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Could Egypt be Headed for Civil Conflict?

  • Cecily Hilleary

Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi hold up signs during a protest demanding that Mursi resign at Tahrir Square in Cairo, July 2, 2013.

Protesters opposing Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi hold up signs during a protest demanding that Mursi resign at Tahrir Square in Cairo, July 2, 2013.

Egypt is poised for a major confrontation as the president and his supporters hunker down in the face of hundreds of thousands jamming city squares and streets demanding the government step down and as the military waits in the wings, ready to step in and impose its own solution to the ongoing dispute.

President Mohamed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters have rejected an army ultimatum giving him two days to come to an agreement with the opposition demonstrators.

Mohamed Al-Beltagy, the general secretary for the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party, is urging supporters into the streets to prevent what they are saying amounts to a military coup, adding, “We’re ready to give our lives for the country and the people.”

And the Brotherhood’s media spokesman, Gehad El-Haddad, sent this message to the opposition via the social media site Twitter: “We can't keep running elections until #MB [Muslim Brotherhood] loses. Come up with a better strategy or accept democratic outcomes.”


The Army issued its ultimatum on Monday, saying it was designed to push the politicians into reaching a consensus and that the military was responding to the “pulse of the Egyptian street.”

Michael Collins Dunn, editor of the Middle East Journal of the Middle East Institute in Washington, D.C., says there is merit to the claim.

“I think that it’s a clear case that a lot of people have been suggesting that military intervention might be the only solution, including some of the same people who, a little over a year ago, wanted to get rid of SCAF [the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces], and now they seem to be getting their wish,” Dunn said.

But Dunn conceded that the opposition drive to get Morsi out of office only a year after he won the presidency in a democratic election may seem unfair to many.

“On the other hand, I think Morsi’s done very little to reach out to the opposition,” he said. “He’s done very little to bring various elements of society together. He’s virtually ignored the Copts, to the point that mistreatment of Copts has increased.

“He has clearly done very little for the economy,” Dunn continued. “He has sort of said, ‘Look I won by 51 percent so now I get to do whatever I want to.’”

Egyptian journalist, and activist Wael Abbas figured prominently in Egypt’s 2011 uprising and says Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood brought most of the troubles on themselves.

“The Muslim Brotherhood’s stupidity is what led us here,” said Abbas. “Morsi tried to take all powers for himself and he did not allow any factions of the opposition to participate and he didn’t take our advice.

“And instead of cleaning up the old corrupt system in Egypt, he infiltrated it with elements of the Muslim Brotherhood,” Abbas said. “He put them as ministers, as governors, even in lower positions in all the governmental institutions.”

Abbas points back to the original demands of the revolution: The overthrow of former president Hosni Mubarak, an end to emergency laws, a representative constitution, transparent elections, term limits, economic improvements and justice for those killed by police and military in the revolution.

“Nobody, not the Army, not the Muslim Brotherhood, has fulfilled the demands of the revolution yet,” Abbas said. “We are seeing trials that are charades. Police officers who killed protesters are being freed on claims of self-defense. Nobody has avenged the martyrs of the revolution, and now people are welcoming the army again, despite the fact that the army has put tens of thousands of citizens on trial before illegal military tribunals and put them in jail.”

So what happens next in Egypt? As of Tuesday, the choice seemed to be either Morsi and the opposition work out an agreement whereby he institutes the reforms the Army and demonstrators are demanding—or the army, with the support of the people on the ground, intervenes to bring him down.

That, says Dunn, could lead to a “nightmare scenario,” similar to what happened in Algeria during the 1990s: “Where the Islamists say, ‘All right, we can’t win democratically, because you are going to take away our victory, so we’re going to win by military action.’

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