Experts Reflect on Egypt's Turmoil

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Experts Reflect on Egypt's Turmoil

A cross section of Middle East analysts discuss the implications of the latest wave of violence in Egypt.

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The body count is rising across Egypt. The latest crackdown on demonstrators by the interim government has the potential to ignite a prolonged period of violence in the Arab world's most populous country.

The recent wave of unrest began when the military and social movements ousted Mohamed Morsi, Egypt's first elected president. Critics of Morsi and his backers in the Muslim Brotherhood say the former president was acting like a dictator who had lost popular support, and thus he needed to be deposed in order to pave the way for new elections. 

While the causes of Egypt's political and social problems are debatable, there is consensus that the country is facing exceptional chaos and bloodshed. 

To help shed light on the current crisis, Al Jazeera canvassed opinions from several leading Middle East experts to help analyse recent developments. 

Mahmood Mamdani is Professor and Director of Makerere Institute of Social Research in Kampala and Herbert Lehman Professor of Government at Columbia University, New York City. (Follow him on Twitter: @mm1124)

If the official toll is 500+, common sense would suggest that the real toll is likely to be several times that figure. A South African colleague wrote yesterday recalling the outrage that followed the killing of 69 at Sharpeville in 1960 and 169 at Soweto in 1975. To get some sense of the scale of Wednesday’s atrocity, recall that 3,000 died on 9/11 in New York City.

The blood on the streets testifies to the naivete exhibited by the secular coalition of liberals and leftists, and the moral and political responsibility they must bear for this outcome. The crisis of the secular coalition has come sooner than expected. What will this coalition do now? Having joined the Muslim Brotherhood during the assault against the old regime, and then the security forces in the assault on MB, what now? Does ElBaradei’s resignation signal the emergence of a liberal-left alternative in Egypt? Will they be able to chart a different path, this time to seek a political rather than a military solution?

How many of the millions who returned to Tahrir Square on June 30, and even more of us who believed we were witnessing another milestone in the march of the democratic revolution in Egypt, are likely to judge the Morsi government less harshly in the coming days? Could it be that of the diverse coalition that toppled the Mubarak regime, the Muslim Brotherhood, as the best organized and most popular political tendency within it, had the greatest chance of holding the coalition together? And how much of what happened over the year that followed is explained by their ineptness and inexperience in governance, how much by their overreach and hegemonic aspirations and how much by the challenge they faced in the aftermath of a political revolution where they controlled the political organs of government, but were at every step checkmated by an old order entrenched in the judicial and security apparatuses and in the economy?

The debate on coup or revolution is now moot. The restoration of the Morsi government is no longer a possibility, if it ever was after June 30. In the weeks and months that follow, new coalitions will have to be forged and new paths charted. Once again, Egypt’s future may depend on how much moral courage and political foresight its inexperienced youthful movement and its hitherto spineless secular intelligentsia can muster to face past mistakes and chart a different course of action. 

John L Esposito is a professor at Georgetown University and Founding Director of the Prince Alwaleed Bin Talal Center for Muslim-Christian Understanding in the Walsh School of Foreign Service. (Follow him on Twitter: @JohnLEsposito)

The slaughter of pro-Morsi demonstrators should be seen for what it is, a barbaric bloodbath. General Al Sisi and the Egyptian senior military have now demonstrated to the world the true colours of their coup and Egypt's illegitimate government. Egypt today has become Mubarak redux, the return of a military backed and led authoritarian government with all the brutality of the past. What will Egypt's so-called liberal civilian government leaders say and do? [Former vice president Mohammed] El Baradei has tarnished his Nobel prize. The interim president, Adly Mansour [has tarnished] his current office just as he did as a Constitutional Court judge. 

What steps will Western governments take? Will they blandly refer to this tragedy as a "setback for democracy?" Or will the US and EU condemn and cut off any aid or promise of aid to the current government? Egyptians are challenged to now realise that the only way forward is to reinstitute the democratic process. Coups lead exactly to what Egypt has now returned to - an authoritarian state whose promises of inclusion, elections and security ring hollow. For indeed, who of those in the anti-Morsi non-violent opposition would now themselves dare to publicly condemn the military and take to the streets in non-violent demonstrations?

Phyllis Bennis is a Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies. (Follow her on Twitter: @PhyllisBennis)

With the bloody attack on protest camps in Cairo, the announcement of a one-month state of emergency across the country, and the authority given to the army to "assist" the police in maintaining law and order, there can no longer be any question that Egypt is once again under the thumb of military authoritarianism. The democratic spring of Tahrir Square has been defeated - but the question "for how long" remains open. Egypt has undergone two huge changes since the overthrow of the US-backed dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, and both will play determinative roles in the current escalating crisis.

First, while there is substantial evidence that Mubarak-era loyalists are playing a major role in the anti-Morsi opposition and especially in the interim government that the military established, US support for and influence on the new power centre in Cairo remain uncertain. US economic support for the Egyptian military remains unchanged, but that $1.3bn in military aid is now dwarfed by multi-billion grants from Saudi Arabia, the UAE and beyond; following Obama's partial embrace of Islamist-flavoured governments in Egypt as well as elsewhere in the region, Washington simply doesn't have the same influence it once did.

Secondly, and most important, the Egyptian people have risen up to claim their rights as citizens, and have seen their power to change their country. However naive the democratic anti-Morsi protesters may have been about the possibility of overthrowing an elected leader simply by coming into the streets, as if the military would not ultimately play the decisive role, many of those millions of protesters are not likely to accept permanent military dictatorship unchallenged. Egypt today remains horrifically divided, with today's bloodbath certain to make things worse. The Muslim Brotherhood, under attack by the generals, will almost certainly retrench some of its forces to operate underground, but its current appeal as defenders of Egyptian democracy and its "coalition for legitimacy" may simultaneously broaden their engagement. The memory of the unity of January 2011, and the power that unity created, is not likely to fade quickly.

Adel Iskandar is a professor at Georgetown University and author of "Egypt In Flux: Essays on an Unfinished Revolution".

More than any other time in recent history, media coverage of Egypt's crackdown against the pro-Morsi sit-ins has been schizophrenic beyond reason. Egyptian state and private networks, now largely hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood, paint this as a largely sanitary and low-casualty operation against a predominantly violent movement. Pro-Brotherhood channels, such as Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, declare the operation an outright massacre against unarmed non-violent protesters and ignore deaths of police, widespread reprisal attacks against churches and police stations, and the Brotherhood's now out-right jihadist discourse. Welcome to Egypt, no country for good journalism.

Deepak Tripathi is a Fellow of the Royal Historical Society and the Royal Asiatic Society of Great Britain and Ireland. (Follow him on Twitter: @Deepak_Tripathi)

The bloodbath in Egypt's security crackdown against opponents of the military coup is truly catastrophic. Enough independent observers maintain that the crowds of protesters, including women and children, were largely peaceful, and the use of violence by the security forces was disproportionate. Egypt faces a lasting conflict with itself. The army's repression is a shattering blow against a fledgling, and brief, democratic experiment. Muslim Brotherhood activists and other opponents of the military-backed government may feel that they have little choice except to go underground.

In a vast country so deeply split, the authorities will find it very difficult to establish total control that the military seeks. Civilian political figures cooperating with the army face isolation from sections of Egyptian society. The turmoil will be destabilising, and a serious setback against hopes for democratic change in the region. The conflict will inflame the anti-American feeling, and pose a particular challenge for the United States in the Middle East. President Obama cannot disown the Egyptian military. But Washington's close links with the ruling military establishment in Cairo will provide further fuel to the resentment against America.

Mark LeVine is a professor at University of California, Irvine. (Follow him on Twitter: @Culturejamming)

This bloodbath is a natural conclusion to a series of events which began last November when then President Morsi "decreed" himself far-reaching powers in the midst of the struggle over drafting Egypt's constitution. By breaking the still tenuous bonds linking Egyptians to its reforming state and allowing or even encouraging members of the Muslim Brotherhood to participate in attacks on opposition protesters at the Ittihadiya Palace - the lead up to which also infamously featured Brotherhood leader Khairat ash-Shater declaring 70 percent of protesters were Christians - Morsi went down a path that inevitably led to his own ouster and an even greater level of demonisation and now violence against the Brotherhood once it was clear his government could not fix any of the myriad problems the country faces.

It seems clear that what Egypt needed on February 12, 2011 as much as a transition to a civilian rather than SCAF-led government was a truth and reconciliation commission that would have forced the country to confront the depths of the violence, chauvinism, exploitation and authoritarianism that have long dominated its social, economic and political life. Instead of this, the emerging political system was forged out of the same basic dynamics that characterised the Mubarak era, with a formal but constantly challenged democratic veneer through elections and referenda. This lack of a reckoning with the past allowed the negative forces that shaped it to continue into the present, dooming the transition period. Whether it was women, Christians, Revolutionary Socialists, atheists, Shia, Palestinians, Syrians - and that's only a partial list - one group after another has seen its basic dignity violated. This whole process culminated in the June 30 Tamarrod protests, which saw the fusing of a nation-wide anti-Brotherhood sentiment with brilliant if insidious plan to replace the military at the centre of national consciousness as the saviour of the country.

The announcement that 10 of the 12 newly appointed governors were military men confirmed the ongoing power of the military in the post-Morsi configuration of power in Egypt. At the same time, the intense demonisation of the Brotherhood, and the similar sentiments expressed by Brotherhood leaders and members against anyone who didn't support Morsi's return to power (especially Christians, who were predictably attacked as part of the latest violence), set the stage for the massacre today, which has led to the return of what for decades was the normal state of political life - a "state of emergency" where no one's rights will be protected. Meanwhile, the military's foreign patrons and supporters sit on their hands, unable to deal forcefully with a disaster they helped create by continuously putting "stability" and their own interests ahead of a truly democratic transition.

Yet now that the entire country is back in a state of exception, perhaps the seeds can be planted for the kind of coalition against violence, hatred, exploitation and authoritarianism and for "bread, freedom, dignity and social justice" that animated those 18 days that seemed poised to change the world along with Egypt. At any rate, now is the time when Egyptians will have to look at their political landscape and determine for themselves who the country's true revolutionary forces are, and even as a society they are yet ready to move along the treacherous road of truly systematic change from which they have constantly been detoured in the last thirty months. 

Richard Falk is Albert G Milbank Professor Emeritus of International Law at Princeton University. (Follow him on Twitter: @rfalk13)

It is unimaginable that the remarkable events of the January 25 Revolution of 2011 have morphed into an Egyptian rendition of Hell on earth after little more than two years. The most appropriate emotion of the moment is sadness and empathy for the people of Egypt caught in this terrible maelstrom of barbaric violence. The military coup of July 3, staged with a supposed "democratic" mandate from an enraged populace in a society teetering on edge of chaos, was stained with blood and vindictive violence from its first hours. It confronted the understandable and predictable resistance of pro-Morsi forces with a brutal show of state terror that seemed designed to instill fear and submission, has gave rise instead to a collective display of resolve-unto-death, tinged with a readiness for martyrdom.

The appointment of 19 generals as the governors of Egypt's provinces, the resignation of Mohamed ElBaradei (the embodiment of liberal secularism), the killing of hundreds more unarmed Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators, as well as the declaration of a state of emergency, makes Western diplomatic call for compromise, inclusion, and mutual restraint irrelevant, and pathetic. The only political act that would have any moral credibility at this moment is an unconditional condemnation of the criminal onslaught that General Al Sisi's has launched against the Egyptian people, made credible by being coupled with a refusal to accept any longer its claims of legitimacy.

Sarah Mousa is a graduate student at Georgetown University and a regular contributor to AJE Opinion. (Follow her on Twitter: @sarahsmousa)

As a resident of the Rabaa Mosque area, I have watched the transformation of my neighbourhood for the past six weeks. I learned to initially fudge my exact address when hailing a cab, navigate the cement blockades that closed off roads in my area, and manoeuver around broken sidewalks. On many occasions, I went down to the protests - for reporting, or simply because on several days the demonstrations were so overwhelming that there was no where else I could go. I was always treated politely by protesters, eager to share their views and extend a snack to break the Ramadan fast. Of those who I interacted with, all expressed frustration at the media and the way that they have been portrayed, as armed terrorists.

Some protesters joked with one another about their non-existent weapons. One remark, though, said to me by a protesting member of the dissolved Upper House of parliament, has particularly stuck. "This is the first time that the Egyptian military has used violence against its own people," he said shortly after dozens of protesters were killed outside of a military building, weeks ago. The statement struck me because less than two years ago, I watched as protesters were trampled by military tanks. In fact, over the past two and a half years, there have been many incidents of State violence against protesters.

Young revolutionaries fighting against military rule in the immediate aftermath of the Mubarak era were shot by snipers, tear-gassed, and thrown off bleachers while watching a football match. While today's massacre is on a much larger scale than past ones against the young revolutionaries, it is certainly not unique in brutality. An Arabic saying, "I was killed the day that the white bull was killed" has been circulating among Brotherhood protesters, aimed at revolutionaries. It roughly suggests that those who sacrifice others for their own sake will not live for long. But the revolutionaries were sacrificed to the military and State security apparatus long ago - namely by the Brotherhood, which in its time in parliament and the presidency did little if anything to bring justice to those who were victims of State security brutality. The 'white bull' has been long dead, and now the victims increase.

Larbi Sadiki is a professor at Qatar University, and an expert on Arab Democratisation. He is the author of Rethinking Arab Democratization: Elections without Democracy

Al Sisi's imprint on Egyptian politics has been catastrophic: trigger-happy with a disproportionate use of force against civilians, totally out of step with the spirit and ethos of the January 25 revolution. Right now this general and his Interior Minister are no more than "damaged goods". Their time is up. In less than two months in power, they have done more harm to Egypt's democratisation, civilianisation and its reconciliation processes than anyone or anything else. ElBaradi and the whole "Tamarrod" movement have been taken for a ride by remnants of al-Askar and the mukhabarat mode of politics. Even the April 6 Movement is now tarnished as it provided the regime that ousted Morsi with an undeserved legitimacy. 

Egypt is a mess. However, blame doesn't lie in the hands of external forces. The Americans, Europeans and Israelis have little to do with these barbaric events. Fingers should be pointed in the direction of the so-called Arab liberals. Who are these Arab liberals? What is their liberalism? Who amongst them has one iota of Mill or Locke's political creativity? They have an obsession with bombing Iran, bashing Islamists, and being bed fellows with the enemies of democracy. It's not their political rhetoric but their relationship with the generals of security forces and intelligence services that is cause for most concern. Instead of learning about constitutionalism or putting together theories about legal and democratic governance, they unfortunately seek satiation of their hedonism…

Michael Hudson is the Director of the Middle East Institute at the National University of Singapore and professor emeritus at Georgetown University.

Follow him on Twitter: @michaelchudson

The crackdown will push Egypt even further into a dark and violent political future. Egypt seems cursed with bad leadership prone to making catastrophic mistakes: Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood squandered an opportunity to set Egypt on a pluralist and democratic course. And now El-Sisi and the military have missed their opportunity to do the same thing. The predictable result of the latest bloodshed is to further eviscerate what might have been an Egyptian political "centre" and to inflame societal and sectarian divisions. Now is the time for the US to enforce its correct verbal condemnation of the crackdown and suspend military assistance.

Daniel Levy is the Director of the Middle East and North Africa Program at the European Council on Foreign Relations (ECFR).

Egyptian society, previously deeply divided, is now in a place of unprecedented polarisation. The key breaking point for the anyway fragile democratic transition was not of President Morsi's or the Muslim Brotherhood's doing. Rather it came on June 30 when the military deposed a democratically elected president. What were previously three camps with at least a degree of checks and balances - the military, the brotherhood, and the Tahrir protesters - then collapsed into a binary choice, as the majority of the third camp abandoned democracy and embraced a military coup.

It would be a monumental error to view al-Sisi as a transitional leader on the path to democracy; the cult of personality he is encouraging suggests something far more disturbing and familiar in the region. This is an attempt, with support from parts of the Gulf, to end the Brotherhood experiment in democratic political Islam and by extension the region's flirtation with democracy itself. Call it the deep state, broad state or just the entrenched interests of elites and their international backers, this is a bad day for ordinary Egyptians, even for those Islamist-haters temporarily giddy at the Brotherhoods misfortune.

Long after the dust settles over the al-Nahda and Rabaa squares and the blood is mopped away, the dark tremors from August 14 will still be felt.

Abdullah Al-Arian is an assistant professor at Georgetown University School of Foreign Service in Qatar. (Follow him on Twitter: @anhistorian)

Yesterday's mass indiscriminate killings committed by Egyptian security forces against demonstrators signal the worst incident of state violence in the country's modern history. Based on this resurgent authoritarianism, it may appear that Egypt could not be further away from the spirit of a revolution that toppled a decades long dictatorship. However, the military's destructive posture betrays a desperation on its part to affirm the results of its recent coup which have been very much in doubt. The six week long sit-in by opponents of the military's overthrow of President Mohamed Morsi was steadily becoming the longest continuous protest of the last three years. Perhaps more alarmingly from the perspective of the coup's staunchest proponents, the protest had grown considerably in recent days as more Egyptians began to see the danger of sitting idly by while the remnants of the former regime made their triumphant return. For the counter-revolution to succeed would not only be at the expense of the Muslim Brotherhood, but all Egyptians who desired a state built on democracy, human rights, and the rule of law. 

For its part, the Muslim Brotherhood has learned the lessons of history. The refusal of its leaders to abandon their protest even in the face of impending bloodshed stems from their knowledge that, as in the 1950s, the security state will not stop until the movement is completely repressed. As many of those who were initially cheerleading the coup are slowly beginning to realise, the crisis at hand is not a democratic "course correction," but rather an attempt to turn the clock back to the totalitarian politics of old and silence the cries for a revolution whose promise remains unfulfilled.

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