News / Middle East

With Brotherhood Out, Old Order Shapes Egypt's Future

A woman walks past a burnt vehicle near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, Aug. 28, 2013.
A woman walks past a burnt vehicle near Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo, Aug. 28, 2013.
TEXT SIZE - +
Reuters
— Workers in blue overalls clamber over scaffolding around Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque, whitewashing its charred walls to restore a semblance of normalcy to the corner of Cairo where the struggle for Egypt reached a bloody climax this month.

After a stunning reversal in which the army seized upon a tide of public discontent to overthrow freely elected President Mohamed Morsi, the powerful state apparatus appears to have all but neutralized the Muslim Brotherhood to which he belongs.

Not only that. Even as the army-backed government promises to shepherd Egypt towards democracy, its plans for a new political transition speak of a deep entrenchment of the old order that ran Egypt under veteran autocrat Hosni Mubarak.

In the space of a few weeks, security forces have arrested the Brotherhood's leaders and killed its supporters by the hundreds in the streets. Meanwhile, a committee appointed without debate has proposed constitutional amendments that would open the way for a political comeback by Mubarak-era officials.

The prospect of financial meltdown has been staved off by billions of dollars in aid from Gulf states hostile to the Brotherhood, and Western censure has been muted, at best.

In a highly symbolic victory for the old guard, the 85-year-old Mubarak was himself released from jail last week, albeit to await a retrial for ordering the killing of protesters in 2011.

Keen to show support for the army, Egyptians who may once have displayed pictures of Mubarak now celebrate Egypt's new top soldier, Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, a hero to those who rallied against Brotherhood rule. One Sisi fan in Cairo is reportedly selling chocolate treats bearing the general's image.

And in language that would have been unthinkable only a few weeks ago, a state-run magazine this week described the 2011 uprising that toppled Mubarak as a “setback”.

Week of bloodshed

Protesters, who support ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, transport injured people during clashes at Ramses Square in Cairo, Aug. 16, 2013Protesters, who support ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, transport injured people during clashes at Ramses Square in Cairo, Aug. 16, 2013
x
Protesters, who support ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, transport injured people during clashes at Ramses Square in Cairo, Aug. 16, 2013
Protesters, who support ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, transport injured people during clashes at Ramses Square in Cairo, Aug. 16, 2013
With a nightly curfew enforced by the army, Cairo seems eerily calm. It is hard to believe Egypt has just suffered the bloodiest week in the Arab republic's history.

More than 900 people were killed, including some 100 police and soldiers, after security forces on Aug. 14 destroyed the protest camps set up by Morsi's backers after he was toppled.

The state had labeled the sit-ins a “threat to national security”. Accusing the Brotherhood of turning to violence - a charge the Brotherhood rejects as a pretext for the crackdown - the government has declared a “war on terrorism”.

Fear has sucked the momentum from anti-government protests, and the arrests of Morsi and the other leaders have muted the Brotherhood's voice. Essam el-Erian and Mohamed el-Beltagi, lawmakers even under Mubarak, have been reduced to issuing video messages from hiding.

Ahmed Mefreh of the international rights group Alkarama Foundation said more than 2,000 Morsi supporters had been arrested in Cairo alone.

“The Brotherhood were losers in an impossible confrontation,” said Hassan Nafaa, a professor of political science at Cairo University and veteran political activist.

The first draft of the new constitution seeks to restore the voting system that kept Mubarak in power for 30 years, something that has disappointed smaller parties that have struggled to establish themselves since the end of his one-man rule.

It would also lift a ban on former members of his government seeking office, and remove controversial Islamist-inspired language brought in last year.

The government has begun to revive the political security apparatus that was shelved, but not dismantled, after the 2011 revolt. It has appointed ex-military figures to positions which, like the presidency, were once dominated by them.

It seems unlikely the next president will be a rival to the power of the old establishment. The oath of allegiance sworn by conscripts no longer mentions loyalty to the head of state.

“What you will see is a very diminished role for the presidency - except of course if a military or security figure decides to run for that position,” said Nathan Brown, a leading expert on Egypt at George Washington University.

He also noted that in contrast to other countries, where the army might pledge loyalty to the constitution and laws, in Egypt, soldiers and officers will not swear allegiance to “any civilian official, law or procedure”.

Military president?

Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a news conference in Cairo, May 22, 2013.Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a news conference in Cairo, May 22, 2013.
x
Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a news conference in Cairo, May 22, 2013.
Egypt's Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is seen during a news conference in Cairo, May 22, 2013.
Exhausted by 2-1/2 years of turmoil, many Egyptians now believe only the army can restore stability, and the military, which suffered a public backlash after taking power in 2011, has proved more adept this time at marshaling support.

Even though he has indicated he doesn't want the job, the 58-year-old Sisi looks an obvious candidate for president.

Speculation that he will run has intensified since a first photo emerged last week of the general in civilian clothes.

“General Sisi is a popular hero par excellence, and if he decides to enter the elections he is the most popular at the moment,” said Hamdeen Sabahi, a leftist who came a close third in last year's presidential election and backed Morsi's removal.

Sabahi believes Sisi will stick by his word not to run.

Nevertheless, state TV aired a show on Wednesday discussing the merits of a president from the military, in which the guest said there was nothing wrong with having a general at the helm.

As yet, nobody has declared their candidacy - in contrast to the frenzied campaigning before the vote won by Morsi last year with the help of the Brotherhood's unrivaled political machine.

Asked about his own aspirations, Sabahi told Al-Masry Al-Youm newspaper he had yet to decide: “Now is a moment that requires national ranks to unite in the face of terrorism.”

State media now describe the Muslim Brotherhood in terms akin to al-Qaida. The “war on terrorism” that the government has announced has already seen two of its top leaders put on trial on charges of inciting murder, by a court they say is political.

Pro-Brotherhood protests, though still continuing, have shrunk dramatically, stifled in part by a state of emergency.

“I do not go out in any protests where there is danger,” said one 26-year-old Brotherhood activist in the Mediterranean city of Alexandria who asked not to be named. “We've been demonstrating for two months and achieved nothing.”

Brotherhood in hiding

Speaking by phone from hiding, Brotherhood politician Farid Ismail said opposition to the “putschist regime” was large and growing.

“They want to make it seem that matters are proceeding through fait accompli politics,” he said. “They will not win. This is not victory.”

But the group has few tools at its disposal to press the demand to which it still clings in public: a solution based on the constitution that was endorsed by a referendum last year.

“They now understand that they have lost and are under pressure from a wave of repression and arrests,” said a Western diplomat. “So they are in a second phase of saying they won't return to any political process unless the repression stops and there are releases.”

Though experts on the Brotherhood dismiss the idea it would be directly involved in violence, some have voiced fears that grievances could fuel a new wave of attacks by Islamist militants, reminiscent of the campaign of the 1990s and 1980s.

Western nations that sought to forge a deal between the Brotherhood and the government still advocate reconciliation to keep the group in formal politics. But the prospects seem dim.

So far, it appears that the Brotherhood will not be part of the 50-member assembly that will discuss the new constitution.

Even some of those who backed Morsi's removal now warn against ostracizing such a large and established organization.

“We must not repeat the mistakes of the Muslim Brotherhood - using the fact that the balance of power is in the favor of a particular party right now - and disregard the views of another segment of the population,” said Khaled Dawoud, spokesman for the liberal Dustour Party.

“We need a political solution to the problem that would reintegrate the Muslim Brotherhood into the political process because the price of security confrontation alone is very hefty, in the short term and in the long term.”

Pro-reform activists argue that a return to the past is impossible after the 2011 uprising and that any effort to roll back their gains would eventually spawn a new protest movement. The constitution has yet to be finalized and they will oppose clauses that seek to limit new freedoms, these activists say.

But for now, barring a major rethink on all sides, the Brothers look set to sit out the new transition from the sidelines - or jail.

You May Like

Multimedia Anti-Keystone XL Protests Continue

Demonstrators are worried about pipeline's effect on climate change, their traditional way of life, health and safety More

Thailand's Political Power Struggle Continues

Court gave Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra until May 2 to prepare her defense over abuse of power charges but uncertainty remains over election timing More

Malaysia Plane Search Tests Limits of Ocean Mapping Technology

Expert tells VOA existing equipment’s maximum operating depth is around 6 kilometers as operation continues on ocean bed for any trace of MH370 More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Messagei
X
Penelope Poulou
April 22, 2014 5:53 PM
Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pet Kangaroo Helps Spread Environmental Message

Children’s author Julia Heckathorn travels the world to learn about different ecosystems and endangered animals. She pours her knowledge into children’s books, hoping the next generation will right the environmental wrongs of our times. As in many children's books, the main character in Heckathorn's stories is an animal. Unlike those other characters, though, this one is real - a kangaroo, that lives in the author’s backyard. VOA’s Penelope Poulou has more.
Video

Video Pro-Russian Separatists Plan 'Federalization Referendum' in Eastern Ukraine

Pro-Russian separatists in eastern Ukraine say they plan to move forward next month with a referendum vote for greater autonomy, despite the Geneva agreement reached with Russia, the U.S. and Ukraine to end the political conflict. VOA's Brian Padden reports from the city of Donetsk in Eastern Ukraine.
Video

Video Pope Francis Hopes Dual Canonizations Will Reconcile Church

On April 27, two popes - John the XXIII and John Paul II - will be made saints in a ceremony at St. Peter’s Square. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky says the dual canonization is part of the current pope’s program to reconcile liberals and conservatives in the Roman Catholic Church.
Video

Video In Capturing Nature's Majesty, Film Makes Case for Its Survival

French filmmaker Luc Jacquet won worldwide acclaim for his 2005 Academy Award-winning documentary "March of the Penguins". Now Jacquet is back with a new film that takes movie-goers deep into the heart of a tropical rainforest - not only to celebrate its grandeur, but to make the case for its survival. VOA's Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Boston Marathon Bittersweet for Many Runners

Monday's running of the Boston Marathon was bittersweet for many of the 36,000 participants as they finished the run that was interrupted by a double bombing last year. Many gathered along the route paid respect to the four people killed as a result of two bombings near the finish line. VOA's Carolyn Presutti returned to Boston this year to follow two runners, forever changed because of the crimes.
Video

Video International Students Learn Film Production in World's Movie Capital

Hollywood - which is part of Los Angeles - is the movie capital of the world, and many aspiring filmmakers go there in hopes of breaking into the movie business. Mike O'Sullivan reports that regional universities are also a magnet for students who hope to become producers or directors.
Video

Video Pacific Rim Trade Deal Proves Elusive

With the U.S.-led war in Iraq ended and American military involvement in Afghanistan winding down, President Barack Obama has sought to pivot the country's foreign policy focus towards Asia. One aspect of that pivot is the negotiation of a free-trade agreement among 12 Pacific Rim nations. But as Obama leaves this week on a trip to four Asian countries he has found it very difficult to complete the trade pact. VOA's Ken Bredemeier has more from Washington.
Video

Video Autistic Adults Face Housing, Job Challenges

Many parents of children with disabilities fear for the future of their adult child. It can be difficult to find services to help adults with disabilities - physical, mental or emotional - find work or live on their own. The mother of an autistic boy set up a foundation to advocate for the estimated 1.2 million American adults with autism, a developmental disorder that causes communication difficulties and often social difficulties. VOA's Faiza Elmasry reports.
AppleAndroid