Egypt: Violence & the struggle for power
As Egypt prepares for the first post-coup presidential elections, there is no sign to show that political violence is abating.
Political violence has become even more pronounced since the ouster of the democratically-elected President, Dr. Mohamed Morsi, on July 3, 2013. The ouster is in fact one of the primary causes for the increased violence.
They are inter-linked for two reasons. The suppression of Morsi’s movement, the Muslim Brotherhood, by the military-backed interim government has been violent. Peaceful protest camps were crushed in a deadly operation on August 14, 2013. At least a thousand people were killed in a week of violence. Thousands of Brotherhood members were arrested, including its spiritual leader, Mohamed Badie. The Brotherhood was declared a ‘terrorist’ group in December 2013.
On March 25, 2014, 529 people - many of them connected to the Brotherhood - were sentenced to death by a court for rioting and killing a policeman. The brutal severity of the decision shocked the world.
The suppression has continued with the enactment of a new law against terrorism which provides for the death penalty to anyone committing ‘terrorist acts’ or establishing or joining a ‘terrorist organization’.
The law announced by the government on April 3, 2014, also increases the number of judicial districts dedicated to handling terrorism-related trials, to ensure ‘speedy trials’. It was a response to bomb explosions that killed two people, including a Police Brigadier-General, in the vicinity of Cairo University.
This brings us to the second reason for the escalation of violence in Egypt in recent months. As we have seen, Brotherhood members and supporters have been reacting to the suppression of their movement through their own acts of violence. Security personnel have been their targets, which explains the large number of policemen killed in the course of the last nine months.
For the Brotherhood, violence is not just reactive or defensive. Since 1943, it has engaged in paramilitary activities. In 1948, a Brotherhood member allegedly murdered an Appellate Court judge for passing a harsh sentence against a colleague. In the same year, the then-prime minister of Egypt was killed by a Brotherhood member. On October 26, 1954, the Brotherhood attempted to assassinate Egyptian leader Gamal Abdel Nasser.
There are other groups which perceive themselves as Islamic that have also sought to pursue their political agenda through violence. In Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula, the Ansar Bait al-Maqdis is the source of some of the violent activities we have witnessed there for a few years now. The Al-Furqan Brigades are active throughout Egypt.
Violence on the part of both the government and the Brotherhood and other groups is related to a much bigger battle which has marred and mired Egyptian politics for decades. It is the struggle for power between the military on the one hand, and Islamic forces on the other, particularly the Brotherhood, which has expressed itself in one form or another since the Free Officers revolt of 1952. Even before 1952, during the period of the monarchy, the Brotherhood was already challenging state power.
This tussle for power will go on and continue to impact negatively upon the lives of ordinary people. Elections will not resolve this conflict as proven by the post-Mubarak situation.
In spite of presidential and parliamentary elections which indicated the people’s preference for Islamic parties, the military and its allies have sought to perpetuate their power through subterfuge and manipulation. The unjust overthrow of Morsi was the culmination of this process.
After the overthrow and the consolidation of its power, the military has, as we have noted, used and abused its authority to emasculate and decimate the Brotherhood. The new constitution endorsed in a questionable referendum on January 14 and 15, 2014, will further ensure that the power of the military is entrenched and extended beyond the present. The Presidential Election scheduled for May 26-27, 2014, will to all intents and purposes provide the imprimatur to the right of the military to rule Egypt for a long time to come.
If there is a remedy to this situation, it lies with the people. The people have demonstrated that they have the wisdom and the maturity to send the right signal to their rulers. It was the people, millions of them, who through sustained, peaceful mass action over a few weeks pushed out the dictator, Hosni Mubarak, on February 11, 2011. It was a bold and brave rejection of authoritarianism, corruption and nepotism. At the same time, the popular uprising with its epicenter on Tahrir Square was a plea for justice, freedom, equality and, most of all, for human dignity. This is why the Egyptian people should not acquiesce with the re-assertion of authoritarianism, the resurgence of military power, through the ascendancy of General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi.
It would be a betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of the millions who yearn for a new Egypt guided by the rule of law, rather than the might of men, a new Egypt which honors through deeds the poor and powerless citizen seeking shelter in the cemeteries of the rich in Cairo rather than a state which continues to glorify the pompous and arrogant elite who aggrandize power and wealth for their own ego.
But those who ride the wave of the people’s hopes and aspirations should also ensure that they do not exercise power and authority in a manner that subverts the trust of the masses. The Brotherhood was in a sense guilty of this. Granted, it faced formidable obstacles in the short time that it was in power. Nonetheless, because of its attachment to dogma – a commitment to projecting its own version of Islam – it was often diverted from focusing upon the fundamental challenges faced by the people such as the lack of basic amenities, a poor delivery system, street-level corruption and a severe paucity of jobs especially for the young.
Not only did this erode its popular base; it alienated the Brotherhood from a significant segment of the middle-class. It also led to the reinforcement of an approach to Islam that emphasized form at the expense of substance.
Given the Brotherhood’s orientation and what the military represents, shouldn’t the Egyptian people go beyond both these forces to secure their future?
Chandra Muzaffar for RT
Dr. Chandra Muzaffar is the president of the International Movement for a Just World (JUST), a Malaysia-based NGO which seeks to raise public consciousness on the moral and intellectual basis of global justice. His new e-book ‘Wither WANA? Reflections on the Arab Uprisings’ can be downloaded for free here.
The statements, views and opinions expressed in this column are solely those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of RT.