Al-Sisi’s brutal crackdown on opposition will backfire
By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz
West Palm Beach, Florida
The course of revolutions is unpredictable. Three years ago, while it was Tunisia which ignited the Arab Spring, it was Egypt’s Tahreer Square which displayed the richest moments of struggle for freedom.
The multitudes of peaceful protestors in Tahreer – young and old, Christian and Muslim, religious and secular, educated and illiterate – all rushed to the public square to express their national aspirations for a better world through a responsive government. Sadly, the course has changed dramatically.
The main opposition to the current Egyptian government is the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), a social movement and a political party with deep cultural roots in Egyptian society.
The MB won a democratic presidential election, a first in Egypt’s history, after an uprising pressured President Hosni Mubarak to resign in February 2011. But then, the Muslim Brotherhood failed to introduce reform and quickly became unpopular. A second uprising gave the self- serving military its opportunity to ease the MB regime out of power and replace it.
The coup against the MB government effectively substituted an Islamist sectarian autocracy with a military one. With eight months in power, the new military-backed regime may be sinking deeper into political quicksand.
The current military establishment in Egypt is trying to tame the Muslim Brotherhood. In recent days, an Egyptian local court sentenced 529 Muslim Brotherhood protestors to death for attacking a police station causing the death of a policeman last August. The judgment was quick, evidence was thin, defense was timid; 400 of the accused were tried in absentia.
Untold damage to its local and international public relations comes from vindictive initiatives such as issuing collective death sentences, clamping down on private international aid organizations and locking up local and foreign journalists.
The current government cannot wipe out MB violence through collective, unjust punitive measures. Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and Algeria, illustrate the futility of curing communal violence with government-backed violence. But the current leadership seems to think Egypt is an exception.
For many Egyptians it is not easy to empathize with the MB social and political agendas. The Brothers made all the mistakes they could in a single year of governance. But had the MB been allowed to finish their term they would most likely have been replaced through the ballot box; the coup interrupted the process of democratic transformation. Adding insult to injury, local media unwittingly help legitimize military rule by demonizing the MB.
The heavy handed group death sentence could be easily reversed in the near future. It is hard to believe that the higher courts in Cairo would rubber stamp such a strong dose of collective capital punishment.
What could be going on within the top leadership that would allow such atrocities not to be checked? Such irrational policies may indicate that the top leadership is not running the country with a single tight fist; there seems to be serious internal divisions and contradictions throughout the government.
Regardless of how the court decision evolves, collective punishment is likely to turn the Muslim Brothers into martyrs. In a highly religious society martyrdom turns failure to victory and transforms trouble-makers to dangerous “reformers”. Certain extreme elements in the MB have already taken up arms to fight the regime with acts of terror.
Fearing a new uprising the generals plan to hold on to power through a rushed presidential election. The upcoming presidential elections follow last year’s dubious efforts of revising the nation’s constitution by a committee appointed by the regime.
General Abdul Fattah al-Sisi appears to be the strong man of the current regime. He is running for the office of the president. Al-Sisi’s popularity is rising due to heightened anger against the MB, excessive trust in the military and propensity for hero worship. Today’s Abdul Fattah al-Sisi may be eager to emulate the iconic Egyptian leader Jamal Abdul Nasser of the 1960s. Regrettably, as of yet, there are no indications that al-Sisi will have strong opponents in this election.
Egypt is too stressed to tolerate poor governance for too long. A new uprising may emerge as this government faces severe economic hardships and runs out of money coming from Arab Gulf states and other sources of foreign aid.
Worse things could happen. Continued oppression of the Muslim Brotherhood, might ignite a civil war of devastating consequences .
The Arab League, US and European Union should apply additional pressure on Egypt’s current administration to run free and fair elections.
Only competitive elections could re-open the road to political freedoms and to a much needed dialogue between the religious and secular communities of Egypt.
If al-Sisi is a real leader, and not a front man to a fractured military establishment, he would listen to all his communities and allies.
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