Egypt: Arab Spring turns to winter

World and We
Sergey Strokan is a journalist, essayist and a poet. He is also a political commentator with Russia's “Kommersant” Publishing House. Mr. Strokan hosts “Red Line”, a weekly analytical program broadcast by The Voice of Russia in New York City. He is the author of three poetry collections, a winner of the Maximilian Voloshin International Literary Award (2010) and a member of Union of Russian Writers.
Egypt: Arab Spring turns to winter
Did anyone ever imagine that less than three years after the mass street protests dethroned the last Egyptian pharaoh – President Hosni Mubarak, the country would turn into chaos?

The events in Egypt are changing with breakneck speed dragging the Arab world's most populous nation into fratricidal conflict. The policy of national reconciliation, proclaimed by the interim Egyptian government after ousting President Mohamed Morsi from power has ended with the worst violence since independence this week. A deadly crackdown on two anti-government sit-ins in Cairo, launched by the security forces has resulted in an unprecedented number of dead.

Judging by latest media reports, the pendulum in Egypt is moving wildly, leaving no breathing space for all actors of this human tragedy. Once a magnet for outsiders – seductive and enigmatic, today’s Cairo looks more like a war-zone with helicopters circling over its main squares, tear gas in the air, sporadic gunfire, and snipers operating from rooftops.

The initial euphoria over the “democratic revolution” in Egypt, once labeled by President Obama as the Arab Spring, has given way to a nasty Arab Winter full of hatred, agony and despair.  

President Mubarak was overthrown as an autocratic leader, who lost the sense of reality and tried to preserve an ageing political system – obsolete and fitting no more into the futuristic picture of the newly-emerging “democratic Middle East”. However, today even Mubarak’s most vocal opponents would probably be forced to call the time before his dramatic departure – another twist of history – “a golden age”, compared to what Egypt is facing now.

A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi gestures during clashes with police in Cairo on August 14, 2013, as security forces backed by bulldozers moved in on two huge pro-Morsi protest camps, launching a long-threatened crackdown that left dozens dead. (AFP Photo)

In fact, today the choice is between bad and wore: Egypt would became either a regular military dictatorship – an iron fist, tolerating no dissent - or a failed state at the heart of the Middle East torn by snowballing violence and sliding into chaos. And even the rosy optimists would not argue that the country still has a chance to regain its role as a political leader and economic powerhouse of the Middle East, attracting thousands of tourists to its magnificent pyramids, Red Sea resorts and the mysteries of the Nile. The chance has been lost, lost for long years. 

What went wrong with the Arab Spring in Egypt so that today the streets are awash with blood? The movement was full of controversy from the very start. However, the last nail in the coffin of the “democratic revolution” was the July 3 coup, which brought an abrupt end to President Mohamed Morsi’s one-year rule.

The Muslim Brotherhood challenged “the sedition” by the generals. Angered by what was seen as “stealing the presidency” from the only legitimate leader, the Brotherhood has called on its followers to raise against “a man appointed by putschists” and reinstate Morsi as president.

This ensured the failure of the Egyptian military to stage a velvet coup and ensure swift power transition to ex-head of the Constitutional Court Adli Mansour as interim president. It was at that point that the army, which has masterminded the coup, crossed the Rubicon. While General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the head of the army and the man behind the overthrow of Morsi was hailed by his brothers in arms as "Egypt's devoted son", Interim President Adly Mansour announced that “the state will impose order by all force and decisiveness”.

A tractor clears the debris at Rabaa al-Adawiya square in Cairo on August 15, 2013, as smoke billows in the background, following a crackdown on the protest camps of supporters of Egypt's ousted Islamist leader Mohamed Morsi the previous day. (AFP Photo)

I believe that by taking on the Muslim brotherhood in such a ruthless way, the Egyptian military has walked into a mine field. The seasoned Islamist movement with its long history as an underground political force in Egypt has the potential to mobilize millions of supporters – disciplined, motivated and ready to sacrifice their lives “for Islam” and finally bring military rule down – regardless of what the cost would be. The protests are led by the Anti-Coup Alliance of Islamist groups which are enjoying the support of grass-root Islamist diehards, some of them calling themselves “Martyrs of the Coup”.

Moreover, Egypt’s Islamist leaders can rely not only on their followers inside the country, but also support from without. This is what makes the current fallout of the Arab Spring in Egypt extremely dangerous.  Even before this week’s massacre, Brotherhood leaders have called on the international community to intervene, paving the way for foreign actors to step in. Some reports say Syrian rebels are already in Egypt, attacking regular troops and provoking more violence. This week’s massacre is only pushing the country toward a Syrian-type armed conflict.  

So, all in all, Egypt has a full potential to evolve into a new springboard of global jihad – once a remote scenario that is now becoming a reality. Another twist of Egyptian history that would serve as a stern warning to enthusiasts of the Arab Spring.

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