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14 Aug, 2013 19:14

Violence no tool to solve Egyptian divide

Violence no tool to solve Egyptian divide

The situation in Egypt is desperate as the army’s plan to return to Mubarak era is likely to fail due to political Islam firmly striking roots in the country in recent years, journalist and author, Hugh Miles, told RT.

A vigorous police crackdown on the sit-ins supporting Egypt's ousted Islamist president Mohammed Morsi has turned Cairo into a battlefield.
Health and security officials are so far only talking of dozens of confirmed casualties, although the Muslim Brotherhood claims more than 500 have been killed.

Hugh Miles says that the new wave of violence in the Egyptian capital comes as no surprise, with the army issuing warnings to the pro-Morsi protesters beforehand.  

“Well, the military have been preparing for this for some time, there have been leaks about this for several days. We were expecting it right after the Eid holiday, which was a couple of days ago. But I think the square was just too full of people then for it to be safe and they thought that maybe they could frighten some people off by leaking about the attacks in advance."

The journalist believes “anything is possible” in Egypt, which is equally split between the backers of civil society and the Islamists.   

“Egypt is obviously sliding into a very desperate condition. The future is highly uncertain and all the predictions so far about what’s going to happen in Egypt have all turned out to be wrong. So, it’s very difficult to say what’s going to happen. Various historical precedents, the Algerian model, the Syrian model, the Iranian model – none of them particularly attractive," Miles told RT.

Getting back to the Mubarak era is dreaming

Egypt is a very divided society, and the Islamists are very popular, having won the last four democratic elections, so they can`t just be swept under the table, Miles believes. He says it's not possible to turn the clock back to the Mubarak era, which seems to be the plan at the moment for General [Abdel Fattah] el-Sisi and his backers.  

"If that’s their plan, to try and go back to the kind of status quo before 2011 revolution, they are dreaming because Islamists in Egypt are now used to being free and being able to practice their religion in the way they want. And it’s not going to be easy to deny these people, what they have become accustomed to.”

 A supporter of Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi walks through the debris following 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/Mossaab El-Shamy)

By relying on methods of force, the military has shown that it doesn’t have the clear view of what’s happening in the Egyptian society where the influence of Islam has recently increased, Miles explained.

“Well, the Egyptian people are very divided and not all behind this move at all. I mean this a move which is being orchestrated, as far as we can tell by General Sisi and the army. And, of course, the army have spent decades ruling Egypt and have long been opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood. And they’re very separate from the Muslim Brotherhood. The army tries to keep the Muslim Brotherhood out of the ranks. So, the army and the security services generally in Egypt are very used to dealing with these enemies. This is a kind of back to the old school. It`s back to the old rule book in Nasser’s time or Mubarak`s time. The Islamists are a threat to the state and they can be locked up, repressed, shut down. And that’s what we’re seeing now."

But times have changed since this tactics worked, and it seems that the military is out of touch with the make-up of Egyptian society today where Islamism has become extremely popular, Miles says.

"What we’re really seeing now in Egypt is a clash between people who want Islam as their frame of reference against people who want a more secular kind of European style frame of reference. And that’s a very fundamental divide. It divides families and it divides Egypt. Probably, roughly half and half is the best guess.”

Army is not used to Islamists' popularity

According to the journalist, the only way out of the crisis for the split society in Egypt is compromise, but no sides seem eager to make concessions.  

“Egypt has to find a way of squaring this circle. And an obvious way is to have some kind of political reconciliation: some kind of power sharing government, where, for example, president Morsi is allowed back, but he has no other Muslim Brotherhood ministers and Mohamed El-Baradei is a deputy and maybe Hamdeen Sabahi can run this ministry and Amr Moussa can run another ministry. So, everyone shares power like as happened in South Africa after the end of the Apartheid."

But there has been no indication of any kind of broad inclusive reconciliatory gesture, Miles says. "The army and its supporters seem to think that they can go this alone without having any Islamists counting on into the power sharing  at all."

"And certainly the army has got powerful backers, they have got allies, there are many people who support them and would like very much to turn the clock back to the Mubarak era because this model suited many other countries in the region: Egypt was predictable, it was manageable, yes, it had problems but it was easy to deal with. And the alternative, which is an Islamist style government, is a huge unknown quantity, which frightens just about every country in the region and many countries in the West,” Miles concluded.

'Muslim Brotherhood wanted to destabilize Cairo'

Egyptian political activist, Ebtesam Madbouly, disagrees with Miles‘s claim of a fifty-fifty split in the Egyptian society, saying that the Morsi supporters are in minority in the country, despite him claiming over half of the votes in last year’s election.

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi throw stones during clashes with security forces 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/Mossaab El-Shamy)

“Let me tell you this: its 50 percent of the people, who went to the election, there are lots and lots of people who didn’t go. And let me tell you: on the night of the June 30, there were 30 million people on the street. The night of the June 26 there were 40 million people on the street. People who elected Morsi were not only pro-Morsi people, there also were lots and lots of people who were just against the Mubarak regime.”

Her words were echoed by political sociologist, Dr. Said Sadek of American University in Cairo, who stressed that every month public opinion polls, locally and internationally, showed a decline in the popularity of President Morsi.

“People elected him only on one platform, that he would achieve the objectives of the Egyptian revolution, not the objectives of his own organization. This is what he really did. He began to use his office to put his own people, to turn Egypt into a semi totalitarian state. He began to a play a political game. He used democracy as a ladder to reach power.”

The current turn of events in Cairo was provoked by the Muslim Brotherhood members, who refused to restore order in the city, Sadek added.  

“The strategy of the Muslim Brotherhood was to control and destabilize Cairo by controlling the traffic, by controlling some districts and even try to expand them. They also tried to use flash-mobs to besiege some ministries, like yesterday they tried to besiege seven ministries and cause chaos, troubling traffic of Cairo. The Egyptian government after taking all the mandates waited enough, they started acting and the brought foreign media; they brought human rights organizations to see how things are being done.”

A supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi looks on during clashes with security forces 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/Mossaab El-Shamy)

Meanwhile, the Muslim Brotherhood spokeswoman in the UK, Mona Al Qazzaz, told RT that the actions of the military are only increasing the divide in the Egyptian society.   

“They (the army) didn’t show even a single sign of good will gestures. They didn’t show any step towards reconciliation. What they’re doing is actually making the polarization within Egypt even deeper. We hold General Sisi, the military junta and all the Egyptian authorities and the civilian façade responsible for every single Egyptian blood that is shed.”

She also said that it’s “the silence of the international community,” which has given the military a mandate to use force against the “largely peaceful” pro-Morsi protesters.   

“Our protests have been there for 46 days – they have been largely peaceful. Obviously, the protests aren’t a centralized protest. We have no control of what is happening in the other cities. What erupted today in every single province of Egypt was a spontaneous outrage of the Egyptian people, who saw the massacre on Egyptian TV and could do nothing, but go to the streets and say: this is enough, it’s enough for the military rule, it’s enough for this military junta we’re getting back our free Egypt.”

An assistant professor of The American University in Cairo, Mohamed Elmasry, also put the blame for the violence on the interim government, which “instigated a military coup and then proceeded to carry out mass repression” in Egypt.

“Any time you deviate from democratic norms, usually, it spells disaster. In Egypt we had a democratic society in place. The opposition could’ve competed in elections; could’ve competed for parliamentary seats. We had regular elections scheduled. We had term limits. We had balance of powers – the prime minister was about as powerful as the president. I could go on: the right to form political parties for anyone; the right to establish a newspaper without permission from the government.

"Now, all of that has been abandoned. And we’re living essentially in a military state and some of the people, who supported this coup continue to state that their optimistic about the future. Although, frankly, I don’t understand how people based on the reality that we’re seeing on the ground in terms of the violence and also in terms of the policies.”

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