EGYPTIAN WOES, WASHINGTON INACTION

2013-07-24 08:45

Egypt might be experiencing one of its worst crises in history. Since the ousting of president Mohamed Mursi on July 3, 2013, the security situation has been fast deteriorating as violent clashes are increasing, people are being reported killed daily, and the economy is faring no better. Different debates have been staged with different governments outlining their positions. What is baffling in this flurry of debates is Washington’s absence. Calls to get its attention remain unanswered. Yet Egypt is sinking deep into the quagmire of violence. What, then, explains Washington’s low-key attitude? An abdication of responsibility? A complicit attitude? Or simply a dilemma? With windows of opportunity for political dialogue closing, what can Egypt do next?

The Egyptian revolution that led to the ousting of Hosni Mubarak in February 2011, happened at the background of an economy in shambles. Decades of misgovernment bankrupted the country. Based on a document by the World Bank, the annual GDP growth of Egypt at the time of the revolution in 2011 stood at only 1.8% and slightly increased to 2.2% in 2012. With a population of more than 80 million, the country struggled with an unemployment rate as high as 13% leading to more than 3.5 million jobless people – most of whom are from the youth and minority groups.

The young people who took to the streets of Cairo to usher in the Egypt Arab Spring longed for a better economy and a governance system based on the democratic principles of equality, inclusion, freedom, and justice. Alas, against all expectations, Mohamed Mursi was more concerned about setting up an Islamic rule than addressing the economic downshift. In addition, his one year rule was punctuated by rampant clashes with the military, the judiciary, the opposition parties, and minority groups. Signs of failed political integration?

Consider the question of women. The Mursi government, it seemed, was not interested in creating conditions for women to participate in building the post-revolution Egypt. Mursi forgot too soon that the revolution materialized with the combined efforts of all the different social components of the Egyptian society including women. In fact, it can be rightly argued that the revolution would not have been possible without the unreserved involvement of the latter. To the people of Egypt, it was a slap in the face when the Muslim Brotherhood, then controlling the government, publicly issued a statement to denounce the United Nations declaration for ending violence against women. The justification? The declaration contradicts the principles of Sharia (the Islamic law) and as such, could destroy the Egyptian society. An unpopular move indeed that stands in contradiction with the democratic principles of justice and equality.

The marginalization of the opposition parties in political debates was equally and all but deplorable. The drafting of the post-Mubarak constitution signed into law by Mursi on December 26, 2012 was thought to be a sign of hope to end the political crisis that followed the revolution. But this hope quickly turned into a political nightmare. Once again, the Islamists who then dominated the panel to draft the constitution, engaged in a theatrical marathon to sideline the opposition groups and then push for Sharia with little or no concern even for those who brought them to power. Appeals by the opposition to redraft or amend the constitution were seen as heresy and often incurred the wrath of the Islamist groups including the death penalty. This and other problems as previously discussed, squandered the little respect and sympathy Washington had for Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood.

Washington has other concerns, too. The issue of peace resumption between Israelis and Palestinians, the lingering civil war in Syria, the new sanctions that are being considered in Congress against Iran, and the winding down of the war in Afghanistan, are all pressing problems that potentially might distract it from the Egyptian crisis as well. Washington seems to be well aware that acting in this mayhem without thoughtful consideration might spell trouble for the stability of the volatile Middle East political environment.

It is now unclear how expecting the intervention of Washington in the current crisis will be of any real help. In any case, such an intervention would be problematic. Even a cursory reading of the current situation indicates that whichever side it takes, its moves are viewed with suspicion by all parties to the conflict. On the one hand, the opposition groups are wary of Washington and see it as complicit for having allowed the Muslim Brotherhood to ascend to power in the first place. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood sees Washington’s refusal to condemn the coup and cut the yearly $ 1.5 billion in military aid as an act of hypocrisy and ill will. It is the kind of situation that can be interpreted as ‘doomed if you do, doomed if you don’t’.

As days go by and Washington hesitates to intervene, the voices of reason in Egypt are faltering, the frustration is growing, the temptation for parties to the conflict to use violence is becoming the default response to the crisis, and sadly enough, scores of people are dying daily. If the Muslim Brotherhood is serious about the future of democracy in Egypt, then it must consider the circumstances that led to their ousting as an opportunity for sober reflection and not an excuse for violence. Political resolution might be the best choice for the future of the country.

This is an Egyptian problem. The situation is already woefully bad for Egypt and must not be allowed to get any worse. Washington is not the solution. The drums of war must stop. The path of violence is costlier than anyone can foretell. All parties to the conflict must show restraint and consider the supreme interest of the country. The Muslim Brotherhood, in particular, must tread with caution because any step in the wrong direction might weaken their power base, undermine their moral and political stature, and finally send them back underground.

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