The ‘battle for democracy’ in Egypt: Should the Islamists still believe in democracy?

2013-08-18 21:02

The political crisis in Egypt has entered a new phase—a full- blown conflagration with heavy human and material losses. With now more than 700 deaths—still rolling, and thousands of people injured, some of whom are in critical condition, the reactions of the international community, long delayed, have been rushing in.

These reactions that range from condemnations to sanctions are mostly disabling, not enabling for Egypt. For instance, Germany has suspended some of its aids to Egypt, the US congress is fighting hard to determine whether or not aids to Egypt must be cut off, the EU countries are considering collective sanctions against the country and you add to the list.

While similar sanctions and suspension of aids have sometimes yielded some results in a number of conflicts in the world, there are fears that their use in the on-going conflict in Egypt could complicate peace efforts in a number of ways.

First, sanctions might put the army chief, Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, and the transitional government on the defensive and under pressure to finish the “job” of ending the crisis as quickly as possible by taking rash actions that could lead to further human casualties.

In any case, caving in to the demand of the Muslim Brotherhood to reinstate the deposed leader Mursi in the current mayhem should not be expected. That would look more like a pipe dream. El-Sisi and the transitional government must have learnt by now that what happened to the deposed leader Hosni Mubarak in 2011 after he had stepped down from power might happen again.

Second, sanctions could legitimize and radicalize the position of the Muslim Brotherhood and put them on the victim’s seat. Some of them could be tempted to employ extreme means of violence to garner more sympathy from the international community. Should this happen, countless more lives could be lost in the process.

Third, sanctions might squeeze and weaken an already dying economy, undercutting the country’s efforts to fulfill the deferred promises of the revolution that led to the current turmoil in the first place. That several companies have already halted their business operations in the country is the harbinger of this scenario.

Without doubt, the Egyptian population today is deeply divided and confused. On the one hand, there is the pro-Mursi camp that advocates for the reinstatement of the deposed leader, Mohamed Mursi. This camp, largely composed of the Islamist groups, considers Mursi’s reinstatement as the return of democracy in Egypt.

The demand to reinstate Mursi, the Islamists must admit, is highly problematic if not unrealistic. With so many people opposed to his rule, Mursi’s comeback could ultimately alienate an important portion of the Egyptian population most especially the military, the liberals, the Christians and the secularists. It could further lead to a situation of vendetta waged against Mursi’s critics by elements of the Muslim Brotherhood.

On the other hand, the Mursi critics, sometimes loosely referred to as the anti-Mursi camp, argue to the contrary and maintain that Mursi’s one year rule was a failure and that his return needs not be considered.

In addition, the transitional government is even considering banning the Muslim Brotherhood from Egyptian politics altogether. This step, if matured, could drive the Muslim Brotherhood underground and destabilize the country in the long run. Clearly, no Egyptian democracy can function properly with the exclusion of such a large chunk of its population.

Taken together, neither the pro-Mursi camp nor the anti-Mursi camp is winning the ‘battle for democracy.’ It is best to acknowledge the hard fact that the damage has been done—already.

Ultimately, a negotiated solution born out of a collective will to end the stand-off for the supreme interest of Egypt remains a matter of urgency. To back up this reconciliation process, what Egypt needs from the international community is constructive mediation, not sanctions.

One question remains, though. After such a painful experience, should the Islamists still believe in democracy? If the answer is yes, then serious effort is needed to build trust in this area.

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