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Opinion: Egypt needs a Gulf initiative - ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive
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The political crisis in Egypt is intensifying to the extent that, if it is not controlled, will lead to a split unprecedented in Egypt’s modern history. The reason is that one side is attempting to dominate the central state and marginalize its opponents, and seems to be wholly inattentive to the requirements of the age, which makes this kind of marginalization and seizure impossible to achieve.

The Muslim Brotherhood, if we wanted to call things by their true names, is now is the core of the opposition. They lost power after President Mohamed Mursi was ousted, yet they were inattentive to other facts in their favor: It was the first time in the history of the Muslim Brotherhood to become a recognized political group that can compete on equal footing and can mobilize its masses without fear of government reprisals and oppression. This was to the contrary of the situation in the past eras, from King Farouq to Mubarak.

The other fact to which they seemed wholly inattentive was that they managed to install a president from among their ranks, yet that president came with a slim majority in complex circumstances, as people voted for him out of fear of his opponent, not out of conviction. Neither the elected president nor his adherents knew how to increase that majority. They were unsuccessful in building up a larger alliance required by the transitional period—an endeavor deemed necessary—nor did they exhibit the degree of flexibility needed for sharing the burdens of the period. However, hastening take control of everything prevailed over caution, and so mistakes piled up and eventually lead to a state of popular discontent, and the ultimate result was the army’s intervention.

Stubbornness, obstinacy and persistence in trying to bring back the past is a political shortcoming that adds to the group’s failure and mistakes. Nevertheless, considering the Brotherhood group as a neglected object is also stubbornness of another kind.

In Egypt, there is a socio-political sector that can be called the “modern powers.” This sector includes a portion that is yet to be systematized: youth and new powers. However, it also includes a systematized part in a firmer and more effective manner: the army. The latter portion of the army has another agenda for the state, which differs markedly from that of the Brotherhood: the agenda of a modern state. These modern powers have considerable weight in Egyptian society and their strength is concentrated in the cities, while the Brotherhood’s strength is centered more in the countryside.

In the record of profit and loss, we find out that the group has made some profits and incurred some losses. Similarly, the modern powers have also made profits and incurred some losses.

So, Egyptian society, with its conflicting trends, is promptly advancing towards a zero-sum endgame: Either complete victory or complete defeat for a certain political faction. Such an equation is a blind one for both sides, as the way to such a point could witness much bloodshed or a return to autocratic rule, to which some say Egypt has become accustomed or even addicted.

Because the losses in such a clash would be tremendous, not only to Egypt but to the entire Arab world, and if it is true that both the Brotherhood and its opposing side view the US as ineffectual owing to its flagrant failure to understand the state of affairs in Egypt—let alone Europe’s failure in seeking a compromise—then a Gulf initiative is sorely needed to open up a new, reasonable channel of communication and build a bridge. This could have a big payoff particularly as some Gulf characters have a foothold in both camps, never mind the huge financial support they offered Egypt since the 25 January revolution.

However, the reality is that some powers on both sides in Egypt are not satisfied with the Gulf initiative, either out of pride or out of fear from losing what has been achieved for their camp. Therefore, the Gulf initiative, if it existed, would have to take into consideration such resistance on the one hand and people’s longing for freedom on the other.

Specifications for a Gulf initiative do not aim only at reaching a compromise, but must be aimed at also putting forth an initiative that is abundantly clear, so that it is convincing to all parties. The initiative could have two bases: First, resorting eventually to the polls to settle the issue for good and in a manner whereby everyone is satisfied with the poll results, as no faction can totally eliminate the other from the equation. Second, it is important to separate the Brotherhood as a religious group from the Brotherhood as a political one. The two bases must be simultaneous.

The better and the most effective card to play, with which any side of the Egyptian equation could win real sympathy, is the call for democracy. This must not include the call for President Mursi’s return, or “Islam is the solution” or any other slogans that seem alluring to the public. Anyone who plays this card, the return of democracy, would be the winner in the end.

This side would be the winner because this card would be acceptable both domestically and internationally. The Brotherhood is in possession of part of that card, yet it does not play it correctly. The group is marking time and is attempting to satisfy a large portion of its people—seesawing between the demands of what it views as redemption of legitimacy, which has become impossible on the ground, and raising the slogan of “Islam is the Solution,” which other portions of the people do not believe in anymore after it caused much quarreling and resulted in economic recession last year. The dilemma the Muslim Brotherhood would face should it relinquish these two demands is that it would lose a considerable part of its support base.

The other side can win the game if it strongly put forth the demand for a return to the polls and draws up a timetable for this without delay or confusion. This would be the way out of the current situation and would be a move away from a long, abhorrent struggle that could take Egypt and the entire region down an unknown and dangerous road.

So the Gulf initiative, if it is to exist, will have no option but to institute democracy within a reasonable period of time. This, however, must coincide with big economic gains that should reflect the ambitions of the citizenry ever since they took to streets. In fact, waiting until one side emerges victorious over the other is akin to waiting for slow death.

Words are much easier than actions. The action needed here is that the entire Gulf must back a political view with their financial wealth, even if this is not fully acceptable at the beginning by one or both sides. Perhaps the Gulf initiative could be coordinated with international parties that have interests in Egypt’s continued stability and development, in order to reach solutions that wards off the worst scenarios.

Leaving Egypt’s affairs to be settled internally may eventually result in a clash between the conflicting parties, as each party believes it is right. Pessimists say that the internal tension could eventually lead to dividing Egypt, although many analysts believe this is unrealistic. Yet the first lesson in politics is to expect the unexpected, otherwise the country would fall under autocratic rule that is indifferent to the number of victims who would fall as a price for maintaining its power, as is the case with Bashar Al-Assad in Syria. Fighting from behind the barricades of the Brotherhood’s unrealistic demands once again emphasizes its naïve political handling, the first requirement of which is flexibility and understanding requirements of the age.

A final point: In its most recent issue, Foreign Affairs magazine published a report about failed states and the reasons for their failure. The list incorporated 59 states, eight of which identify as Arab: Yemen, Somalia, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Libya, Sudan and Syria. The common denominator here is that all these states are all republics. Something to think about.

Mohamed Al Rumaihi

Mohamed Al Rumaihi

Professor Mohamed Ghanem Al Rumaihi is a Professor of political sociology at Kuwait University. He has written extensively on political sociology, social change in the Arabian Gulf region, and the changing culture of Arab world.

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