Egypt's military leader is riding the wave of world condemnation

General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi faces severe international pressure following this week's bloody, violent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood; US contemplates cutting financial aid.

Anti-Morsi protesters hold up Sisi poster 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Anti-Morsi protesters hold up Sisi poster 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The Egyptian military, led by Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, routed the Muslim Brotherhood, killing many of its members in a show of force – but the Brothers have yet to alter their game plan because they see light at the end of the tunnel. The light is in the form of international condemnation and pressure on the military-backed government.
Many Western countries, including the US, have condemned the crackdown on protesters and have, or are, contemplating cutting back aid and other forms of cooperation.
One of the first responses came on Thursday when US president Barack Obama canceled an upcoming joint military drill. Russia, trying to take advantage of faltering US-Egypt relations, offered its own joint military drill. Russian President Vladimir Putin called for an extraordinary session at the Kremlin to discuss the situation in Egypt and announced that Russia will arrange for jointmilitary exercises with the Egyptian army, according to a report in the Egyptian Independent.
Some analysts argue that the Western nations are acting unwisely and letting emotions overcome their national interests, which lie with the pro-Western military regime, not Islamic radicals seeking to slither their way back into power.
While the military has an advantage in terms of sheer firepower, the Brotherhood still have two important cards it can play: It has many loyal supporters who can wreak havoc inside Egypt as well as in various foreign states that it hopes can facilitate its reentry into the political life of the country.
However, Sisi knew much of this beforehand and seeks to take total control of the country and remove any threats to the regime’s hold on power. The economy is in crisis and much of the population seeks an improvement in their quality of life and an end to the turmoil.
Nathan Brown, an expert on Arab politics and a professor of political science and international affairs at George Washington University, and a nonresident senior associate at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, told The Jerusalem Post that a compromise had been possible until Wednesday’s crackdown.
“I just do not see anybody as interested in a political settlement right now,” said Brown, adding that the Brotherhood feels cheated and persecuted.
“The new regime has come to view the Brotherhood as a security rather than a political challenge and has given the security apparatus a green light to deal with the Brotherhood as it sees fit,” he said.
Asked where he sees things going from here, Brown responded that it is likely that strife continues, and that the formal political process announced by the military-backed government “will likely continue so that constitutional rule will be restored and elections held.
“But that process does not offer any realistic possibility over the short term of healing Egypt’s political wounds or of subjecting the military and security apparatus to any real oversight,” he added.
Mara Revkin, an independent analyst who just returned from Cairo, and a former assistant director of the Atlantic Council’s Middle East Center, told the Post that what has been going on across Egypt over the past few days is an escalation in violence, “verging on urban warfare.”
The window of opportunity for any sort of dialogue between the military and supporters of ousted president Morsi appears to have closed decisively with the resignation on Wednesday of vice president Mohamed ElBaradei, who had been one of the few voices in the interim government opposed to dispersing Islamist protesters by force, said Revkin.
She went on to add that ElBaradei’s prediction that extremist groups would benefit from the violence that has already materialized, which has returned in force in the lawless Sinai, with reports indicating on Thursday that gunmen killed seven Egyptian soldiers.
This in addition to numerous attacks on churches and government buildings across Egypt.
“For the past six weeks, the Muslim Brotherhood has been framing its conflict with the military as an existential battle over the survival of political Islam and the future of democratic institutions in Egypt," she said.
"The latest crackdown against its supporters will only harden the determination of Islamists to resist the army and stand their ground,” predicted Revkin.
She sees higher levels of violence on the horizon, which “could very well see a return to the type of low-level domestic insurgency that plagued Egypt in the 1990s, before Islamist groups like al-Gamaa al-Islamiya decided to renounce violence in favor of political participation.”
Islamists are feeling punished for their decision to participate in the political process, as the military leadership will not allow a democratic process that brings Islamists to power, she said.
Revkin sees a re-radicalization of “formerly militant Islamist groups that are now rethinking their decision to renounce violence,” and a rise in sectarian violence to levels analogous to those in Iraq.