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Middle East and Africa

Egypt: Politics Returns but the Violence Does not Stop

What was foreseeable has occurred. Faced with a hostile demonstration on a huge scale, the presidential guard reacted with too much force and perpetrated a massacre where more than fifty people were killed. This was foreseeable for two reasons: a) military men are not trained to maintain order but to destroy the enemy; b) the leadership of the Brothers opted for the politics of doing the worst and violent clashes both in order to destabilise and weaken the new regime and in the (unrealistic) hope of leading its adversaries to give way. In doing this, it runs the risk of intensifying the repression: more than 600 people were arrested within the context of this episode and it is not known with certainty if and how public opinion has evolved as regards the Brotherhood.

 

The facts are not known with certainty given that the actors involved have the tendency to lie shamelessly. But from an examination of the testimony of the survivors and the inhabitants of the neighbourhood one can state that the clash witnessed the opposition in the first instance of the police and the demonstrators. The majority of the latter were not armed but a minority was, and opened fire. It is not known if this minority was made up of the most radical grassroots of the Brothers or, in contrary fashion, of agents provocateurs, but I favour the first explanation: the leadership and the cadres of the Brothers, whether present or otherwise on the scene, did in fact incite people to armed violence and martyrdom. The police reacted by opening fire as well, the army arrived on the scene and the episode was transformed into a massacre. The leadership of the Brothers has tried to exploit to the utmost this event with a lie (to say this does not mean to affirm, as its enemies do, that one is dealing with a coup orchestrated by the Brotherhood), stating that the army had savagely attacked peaceful faithful at the moment of prayer and that amongst the victims there were women and children. In doing this it wasted some strong cards (but the communications of the army did not do much better).

 

This episode has obscured the very many violent incidents, most of them organised by the Brothers, which are shaking the country: problems in the Sinai, clashes between supporters and opponents of President Morsi, attacks on certain police stations, the kidnapping of militants, attacks on Christian places of worship, etc. This tactic of the Brotherhood betrays a form of powerlessness and runs the risk in its turn of alienating an important number of Islamist militants, but it performs the goal of impeding any kind of stabilisation.

 

Politics has not disappeared. A Constitutional declaration has been promulgated and this has already provoked numerous criticisms. The principal ones have as their target article one which conserves the Salafi interpretation of the sharîʻa. This important concession has the aim of reconciling the Salafis who chose to support the army. It is less noticed that the article of the previous Constitution (that of the Brothers) which entrusted the interpretation of the provisions of the sharîʻa to al¬-Azhar has disappeared, which would appear to imply a return of the delegation of the function of interpretation to the Constitutional High Court, which is more liberal. The Coptic Church has advanced reservations because the article that established the possibility of non-Muslims to govern themselves according to their own laws as regards personal status has disappeared. The young revolutionaries have advanced reservations regarding other articles. Whatever the case, this text will be amended in order to take account of the criticisms, but it is difficult to foresee the possibility of an agreement between the Salafis and the non-Islamists.

 

After a waltz of candidatures for the position of prime minister, which included the liberal Baradei, the social democrat Ziyad Bahaeedine, and the technocrat Hisham Ramez (governor of the central bank), the elderly economist Hazim al-Biblawi was appointed to this post. This choice was a wise one: he has a good knowledge of international forums and the universe of the Egyptian civil service, he is a figure acceptable to the Salafis, and he is an excellent economist. Some people say that he may lack a decision-making spirit but other people think the opposite. Whatever the case, the composition of his government will be a delicate process. It seems to be excluded that the Brothers will take part in it: this would mean for them accepting a legitimisation of the coup d’état. According to some information, not even the Salafis will take part, but it is difficult to know whether this is because of a wish to plan their future, a refusal to compromise themselves at a difficult juncture, or because they do not accept the relevance acquired by the non-Islamist faction (Baradei has just been appointed Vice-President of the Republic). Whatever the case, things can still change. It is clear that even though they show that they want to withdraw, the military and the security forces have in their hands the keys to the situation and will have to intervene often as referees.

 

The monarchies of the gulf which are hostile to the Brothers hurry to act against them with aid of the order of billions of dollars and the supply of petrol. For the moment the United States of America has not called into question its aid for the army. But this welcome truce only postpones the deadlines, whereas in fact many painful measures should be implemented. Painful and risky ones given that, as has been seen, the Egyptian streets know how to mobilise and makes themselves heard, the participation has not decreased and there are no reasons to think that this can change, even though, at least on this front, the month of Ramadan will offer a necessary truce.

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