Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Egypt's Odds of Achieving Unity and Prosperity

Magazine article Washington Report on Middle East Affairs

Egypt's Odds of Achieving Unity and Prosperity

Article excerpt

Following the killing of more than 1,000 anti-coup protesters in August, many have wondered how a bitterly divided Egypt will be able to move forward politically and economically. To discuss the country's conundrum, the Middle East Institute (MEI) held a day-long conference Sept. 13 at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, DC.

The Brotherhood and Egyptian Democracy

MEI scholar Khalil al Anani began by stating that the Muslim Brotherhood must accept responsibility for Mohamed Morsi's failed presidency. June 30 protesters blamed Morsi for failing to address Egypt's economic and social problems, he noted. Dina Guirguis of the 7-month-old Tahrir Institute for Middle East Policy (TIMEP) alleged that the Brotherhood consistently showed discrepancy between their words and their actions. "The Brotherhood, over a year of their rule, systematically broke their promises," she charged.

Karim Haggag of the National Defense University opined that the Brotherhood should have accepted calls for early presidential elections and a public referendum on Morsi's presidency. Morsi's stubbornness, he argued, has put the organization's future in jeopardy.

Former Morsi senior adviser Wael Haddara disagreed with Haggag's assessment, contending that regularly scheduled elections offered the country a legitimate and viable path forward. Instead, Haddara lamented, Egypt has now witnessed an "upending of the democratic system in favor of military intervention."

Regarding the Brotherhood's response to the July 3 coup, Al Anani said the group made a mistake by relying solely on protests. Noting that the Brotherhood lacks a "Plan B," he argued that the group "doesn't have a clear vision for the future."

Haggag urged the Brotherhood to work within the political process and to seek reconciliation. Failure to do so, he warned, "will reinforce the perception they are in conflict with not just the state, but the society." In Al Anani's opinion, it will be difficult for the Brotherhood to make concessions given the high level of repression they currently face. Haddara was equally skeptical of the prospects for reconciliation. The Brotherhood cannot negotiate if its top leaders are in prison, he said.

Al Anani also criticized the coup government, saying that ongoing military trials of civilians and the restoration of emergency law show that the military is not serious about democracy. Instead, he stated, the military cares about defeating the Brotherhood and maintaining its influence. Tarek Masoud of Harvard University interjected that the military's anti-Brotherhood stance is more about its desire for stability than any political or philosophical differences with the Brotherhood.

MEI scholar Graeme Bannerman described the growing desire for stability among average Egyptians as a troubling development. In need of water, food, health care and schools, Egyptians might be willing to accept another authoritarian leader if he can bring short-term solutions to their problems. This, he speculated, poses long-term risks for the success of Egyptian democracy.

Pointing out that many Egyptians seem to be giving the military the benefit of the doubt despite its many transgressions, Masoud said there is evidence to support Bannerman's theory. Mirette Mabrouk of the Atlantic Council's Rafik Hariri Center for the Middle East, however, predicted that it will not be long until the people begin to turn on the military. …

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