to Egypt's standoff is the International Brotherhood Organization. In a recent interview with The Washington Post, Sisi said that Egypt is facing an organization with offshoots in 60 countries. In fact, the International Brotherhood Organization deems the battle in Egypt as decisive for its scheme. Current international pressure on Egypt is attributed to this organization’s links and even threats.

On July 5, a senior Brotherhood operative in Jordan, aka Abu Mohamed, issued a circular to the organization's members inside the kingdom and beyond about his interpretation of the Egyptian scene after the anti-Mursi revolt. “If we fail to restore legitimacy, then you should learn that freedom, the Brotherhood and democracy will be buried for long years because the battle in Egypt is the most serious and will have repercussions with blows to be dealt to Hamas, (its military wing) Al Qassam and the Syrian revolution,” Abu Mohamed said.

His circular also called for mass demonstrations in countries like Turkey, Jordan and Britain against Egypt's military. The protests did occur.

Egypt’s Brotherhood has made use of the international organization's significant resources in media and political terms. The global Brotherhood discourse has struck a coherent note, warning that failure to respond to the group’s demands in Egypt will trigger terrorist threats targeting mainly European countries. In response, Europe has increasingly adopted a tough stance against Egypt's interim rulers.

The fourth side to the Egyptian standoff are Western partners with whom Egypt has built a decades-long alliance following the 1973 Egyptian-Israeli peace treaty. These allies have deep political, security and security problems.

The June 30 revolt has thrown into disarray the strategy of containing the so-called democratic Islam, aimed at undercutting the terrorist threats from al-Qaeda. This confusion was heightened by a threat made by Ayman al-Zawahari, al-Qaeda’s chief, after the Brotherhood was removed from power in Egypt.

Failing to understand

At the same time, Western partners are suffering the problem of failing to know the full dimensions of the situation in Egypt, the military establishment's agenda and the army chief's ambitions. Sisi has shown no sign of giving in to pressure. The Egyptian army has long been known to heed sensitive issues such as U.S. military assistance.

Europe and the U.S. have lost the clout of their pressure cards on Egypt. They may turn to a direct face-off with the Egyptian people. The world, meanwhile, appears at a loss over the possible emergence of new balances should Western pressure on Egypt prompt the latter to shift sights towards Russia and China. It should be mentioned at this point that arrangements were made for a visit by Russian President Vladimir Putin to Egypt more than a week ago. The trip was put off at the last minute.

With all these local and international complexities, no solution looms in sight to the Egyptian crisis. Attention is being focused on the new realities that could be established on the ground. While the Brotherhood has lost its political clout and has increasingly antagonized Egyptians due to its recent acts of violence, possibilities for engaging the group into the political process are dwindling. The successive blows suffered by the Brotherhood leaders have made them lose control.

Violence in Egypt will probably continue for some days. Sporadic terror operations could follow for weeks. Unfazed, the interim rulers would go ahead with drafting constitutional changes and bringing suspected Brothers to justice. The scene would thus become quite enough to allow parliamentary elections to be held early next year as scheduled in the transitional roadmap.

Abdullah Kamal is an Egyptian journalist and political analyst, and an adviser to Al Rai Kuwaiti newspaper in Cairo. He is working now on writing a book about the end of Mubarak era under the title of The Penultimate Pharaoh. The writer had been editor- in- chief of both Rose El-Youssef magazine and newspaper (2005 - 2011) and a member of Shoura Council (2007 - 2011)

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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