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Opinion: Egypt’s Testing Times | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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People celebrate at Tahrir Square with a portrait of Army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi after a broadcast confirming that the army will temporarily be taking over from the country’s first democratically elected president Mohammed Morsi on July 3, 2013 in Cairo. (AFP PHOTO / KHALED DESOUKI.)

Last Sunday, I received an email signed, “Kylil Morrow, 18 years old from Michigan University,” containing the following question: Do you expect the Syrian scenario to be repeated in Egypt—not between the army and the people, but between the Muslim Brotherhood and secularists? I answered thus: I do not think there is a danger of street wars in Egypt’s main cities, like we see in Syria, but jihadists will not make it easy for the army outside Cairo or other cities. As for reaching some compromise between the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest, secularists or others, this may never be achieved.

Had I received the email today, my answer would have been different. The reason is clear: Egypt is moving quickly towards the eruption of a civil war where the minority fans the flames without a care for the future of the majority, who only want to lead a normal life.

Yes, despite the disparity in numbers, and ignoring the exchange of accusations about the use of Photoshop to make the numbers seem greater, the crowds in Tahrir Square and in Raba’a Al-Adawiya remain a minority in comparison to the total population of Egypt.

Those on either side might say their numbers are many times what they really are. On the flip side, I think that once the army had resolved the issue, in what was seen as bias to the side of the majority—and after the ouster of Mursi received varying degrees of acceptance, agreement or silence from the international community—this debate lost its relevance. It is no longer needed and no longer valid. To insist on it from either the anti-Mursi/Brotherhood side or the ousted president’s side can only lead to a pointless argument, which will only delay Egypt’s return to normal life.

What is more dangerous is that the continuing disruption of stability is paralleled by a dangerous escalation that places Egypt on the edge of a civil war, which could spread from Sinai in the east to Mersa Matruh in the west, not to mention Upper Egypt and the countryside. Putting out the fires before they spread is a test each side faces, whatever its role or influence. However, I will take a risk—I expect an angry backlash—and say that the greater burden falls on the leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

Why? Because they are more powerful, yet they are weaker at the same time. The power of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Guidance Bureau lies in what is known as Bay’ah (an Islamic term for offering allegiance to a leader) because anyone who swears allegiance to a leader binds themselves to obey that leader unquestioningly. This is an important source of power.

The weakness is represented by the fact that nearly two-thirds of the Egyptian people are exempt from that obligation.

The swift success of the Tamarod (Rebellion) campaign in collecting millions of signatures is an indication of the Brotherhood’s failure, which came faster than expected, to garner support from outside the confines of the organization. This meant that the support for the Tamarod movement was a protest against the Brotherhood’s ideology and rule.

The important question now is: Will the Brotherhood’s leaders accept this outcome? At the time of writing this article, there were no indications that the Brotherhood’s leadership had accepted the reality of post-June 30 Egypt. Thus, they ignored the source of their power, which would enable them to pass the test of saving Egypt, a success for which they would be credited. Had they accepted, the Guidance Bureau could have issued orders for the Brotherhood to withdraw from every street and every square. This would be a binding order.

This should also pave the way for improvements by eliminating the worst option and accepting the least harmful one, which in this case means for the Brotherhood to accept that they had failed in their attempt to govern and to accept a return to the opposition.

What was said above does not mean that the responsibility of the other parties is less important, even if the burden seems smaller, because they are in the stronger position. Like in other movements, Tamarod leaders are required to review their positions to prove the seriousness of their intentions to respect other parties and views.

The Brotherhood’s adherents need to be assured that they will not be eliminated from the political arena or hounded in everyday life should be understood. Then there is a task that no reconciliation effort can be imagined without—that is, the release of Mohamed Mursi, especially with the approach of the last ten days of Ramadan, important days for observant Muslims. Let the man go home to his family—what is the problem in that?

However, in light of General Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi’s speech on Wednesday, it is hard to imagine that the release of Mursi is possible. It is more probable that the situation is going to escalate, with an ending which is difficult to imagine.

Egypt welcomes its visitors and allows them to enter safely. Should its people not be allowed to do what they can to put Egypt first, so that all of them can be safe on every inch of its soil?