Bleak future for Egypt after Black Wednesday

Bleak future for Egypt after Black Wednesday

Most probably the Egypt of tomorrow will remember the Aug. 14 of today’s Egypt as a “Black Wednesday” when 464 people fell victim to the indiscriminate use of force by a government trying to disperse Cairo sit-ins that had become a hub of Muslim Brotherhood resistance.

Hazem el-Beblawi, the interim prime minister, commented that the government was compelled to use force to disperse the sit-ins. In a televised address he said it was a “difficult day for Egypt” but though the government wanted a negotiated end to the stand-off, it had no choice but to order the crackdown to prevent anarchy from spreading. He said the government was compelled to take the action as “We found that matters had reached a point that no self-respecting state could accept.” But the prime minister, apparently, could not convince Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, who stepped down in protest at the use of force.

Obviously, the interim prime minister was right in his contention that Egypt’s developments had reached a point that no self-respecting government could accept. Six weeks of continued agitation by hundreds of thousands of “Ikhwan i-Muslimin” or Muslim Brotherhood supporters, were impediments to efforts aimed at restoring peace and normalcy in the country. How could a government use horrendous force on peaceful demonstrators, killing scores of them? Or, how could a government allow the Ikhwan the use of the squares of the city as “barracks” and “training grounds?”

The death of 464 people (according to official statements) and well over 2,000 injured underscores the bitter reality: Egypt has come to a point of no return. Even though on his Twitter account Ikhwan spokesman Gehad el-Haddad insisted “We will always be non-violent and peaceful,” he at the same time stressed “We remain strong, defiant and resolved” and that “We will push [forward] until we bring down this military coup.”

Could an emergency law declared help Egypt’s interim pharaohs restore peace in the country? Could that be possible while the Ikhwan and its supporters are now “clenching their fists” and “gritting their teeth” against a government that they consider as neo-Mubaraks?

Obviously, Egypt is a very important country for Western security. It has existential importance for its neighbor Israel. In the Arab world, as well as in the larger Muslim world, Egypt has a very special and important place. With its Islamic as well as pre-Islamic cultural heritage, it has been a magnet for millions of people every year. Unfortunately, the violent crackdown not only defied repeated calls for restraint and a peaceful resolution to the political crisis following the removal of the Islamist President Mohamed Morsi six weeks ago, but also brought Egypt to the threshold of civil war. That’s why, indeed, the statement of the Ikhwan spokesman that they would stick to non-violence was important. But, will that happen? Already Islamist activists claimed not to belong to Ikhwan have been attacking police outposts in the Sinai, killing policemen indiscriminately. Will Ikhwan abide by its pledge to non-violence? If it did, will it convince other groups to follow suit? Very unlikely.

On the other hand, trigger is pulled. Wednesday’s carnage, prospective revenge of the Islamists and declaration of a month-long state of emergency which in reality amounted to restoration of army powers of arrest and indefinite detention might show that worse not yet happened in Egypt.

The appeal of Turkey to the Security Council for an emergency meeting on Egypt “massacre” demonstrated the determination of Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdoğan to stand together with Ikhwan under all conditions. The June Gezi incidents in Turkey and Wednesday’s carnage in Cairo cannot be comparable, of course, but was it good or bad for Egyptian Islamists that such an appeal to the Security Council coming from an Erdoğan government that used horrendous gas, water cannons and brute force on demonstrators, killing five, leaving over ten without sight?