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

China Investigates Former Powerful Security Chief

Former security chief and member of Politburo Standing Committee, Zhou Yongkang, under investigation for suspected 'serious disciplinary violation' More

India, US Look to Reset Ties During Kerry Visit

This week's talks will be first high level interaction between two countries since Prime Minister Narendra Modi took charge More

Video Young African Leadership Program Renamed to Honor Mandela

YALI program, launched by President Obama in 2010, aims to build skills in business, entrepreneurship, public management and civic leadership More

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Vietnamese Staging Chinese Product Boycott After Oil Rig Spati
X
Reasey Poch
July 28, 2014 7:18 PM
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 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 ESA Spacecraft to Land on a Comet

After a long flight through deep space, a European Space Agency probe is finally approaching its target -- a comet millions of kilometers away from earth. Scientists say the mission may lead to some startling discoveries about the origins of the water on earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.
Video

Video Young Africans Arrive in US for Leadership Program

President Barack Obama's Young African Leadership Initiative has brought hundreds of young Africans to the United States for a six-week program aimed at building their knowledge and skills in fields such as public administration and business. Out of the 50,000 young Africans who applied for the program, just one percent was accepted. VOA's Laurel Bowman caught up with some of those who made the cut and has this report.
Video

Video In Honduras, Amnesty Rumors Fuel US Migration Surges

False rumors in Central America are fueling the current surge of undocumented young people being apprehended at the U.S. border. The inaccurate claims suggest the U.S. will give amnesty to young migrants from the region. As VOA's Brian Padden reports from Honduras, these rumors trace back to President Obama's 2012 executive order to halt deportations for some young undocumented immigrants already living in the United States.
Video

Video Students in Business for Themselves

They're only high school students, but they are making accessories for shoes, fabricating backpacks and doing product photography - all through their own businesses. It's the result of a partnership between a non-profit organization that teaches entrepreneurship and their schools. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan and Deyane Moses met the budding entrepreneurs near Los Angeles.
Video

Video Astronauts Train in Underwater Lab

In the world’s only underwater laboratory, four U.S. astronauts train for a planned visit to an asteroid. The lab - called Aquarius- is located five kilometers off Key Largo, in southern Florida. Living in close quarters and making excursions only into the surrounding ocean, they try to simulate the daily routine of a crew that will someday travel to collect samples of a rock orbiting far away from earth. VOA’s George Putic has more.

AppleAndroid