Egypt has a clear choice to make after a miserable week

The events of the past week here in Egypt are shocking, but in no way a surprise

Abdallah Schleifer
Abdallah Schleifer
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The events of the past week here in Egypt - the murder of Egypt’s Prosecutor-General Hisham Barakat and the fierce fighting in North Sinai - are shocking, but in no way a surprise. More attacks can be expected today.

This latest escalation of terror follows many weeks of what many would consider Muslim Brotherhood incitement against judges, heads of the security forces and even journalists in the wake of death sentences for their leaders and members.

But the whole thrust of radical Islamist opposition to state and society goes back to the events of June 30, 2013 when millions of Egyptians took to the streets to demand an end to the Presidency of Mohammad Mursi and Muslim Brotherhood rule, culminating on July 3 when the Egyptian armed forces deposed Mursi and ended Muslim Brotherhood rule. All of what is not quite accurately described as “polarization” goes back to that tumultuous summer week and the Brotherhood’s rejection of all attempts by the new government to negotiate a post-Mursi political understanding.

Increasingly, the question of whether or not the Muslim Brotherhood is involved in the terrorist attacks that have plagued the country since 2013 has become irrelevant – while a Brotherhood spokesman did issue the standard refrain in the wake of the assassination of the prosecutor-general, that the Brotherhood is opposed to violence, that mantra was overwhelmed by the wave of comments by other prominent Brotherhood members and their allies basically saying the prosecutor-general got what he deserved. Mursi’s son, for example, tweeted: “We applaud the assassination of the prosecutor-general.”

To argue that counter-terrorism is necessarily counter-productive is to be oblivious to Egypt’s condition back in the late 1980s and early 1990s

Abdallah Schleifer

The escalation of terrorism will inescapably be met with an escalation by state security forces and the judiciary of counter-terrorism. The day after Barakat was killed, security forces raided an apartment in a Cairo suburb killing nine Muslim Brotherhood members, including two former members of parliament. There are the usual contradictory accounts – but what stands out is the Brotherhood call following the raid for “rebellion” and statements that the raid was “a turning point…it will no longer be possible to control the anger of the oppressed.” No guessing needed about what that means.

Meanwhile, the armed forces have responded to the Tuesday assault in Sinai with a massive counter-attack by infantry backed up by airpower, retaking installations overrun by ISIS on Wednesday.

What is surprising

What is surprising is the degree to which the liberal and left opposition to both Sisi and the Muslim Brotherhood and which was betrayed, then defeated and humiliated by Mursi and the Mulsim Brotherhood is trying to stake out a “third way” sort of alternative. It is to be an alternative to what I can describe, without prejudice or rancor, as either a security state or the terrorist and armed insurgency of radical Iaslamism. But however nasty the implications are, that is today’s reality in Egypt, and therein is the choice.

There is no third way in the face of terrorism and insurgency and counter-terrorism and counter-insurgency. Liberal democrats had their chance and blew it from the spring of 2011 up until the people and the armed forces moved decisively against the Muslim Brotherhood.

Instead of quickly following up the fall of President Mubarak by organizing one left-liberal party that would undertake tedious but absolutely necessary door-to-door campaigning in the cities, towns and villages of Egypt that might have just matched the national networks of dedicated Muslim Brotherhood cadre, and the hundreds if not thousands of salafist sheikhs whose following in hundreds if not thousands of mosques, the left-liberals devoted themselves to press conferences, rallies and speeches to the already convinced. Also, instead of offering one list of candidates running for seats in parliament in the first post-Mubarak election, there were something like 40 parties and they were all but swept away by a majority formed by the Muslim Brotherhood and the salafists. So to with the presidential elections – instead of rallying behind one serious candidate for president, the left-to-liberal continuum was defined by at least five candidates in the first round, none of whom made it to the second round to be fought out by Mursi and Ahmed Shafiq, the last prime minister before the deposing of Mubarak. Mursi’s very narrow margin of victory was guaranteed when most of the left-liberal party leaders believed Mursi’s promise after the first round of a broad coalition government and threw their support behind him in the second round.

Being oblivious to Egypt’s condition

To argue that counter-terrorism is necessarily counter-productive is to be oblivious to Egypt’s condition back in the late 1980s and early 1990s when the Jamat al-Islami evolved from the most radical tendencies of the Muslim Brotherhood into an openly jihadist movement which at its height controlled portions of Upper Egypt and even an entire working class quarter of Cairo. It was smashed not by some liberal third force but by a very nasty counter-terrorist , counter-insurgency campaign in which tens of thousands of Gamaat sympathizers as well as members were detained and many imprisoned

What the left-liberals should do is look around and behold the vanguards of either the April Spring or would be beneficiaries of American democratic regime change – Libya, Syria, Iraq, Yemen possibly Lebanon in the future – which are wracked by terrorism, insurgency, civil war.

Here in Egypt two opposing forces would be singing, if they knew the melody and lyrics, that old American protest song “Which side are you on!” The liberal and left opposition have to make that decision.


Abdallah Schleifer is a veteran American journalist covering the Middle East and professor emeritus at the American University in Cairo where he founded as served as first director of the Kamal Adham Center for TV and Digital Journalism. He is chief editor of the annual publication The Muslim 500; a senior fellow at the Foreign Policy Research Institute (USA) and at the Royal Aal al Bayt Academy for Islamic Thought (Jordan.) Schleifer has served as Al Arabiya Washington D.C. bureau chief; NBC News Cairo bureau chief; Middle East correspondent for Jeune Afrique; as special correspondent (stringer) , New York Times and managing editor of the Jerusalem Star/Palestine News in then Jordanian Arab Jerusalem.

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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