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.
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

Video On the Scene: In Gaza, Darkness Brings Dread and Death

Palestinians fear nighttime raids, many feel abandoned by outside world, VOA's Scott Bobb reports More

African Small Farmers Could Be Key to Ending Food Insecurity

Experts say providing access to microloans, crop insurance, better storage facilities, irrigation, road systems and market information could enable greater production More

University of Michigan Wins Solar Car Race

Squad guided its student-designed solar-powered vehicle to fifth consecutive time victory in eight-day bi-annual American Solar Challenge More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelteri
X
Scott Bobb
July 30, 2014 8:16 PM
Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Gazans in Shelled School Sought Shelter

Israel's air and ground assault against Hamas-led fighters in Gaza has forced many Palestinians to flee their homes, seeking safety. But safe places are hard to find, as VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from Jabaliya.
Video

Video Rapid Spread of Ebola in West Africa Prompts Global Alert

Across West Africa, health officials are struggling to keep up with what the World Health Organization describes as the worst ebola outbreak on record. The virus has killed hundreds of people this year. U.S. President Barack Obama and other world leaders are watching the developments closely as they weigh what actions, if any, are needed to help contain the disease.
Video

Video Michelle Obama: Young Africans Need to Embrace Women's Rights

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama urged some of Africa's best and brightest to advocate for women's rights in their home countries. As VOA's Pam Dockins explains, Obama spoke to some 500 participants of the Young African Leaders Initiative, a six-week U.S.-based training and development program.
Video

Video Immigrant Influx on Texas Border Heats Up Political Debate

Immigrants from Central America continue to cross the U.S.-Mexico border in south Texas, seeking asylum in the United States, as officials grapple with ways to deal with the problem and provide shelter for thousands of minors among the illegal border crossers. As VOA's Greg Flakus reports from Houston, the issue is complicated by internal U.S. politics and U.S. relations with the troubled nations that immigrants are fleeing.
Video

Video Study: Latino Students Most Segregated in California

Even though legal school segregation ended in the United States 60 years ago, one study finds segregation still occurs in the U.S. based on income and race. The University of California Los Angeles Civil Rights Project finds that students in California are more segregated by race than ever before, especially Latinos. Elizabeth Lee reports for VOA from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spat

China recently pulled an oil rig from an area of the disputed South China Sea that Vietnam also claims. Despite the action, the incident has had a lingering effect on consumers in Vietnam. VOA's Reasey Poch reports from Hanoi on an effort to boycott Chinese products.
Video

Video A Summer Camp for All the World

VIDEO: During workshops and social gatherings, the Global Youth Village summer camp encourages young people to cooperate and embrace their differences, while learning to communicate with people from other countries. VOA's Deborah Block has more.
Video

Video From Cantankerous Warlock to Incorruptible Priest, 'Harry Potter' Actor Embraces Diverse Roles

He’s perhaps best known as Mad Eye Moody, the whimsical wizard in the Harry Potter franchise. But character actor Brendan Gleeson's resume includes dozens of films, and he embraces all the characters he inhabits with equal passion. In an interview with VOA’s Penelope Poulou, Gleeson discussed his new drama "Calvary" and his secret to success.

AppleAndroid