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Death sentences for Muslim Brotherhood members is an eye-opener for Egypt

John Wight is a writer and commentator specializing in geopolitics, UK domestic politics, culture and sport.

Published time: March 27, 2014 07:32
Students who are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted President Mohamed Mursi run from tear gas released by riot police during clashes outside Cairo University March 26, 2014 (Reuters / Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Recent events in Egypt provide incontrovertible evidence that revolutions are pregnant with the potential for both progress and regress – and oftentimes end up harnessing both.

The verdict of death passed by a court in Egypt against 529 members and supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood earlier this week after proceedings lasting just two hours, with no jury, no legal defense heard, and without the presence in court of the majority of the accused, leaves no doubt that the courage and hope responsible for millions of Egyptians taking to the streets to stand up for their rights in 2011, after decades of having them denied, has crashed upon the rocks of the stark reality when it comes to mass movements and revolution, that unless you have your own strategy you are part of someone else’s strategy.

The role of the military in Egyptian society has traditionally been as a linchpin both defending the nation’s dignity and as a pillar of strength uniting the Egyptian people on the basis of a shared national identity, regardless of religion or any other factor that might separate them. The affection felt towards the army, and the trust placed in it by the Egyptian masses, originates with the Free Officers Revolt of 1952, which succeeded in removing the corrupt Egyptian monarchy from power and bringing Gamel Abdel Nasser to power as inspiration behind the political elevation of the Egyptian and wider Arab peoples on to the stage of history for the first time.

Egypt’s ability to throw off the yoke of Western colonialism in 1956 in the wake of the Suez Crisis was a proud moment in the history of the country, and in its military, which from that moment on were joined with the people in a symbiotic relationship that has remained solid ever since. In fact, if anything, this bond was strengthened in 2011 when the Egyptian army refused to fire on the people who filled Tahrir Square in Cairo, and came out in their millions throughout the rest of the country, demanding Mubarak’s removal from power. The slogan ‘The army and the people are one hand’ was prominent during the wave of mass protest which culminated in the end of Mubarak’s reign in February of 2011.

Students who are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted President Mohamed Mursi shout slogans in a protest against the military and interior ministry in front of Cairo University March 26, 2014 (Reuters / Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

But the weakness of the Egyptian Revolution was its lack of ideological unity. The millions who came out on to the streets, comprising socialists, liberals, nationalists, and secularists of all stripes, were united in what they were against but not in what they were for in its place other than democracy. The only political faction in Egypt that did know what it was for, and was organized on that basis, was the Muslim Brotherhood. Just as the Egyptian army has enjoyed a symbiotic relationship with the people of Egypt, the Brotherhood has enjoyed both a complementary and antagonistic one with them throughout its history.

The MB came to power on the back of the first democratic elections in Egyptian history by default more than design. They won a slender majority of 51 per cent, yet when in power, under the presidency of Mohamed Morsi, they behaved as if democracy is a system of ‘winner takes all’ rather than consensus.

Morsi’s and the Muslim Brotherhood’s attempt to force through a constitution which non-Muslim Brotherhood political parties had refused to accept, and which provided Morsi with immunity from judicial oversight, set alarms bells ringing throughout the country. In the context of events in Libya and Syria, in which Islamists and Sunni extremists were sowing chaos and carnage, and with Morsi voicing support for Islamist rebels in Syria, and with the slogan of the Muslim Brotherhood ‘Islam is the answer’ being increasingly propagated, the fear among liberals and secularists in the country that Sharia law was in danger of being imposed in Egypt was well-founded.

But the parlous state of Egypt’s economy was not the work of Morsi or the Brotherhood. The crisis within global capitalism of recent years hit Egypt particularly hard, manifesting in sharp rise in the cost of imports. In a country that imports much of its food, the resulting spike in the price of basic essentials spelled disaster.

Riot police officer fires rubber bullets and tear gas at students who are supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and ousted President Mohamed Mursi, during clashes in front of Cairo University March 26, 2014 (Reuters / Amr Abdallah Dalsh)

Morsi found himself at the mercy of the IMF, which in return for a $4.4 billion dollar loan demanded the implementation of austerity, which would have meant cutting state subsidies upon millions of people depended for their survival. Add to this the devastating impact on tourism and investment arising from the revolution and resulting instability to sweep through Egypt and the conditions for unrest were laid.

The resurgence of mass protest that erupted in the summer of 2013, calling for Morsi and the Brotherhood’s removal from power, was an authentic manifestation of popular will. Indeed, even more people came out on this occasion than had come out against the Mubarak dictatorship. It is also a fact that without the intervention of the army, popularly supported, there would have been a violent explosion.

That said, since taking over the reins of power, the Egyptian army, headed by General Sisi, has taken the path of authoritarianism justified on the basis of restoring and maintaining security and stability. The outlawing of the Muslim Brotherhood, mass arrest of its leadership and members, has set a dangerous precedent; and the most recent kangaroo court proceedings ending in a sentence of death for over 500 of them should open the eyes of the millions who came out demanding an end to Morsi’s leadership. The welfare of the people has always been the alibi of tyrants.

The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.

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