Anyone who was expecting liberal democracy to sprout in Egypt following the series of revolutions, protests, elections and crackdowns since president Hosni Mubarak was overthrown in 2011 will be sorely disappointed by Wednesday’s military assault on protesters and the imposition of emergency law.
One thing is clear – military chief Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi is the new king of Egypt.
Even though the government said it would continue to follow the transition process and hold elections, it seems ever more apparent that the elections will likely not be fair and that Egyptian governments, at least in the near future, will probably rule at the pleasure of Sisi.
This would be similar to Arab monarchies, where a king has overall authority but delegates governance to a prime minister and his cabinet. If things get out of hand or the government does something the king does not like, it is simply forced to carry out the king’s will or is dismissed.
Wednesday’s resignation of vice president Mohamed ElBaradei in reaction to the crackdown came because he preferred a negotiated solution.
Perhaps others in the government agreed with him, but when the chips were down the real power was with the military.
In addition, the new military-backed government has been facing a radical Islamic opposition and it saw no way out of the crisis without restoring order.
The question now is if Sisi will take outright control by running in the next presidential elections or will continue overseeing things from behind the scenes, letting a president and government of technocrats run affairs.
The condemnations coming from the US and Europe fit with the countries’ ongoing pressure on Egypt to include the Muslim Brotherhood in the country’s politics.
The Brotherhood and its supporters have been active on social media sites, calling attention to what they describe as a massacre, while the army and its supporting media claim the protesters were armed and had attacked the security forces.
Zvi Mazel, who served as Israel’s sixth ambassador to Egypt and today is a fellow at The Jerusalem Center for Public Affairs and a contributor to this newspaper, told the Post that the army gave the protesters a number of weeks to leave or agree to mediation and a negotiated solution. Because the Brotherhood refused to be flexible in its demands, it became obvious this was coming, Mazel said, adding that if anyone understood the Brotherhood it was Sisi.
The new Egyptian government, Mazel added, was pro-West and will have decent relations with Israel.
“What is better than that?” he asked.
He added that the killings were bad, but if you compared the situation to countries like Iraq or Pakistan, the Egyptian crackdown was less severe.
Asked whether the Brotherhood’s strategy of martyrdom might succeed – as it likely would generate loads of support from the West, perhaps leading to stronger measures – Mazel responded that it might, although the West must understand that the army was in a fight with radical Islam.
On the significance of ElBaradei’s resignation, Mazel said that he has been a shadowy character who helped Iran develop its nuclear program when he was head of the UN’s nuclear watchdog, the International Atomic Energy Agency.
“He defended Iran and then came to Egypt at the beginning of the revolution and was close to the Muslim Brotherhood,” Mazel said, adding that ElBaradei needed to distance himself from the Brotherhood because he understood that it was the liberal camp that was for him. Now, Mazel suggested, it seems he may be heading back in the Brotherhood’s direction.
“The Brotherhood was building an Islamic dictatorship,” he said, and it was the army that moved in to prevent that.
In Mazel’s opinion, Sisi is smart and likely to go back – eventually – to his military role, letting the government run affairs.
The army has more support from the people and is more organized than the Brotherhood, he asserted, predicting that there would not be a lengthy civil war and that the army would calm the situation and try to get Egypt back on its feet.