By Professor Uzi RABI, Director of the Moshe Dayan Center for Middle Eastern and African Studies at Tel Aviv University.
Last week the Egyptian military, represented by Egyptian Defense Minister General ‘Abd al-Fattah al-Sisi, ousted the democratically elected president of Egypt, Mohamed Morsi.
Al-Sisi announced the suspension of the constitution and presented a road map intended to guide Egypt through a transitional phase towards the establishment of a new government. All week prior to this moment, millions of Egyptians had gone into the streets to demonstrate against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, a mass protest which has been dubbed “a second revolution” in Egypt following that which toppled Husni Mubarak in 2011.
After 85 years of existence and opposition to Egypt’s ruling regimes, the Muslim Brotherhood finally came to power, but proved itself inept at, or disinterested in, addressing the challenges facing common Egyptians today.
Over the past year, the Brotherhood’s rule has resulted in a series of controversial political nominations, a constitution that mocked judicial authorities and precedents, and to top it all, a worsening economy, exacerbated by increasing instability and insecurity.
Ignoring the severity of these problems backfired, leading Egyptians from different opposition groups to come together and demand one thing: the removal of Morsi, and the Muslim Brotherhood, from power.
With the fall of the Muslim Brotherhood, political Islam has received a blow and as a result, the political equation in Egypt has shifted. At the moment, we can roughly speak of three main blocs in Egypt: the military bloc, the pro-Morsi bloc, and the secular or liberal bloc that encouraged people to take to the streets to begin with.
The secular-liberal bloc is protesting against the Muslim Brotherhood’s alleged agenda of the Islamization of Egypt, and what they view as Morsi turning his back on the promises he made the Egyptian people, e.g. to create jobs, increase social welfare, reduce corruption and govern with transparency.
Instead, Morsi worked to consolidate the Brotherhood’s control of government institutions, nominating his Islamist colleagues to high profile positions, and was not responsive to popular demands.
To be sure, the so-called liberal-secular bloc is not “liberal” or “secular” by Western standards. Egypt constitutes a diverse society and opposition members have various political and economic grievances. The unity that arose to oust yet another unpopular president should not be taken as an indication of the unity of long-term popular political will.
In other words, it is hard to predict precisely what the people want after Morsi. The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood to power put the popularity and pragmatism of political Islam to the test, and therefore it will be most interesting to see how the current events in Egypt will affect Hamas and the Muslim Brotherhood in Syria.
Moreover, what does the Muslim Brotherhood’s failure to hold on to power in Egypt mean to the people in Jordan, Turkey, and other states facing popular opposition to the ruling regime?
The fall of Morsi also raises questions regarding the future of Egypt’s relations with Israel. On the one hand, Egypt’s preoccupation with domestic turmoil could result in a more subdued foreign policy, and therefore a decreased threat to Israel.
On the other hand, the outbreak of a civil war could create a vacuum in the Sinai Peninsula, providing radicals with an opportunity to fill the void. The security of the Sinai Peninsula is very important to Israel and is inherently dependent on the military’s ability to maintain security and stability in Egypt.
The military is very influential in Egypt’s domestic affairs, politically and economically. In its statement deposing Morsi, the military denied engaging in a coup d’état, indicating that it does not intend to run the government.
Rather, the military’s actions seem to reinforce what it sees as its traditional role as the “Guardian of the Republic” and to display an attempt to return to “Egyptianism,” an identity construct that encompasses all fragments of Egyptian society and unites them by nationality. The call for “Egyptianism,” as opposed to Islamism, could be seen during the protests.
In the aftermath of the fall of Morsi, clashes between pro-Morsi supporters and the army last Monday prove that Egypt is in the eye of the storm. These outbreaks of violence may be a precursor to a period of continuing instability in the country in the absence of reconciliation between the different blocs in Egypt.
In the meantime, observers should view Egypt more as a “square-o-cracy” where politics are played out in public squares. One should hope that wisdom will prevail and that the parties will reach a consensus, since what is happening in Egypt affects the entire region. It signals the extension of an unpredictable period for Egypt, “the sick man on the Nile.”
Whoever will replace Morsi will face the same dire political and economic challenges.