Back and Forth in Egypt: Still Too Many Separated Squares

Raffaele Marchetti, Professor of International Relations, LUISS University, Italy, specially for

The unfolding events in Egypt are worrying.

(The by now former democratically elected president) Morsi has been deposed, the constitution suspended, a number of leaders of the Muslim Brothers have been taken into custody, some media shut down, and few hotbeds of violence exploded.

The military, traditionally a central actor in the Egyptian political life, has step back to the center of the scene, and with them, pieces of the traditional institutional apparatus of the previous regime have also come back together with the minorities such as the Christian Copts.

And then there is Tahrir square with the Tamarud movement composed of so many souls from liberal youth to feminists groups.

The experiment of bring the Political Islam to power in one of the most important Arab countries and a central player in the Middle East is over. The relatively sweep passage from the Mubarak era to the new democratic and Islamic Egypt has proven unsustainable.

Morsi presidency has done many mistakes, intentionally and unintentionally. Once in power the Muslim Brother have accrued all political positions and have left no access to power to the other components of Egyptian society, army included. Arguably, their clandestine, minority mentality has not allowed them to be more inclusive in terms of power sharing with the former “allies” in the rebellion against Mubarak. This has polarized Egyptian society and has prepared the ground for the revenge of these days. Another important polarizing element has been the rough attempt to impose on the Egyptian society the Islamic values. This has been considered by the other political forces as an attempt to forced Islamization and has generated equally strong and harsh reactions.

But Morsi has also other serious responsibilities. He was unable to make the economy growing again, to attract the tourists back and to make the state machine running smoothly. Even more, the actual living conditions of many Egyptian has worsened in the last year: Electricity black outs, shortages of primary goods, together with the uncorrected evils of Egyptian bureaucracy in terms of corruption, nepotism, and inefficiency has proved unbearable for many, too many Egyptians.

As a consequence, many squares in all the country have been filled again by all the different strands of the Egyptian society that were feeling increasingly threatened by the government. Literally millions went down into the streets. The military has taken advantage of the circumstance for reinstating its power of control over Egyptian politics. Morsi supporters filled other squares, but their president could not resist and was deposed.

Foreign actors followed very closely what was happening in the country. First and foremost the USA. The American government is a traditional supporter of Egypt. Its funding to the army made the military and subsequently vast part of the national economy living over its own possibilities. Obama administration was the primary supporter and guarantor of the Morsi government. After some hesitation, the US put a huge bet on the Muslim Brother government hoping, through a moderation of the movement, to create a new (post 9/11 era) alliance between the West and the Islamic forces in the Middle East. The project failed and they were fast in moving in support of the army and Tahrir square. By doing this, however, their credit in the Middle East was seriously damaged and their image of an anti-regime and pro-democracy external supporter spoiled.

On the opposite, in Turkey, Erdogan remained overwhelmingly silent, having just escaped a relatively similar situation at home with the protest of Taksim square. Different governments in the Middle East, for different reasons, acclaimed the overturn, including Saudi Arabia and Syria. The European Union was once again unable to play any significant role.

Today the country is facing a period of prolonged instability. Despite all the reassuring messages of the new governing group and the alluding image of the roadmap, the future seems bleak.

A democratically elected government has been deposed by an enormous street demonstration and the action of the army after just one year from the elections. The constitution has been suspended and the country is de facto without its fundamental law, hence in a state of potential unlimited arbitrariness.

This sets a very worrying precedent. In principle any future government who is deemed not to be faithful to the genuine interests and needs of the Egyptian society might be put in peril and eventually deposed conjunctively by the masses and the army.

Just in the moment in which a new democratic course seemed to take ground and consolidate after (literally) millennia of despotism, the house of cards was blown away by the wind of protest.

It has been rightly commented that in Egypt we have seen a liberal opposition that was not respecting the democratic mandate of the government, and a democratic government that was not respecting the liberal guarantees of the minorities.

Two challenges are now in front of the Egyptian society. In the short term, violence should be avoided. So far, there have been only minor clashes with however a number of deaths. Violence can and should be escaped by both parties. In the medium term, the biggest challenge is definitely the aggregation of the different components of the Egyptian society. Since the proclamation of the Morsi presidency, the split between the Islamist and the liberal front has been widening. The overthrown of Morsi accentuates such division. And yet, no political roadmap will be sustainable if it does not include all components of the Egyptian society. No constitutional revision, no new elections will be expedient if a genuine, true dialogue of national reconciliation is not launched between the conflicting parts.