Jul 2nd 2013

Egypt After June 30th

by James J. Zogby

Dr. James J. Zogby is the President of Arab American Institute

Regardless of how events develop in the days that will follow June 30th in Egypt, consideration must be given to the situation that now exists:

-          Egypt is now facing a crisis more substantial than the one that led to the downfall of the Mubarak government. In the past few years: food and fuel prices have soared, unemployment has risen sharply, the crime rate has tripled, and in just the last year alone there have been almost 9,500 demonstrations and protests nationwide;

-          A dangerous divide now exists in the country with most citizens having lost confidence in the government, fearing that it is using unconstitutional means to consolidate its grip on power. The rhetoric used by both sides has accelerated, reaching, at times, dangerous levels of incitement; 

-          Despite having a serious legitimacy problem, the president and his party have not taken steps toward national reconciliation, and instead have mounted an assault on their opponents and many institutions of civil society;

-          The opposition political groupings, though representing a majority of Egyptians, are too new and too weak to compete with the well-established Muslim Brotherhood organization; 

-          The Egyptian military is in a quandary. It is the most trusted institution in the country. While fearful that the protests on June 30th could escalate into violence and mass disruptions, the military appears hesitant to squander the public's trust by forcefully inserting itself into the political arena. Instead they have issued an ultimatum to both sides (the government and the protesters) calling on them to engage in a national dialogue to resolve differences and find a way forward;

-           In the midst of this crisis that is roiling Egypt, the US has badly misjudged the situation. To many Egyptians the US has appeared to side with the president and the Muslim Brotherhood, turning a blind eye to the public's deep discontent; and finally 

-          Whether or not the called for June 30th demonstrations materialize, whether or not they are sustained or produce violent clashes, whether the army enters the fray or remains on the sidelines—one fact is clear: both sides to this fight have constituencies and political realities that cannot be ignored. The Muslim Brotherhood remains the best organized, most disciplined force in the country. But the opposition to the Brotherhood, though not yet an electoral force, is motivated by the real fears and grievances of a substantial majority and is a reality that cannot be ignored.

*******

The Muslim Brotherhood wasted a golden opportunity to be magnanimous in victory. After winning parliamentary elections, they should have reached out early on to include all of their opponents in a national dialogue. And they should not have broken their promise to skip the contest for the presidency. Then after winning that office, with a minority of the electorate, they should have realized that they had to secure the trust of those whom they had defeated. They should have insured that a broad cross-section of the society was involved in the drafting of the constitution—so that all Egyptians would feel that they had an equal say in shaping the future of their country.

The Muslim Brotherhood did not do any of these things. Instead, after winning, they began to over-reach. They used an unrepresentative body stacked with supporters to write the constitution. They consolidated their hold over the reins of power, declared the president to be above judicial review, and embarked on a campaign attacking the judiciary, the press, and non-governmental organizations.

In the process, they have alienated a substantial majority of the public who have recoiled from what they see as the president's intention to establish a new authoritarian Islamic regime. 

The president's opponents though large in number have not yet coalesced into a cohesive political force with broadly recognized credible leadership. Lacking in organization and structure, they have not been able to win elections and are fearful that before they develop that capacity, the Muslim Brotherhood will have irreversibly established their authority over all of the state's institutions.

Feeling powerless to make change through democratic processes, the opposition has felt they have no recourse but to demonstrate. 

Through all of this unrest, the president has not only appeared unmoved, he has become hardened in his resolve to move forward without changing course.

The result is June 30th. 

In the lead up to this day of reckoning, the US Ambassador to Egypt delivered an address which was read by many Egyptians as chiding the demonstrators for not respecting the legitimacy of the government, while appearing to support the Morsi government. That may or may not have been the intention of the Ambassador, but by giving short shrift to the concerns of many Egyptians that the Morsi government was undercutting the very foundations of civil society and a democratic order, and by not calling out the many practices of the government that have eroded public trust in the future of a participatory democracy, the Ambassador put the US in the uncomfortable position of being on one side (and in fact the minority side) of a deeply divided polity.

At this date, we don't know what will occur on the days that will follow June 30th. What we do know is that when the dust settles Egypt will still be divided, will still be facing enormous economic challenges, and will still be in need of a national dialogue that can chart a new course for the country. Whether the military can or will be the agent that facilitates this process is uncertain. But, at this point, that appears to be the best that can hoped for.



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