To avoid military rule in Egypt, secular liberals and Muslims must ally
Published: Thursday, October 24, 2013
Updated: Thursday, October 24, 2013 22:10
We are all quite familiar with Egypt’s recent tumult as the Arab Spring swept 30-year military authoritarian ruler Hosni Mubarak out of power and ushered in the short-lived reign of the Muslim Brotherhood, represented by President Mohamed Morsi, whose theocratic aspirations earned him the ire of citizens as well as a steel-toed boot from the military. Now, Egypt is under the temporary rule of an interim government officially headed by Supreme Constitutional Court justice Adly Mansour, but in reality the de facto leader is Minister of Defense and Commander-in-Chief of the Army Abdel Fatteh el-Sisi. General Sisi has remained committed to holding open elections next spring, as Foreign Minister Nabil Fahmy promised the U.N. General Assembly, but a populist campaign calling for the general to run in the presidential race casts a dark shadow on any hopes for an enduring Egyptian democracy. The only substantial hope that remains for preventing the resurgence of a militaristic authoritarian rule in Egypt is for the secular liberals to reach out and form a democratic coalition with the increasingly victimized but well organized Islamists.
The 2011 revolution was initially led by liberal secularists including the April 6 Youth Movement and the National Association For Change, both of whom sparked protests in Tahrir Square on Jan. 25 as part of long simmering tensions against Mubarak’s autocracy. The Muslim Brotherhood joined the secular liberals two days later and together the revolutionaries managed to usurp Mubarak, which paved the way for democratic elections. Almost immediately after elections were declared, the once-united liberals fractured into various rival groups who all vied for supremacy in the polls. The overwhelming favorite among the secularists was International Atomic Energy Agency Director General Mohamed ElBaradei, but he dropped out of the race shortly before the election; though factionalization had marred ElBaradei’s presidential prospects before he passed on campaigning, the liberals completely broke into three major groups who were wholly unwilling to cooperate with one another. When election day finally occurred Hamdeen Sabahi’s Dignity Party, Hisham Bastawisy’s Tagammu and Khaled Ali’s Independent Party were all completely shut out and they hold only a handful of legislative seats.
The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, is nothing if not impeccably organized; having survived under the military junta’s rule for decades and even managing to spread substantially to neighboring countries, the Brotherhood had essentially spent its entire existence planning for how to achieve success in the inevitable revolution. The Brotherhood consolidated support behind three parties: al Nour, al Wasat and Morsi’s Freedom and Justice Party, but, in spite of the three only tacitly cooperating in parliamentary elections, they all unified to hoist Morsi into the president’s office. Why Morsi and the Brotherhood decided to corrupt the fledgling democracy into a dictatorial theocracy, essentially a Sunni version of the Iranian state, remains unknown, but their betrayal of Egyptian citizens’ trust, and the democratic ideals that carried them to victory, swept Morsi into prison just like his predecessor.
The Muslim Brotherhood was not the only organization to betray its original ideals, many of the secular liberals who had instigated Mubarak’s fall would end up siding with el-Sisi’s military coup d’etat, and according to Al-Ahram, Egypt’s major newspaper, most Egyptian liberals support the military’s continued operations against the remnants of the Brotherhood. This violently precarious status quo is disturbingly similar to Syria in the months before its bloody protests enflamed into a state-wide civil war; the Guardian has reported at least 1,200 people killed in the military’s assault on Islamists, and the Egyptian army has thrust itself deeper into the religious conservative’s Sinai base of operations which is essentially guaranteed to exacerbate the conflict further.
Egyptian citizens are in the midst of a critical juncture in which they can either salvage the seeds of democracy or let the military reinstate its junta. Already the interim government has begun drafting legislation that will make it mandatory for any protestors to attain preclearance from the government, effectively killing the avenues for rebellion employed by the Arab Spring revolutionaries. The secularists need to wake-up and realize the Islamist factions of the citizenry cannot be left to die at the hands of a ruthless military, because once el-Sisi is done with the Brotherhood he will undoubtedly target the liberals. Just two years ago, the liberals and Islamists were able to unite and overthrow the region’s most powerful autocrat, and unless the two sides realize how weak they are when divided, they will surely suffer the resurgence of a tyrannically vengeful militaristic autocracy.