14 Aug 2013

Violence shows who really runs Egypt

Since the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood government on 30 June argument has raged about who is running Egypt. Yesterday’s appointment of 25 provincial governors put an end to speculation – 19 are generals.

Those who said that the Egyptian military were in the service of the interim civilian administration can argue that this is what the country needs, but they can no longer say that General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and his colleagues are not in power.

Today’s violent assault on the Muslim Brotherhood encampments in Cairo marks a victory for the security state led by General Sisi, and a defeat for Vice President Mohammed El BaradeiĀ and others who – backed by their American and European friends – advocated patience and dialogue.

Every visiting western official, from Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham, to the EU’s Catherine Ashton and British Foreign Minister Alistair Burt, counselled against using force to break up the camp of tens of thousands including children.

But soldiers tend to favour military solutions, whatever the diplomatic or political consequences.

Pro-Mursi supporters take cover during clashes with riot police and the army around the area of Rabaa Adawiya square in Cairo


Not that the alternative was easy. When I visited the encampment a couple of weeks back, it had an air of permanence, shelters and shops made of tarpaulins pulled over scaffolding forming alleyways like a souk made of cloth. The entrances were protected by sandbags, and I felt sympathy for the residents of the apartment blocks who found themselves living indefinitely inside a kind of Islamist Glastonbury.

One of the problems with using force is that many Muslim Brotherhood supporters camped around Rabaa mosque said they wanted to die for the cause.

By using teargas, birdshot and live ammunition to break up the camps, the Egyptian security forces have created the martyrs the Brotherhood leadership need to inspire their followers in the wilderness months or years ahead.

Egypt’s central struggle between a Brotherhood operating underground and a military that calls the shots has been reinstated.

The liberals who spearheaded the 2011 Arab Spring uprising allowed themselves to be manipulated first by one and then the other, voting for the Brotherhood and then turning to the generals when they grew disillusioned with Islamist rule.

They failed to establish a united political party with a credible leadership to rival the traditional powers.

Filling Tahrir Square is great for getting rid of a government – and now they’ve done it twice – but not so good for creating a democratic, inclusive system. That will take years of grassroots work in the countryside and the slums, gaining the confidence of the millions of Egyptians who see the upheavals of the last two years as a disruption not a liberation.

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