Islamist President, Mohammed Morsi, has been ousted from power, creating new uncertainties and heightening the risks of violence, amid limited efforts to ensure his movement and those allied to it have a political future.
- Significance: The removal of the President came after unprecedented protests, which saw millions of Egyptians take to the streets and a highly controversial move by the military, giving the President just 48 hours to comply with protester demands.
- Policy Response: A measured international response is now needed, calling for dialogue and an end to the threatening rhetoric of revenge, which risks exacerbating the situation and leading the country down a path of increased violence. Efforts should be made to ensure that the Muslim Brotherhood continues to see a political future for itself in the country. The promise of free and fair elections remains key to this. The isolated Muslim Brotherhood for its part should be urged by allies to refrain from using language that could risk inflaming sectarian tensions.
- Outlook: Given the sheer size of the mass protests against Morsi and recent actions by the military, the Muslim Brotherhood is highly unlikely to restore its grip on power. The coming few months will see the military assume an even more dominant role before the inevitable election of a new legislature.
End of the Road for Egypt’s First Democratically Elected President
Millions of Egyptians took to the streets on 30 June 2013 to demand that Mohammed Morsi step down as President in the biggest protest in the country’s history. The protests were held to mark the completion of Morsi’s first year in office and were led by the opposition movement, ‘Tamarod’ (‘Rebel!’), comprising many groups opposed to the Islamisation of the Egyptian state. The movement’s intention was uncompromising and geared at forcing Egypt’s leader out of office. Overseeing the country during a period of economic decline, gasoline shortages, high food prices and crippling electricity cuts, Morsi continued to lose allies and support from key constituencies.
Despite the many criticisms that surround Morsi’s government, the military’s manoeuvres are highly controversial, given Morsi’s status as an elected leader. Although the military remained under pressure to react to the protests, an emphasis on early elections, rather than forcing an immediate dismissal, would have been more conducive to a peaceful and democratic outcome. The military gave the president a mere 48 hours to comply with the protesters’ demands. A military intervention, even if backed by public support, will not have had the same effect as if the Muslim Brotherhood had lost at the ballot box. Moreover, such intervention could risk compounding the idea amongst radical groups that what was taken away by force can only be returned by force.
Upping the Stakes
The Muslim Brotherhood’s headquarters had been petrol bombed and ransacked during the protests. The headquarters, along with a number of its provincial offices, had been left without police guard, a clear signal of the following position of the military and police. This abandonment had left some to conclude that these were the first signs of a coup amid deteriorating relations between the Muslim Brotherhood and the army, particularly over the stance on the restive border governorates of Northern Sinai. These had seen increasing levels of extremist militant activity, where a number of Egyptian soldiers had been kidnapped and killed.
Over the last days, members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been arrested and supporters have been threatened and warned not to stage new protests. TV stations allied to the Islamists have controversially been knocked off air, thereby ensuring they lost any means of reaching out to the masses, and thus, limiting their ability to stage counter-protests. Hotspots for violence remain north Sinai, the western coastal town of Marse Matrouh, and southern cities like Assuit, Sohag and Minya. Violence is less likely to come from the Muslim Brotherhood itself but more from extremists groups that Morsi was accused of pandering to when his position as leader became more precarious. Those groups include Jamaa el Islamiya and other Takfiri groups. The risk of sectarian violence and attacks against Egypt’s minority Coptic community has also increased as a result of these developments.
The Need for Dialogue
Egypt continues to be a dilemma for many western nations given that most were very vocal in their support for Egypt’s change in leadership in 2011 and moved to endorse President Morsi after his election. International, and particularly US, pressure was key to boosting protestors in 2011, calling for the removal of former president Hosni Mubarak by signalling to protestors that they had support for their demands for democracy. Many believe that had there not been international support for the protests at the start of the revolution, the outcome could have been very different.
Given the precariousness of the current situation, it remains key that the international response is measured. Against a background of heightened tension and looming violence in the country, it is vital for western policy-makers to use their influence amongst both sides to encourage them to sit down and negotiate. Given that the Islamist leadership is on its way out, getting a commitment from the opposition and security apparatus that the Muslim Brotherhood will be able to continue being a player with a future on Egypt’s political scene remains crucial, if further violence is to be avoided and a peaceful outcome of the crisis to be ensured. Such commitment could significantly lower the stakes for the historically justifiably paranoid Muslim Brotherhood, who suffered significantly at the hands of Egypt’s previous autocratic leaders.
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About the Author
Sara Hassan is Programme Manager of Oxford Research Group's Middle East programme. She has previously worked as a Senior Middle East Analyst at IHS Global Insight and spent time in the region working as a Journalist.
About Oxford Research Group (ORG)
ORG is a leading independent UK think tank and has worked for 30 years to promote sustainable approaches to security and non-military solutions to conflict. www.oxfordresearchgroup.org.uk
Photo: Morsi supporters protesting. Source: Guardian Live Blog.