Egypt needs help to avoid a civil war

Egypt needs help to avoid a civil war

The crisis-ridden Middle East has become ordinary fact of life to the pundits of international politics as new problems are added daily to the list. The latest to join the foray is the Egyptian saga. After widespread public demonstrations and coup d’état on July 3, 2013 against President Mohamed Morsi just a year after his election, the situation is getting worse.

The crisis in Egypt started in late 2012 with the protests against Morsi’s policies, which was perceived by some Egyptians as the “Hosni Mubarak-ization of Morsi.” The coup d’état that toppled the first legitimately elected president of Egypt cannot be condoned or legitimized. One should also acknowledge that a year in power is a very short time to turn around a country like Egypt with its severe economic problems and political divides. Yet, looking beyond might speed the return to civilian governance and prevent the repetition of some of the mistakes that inflamed the crisis in the first place.

Despite advice he was receiving from within and outside Egypt, Morsi made several mistakes. Instead of focusing on good governance and economic reforms, he tried to concentrate all executive and legislative powers in himself. Admittedly, the remnants of the old regime forced his hand at every corner. Yet, his controversial appointments to various posts in an attempt to reinforce the Muslim Brotherhood’s presence in the country, as well as focusing on populist moves on the economy instead of reforms, were all his choices. Especially his policies favoring mainly the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist allies have polarized the country, paving the way for the recent crisis.

His appointment of relatively young General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi both as the chief of the army and the defense minister was a strategic move to win the loyalty of the army. Though it turned out to be a strategic miscalculation, one should remember that the Egyptian army as a whole does not represent a specific ideology but widespread economic and political interests. As such, it allies itself with whatever organization suits its interests; former presidents Anwar Sedat and Mubarak, and now the Salafi al-Nour Party.

The army’s assurance that it won’t intervene in politics after the coup does not mean much. Its acts such as closing down several media channels and arresting Morsi and members of Brotherhood does not lend it much credibility. The earlier uncertainty is becoming a norm and a possible civil war is knocking on the door. On July 8 security forces opened fire on Morsi supporters killing 51 people and wounding many more, and then the Muslim Brotherhood called for an uprising.

In the midst of the power vacuum, the army appointed Adly Mansour, chief of the Supreme Constitutional Court, as the interim president. He has already declared his plans for the elections that will possibly be held in February 2014 after the writing of the new Constitution. But the Muslim Brotherhood immediately rejected his plan as illegitimate.

The coup would no doubt have negative repercussions for the region. While conservative Muslim countries such as Saudi Arabia and its Gulf allies, as well as Syrian regime supported the fall of Morsi, Western countries took a middle-of-the-road approach, preferring to wait to see the outcome. Their failure to condemn the coup showed once again that in international relations there are only permanent interests, not permanent allies. Yet, the Egyptian crisis needs to be contained and doused off before it spreads to neighboring countries. Tunisia, Libya, Israel, and Jordan as well as Hamas in Gaza are looking with wary eyes. Putting pressure on the army toward reconciliation with all Egyptians and moving swiftly toward elections would be a good starting point.