The military’s removal of President Mohammad Morsi opened up a can of worms from which the Egyptian polity is not likely to recover anytime soon.
Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood had been busy attempting to impose its socio-political will on a nation that was largely unwilling to go along with their agenda. The military was even more reluctant since it saw Morsi’s actions as destabilizing.
So, instead of waiting until new elections, the military did what it’s done repeatedly over the past 60 years. It deposed the existing regime and supplanted it with one favorable to its own agenda. After all, Nasser came to power in a coup. Sadat came to power from a coup. Mubarak came to power with the assent of the military, and the military then deposed Mubarak. Now, they’re facing an organized and militarized threat in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood.
The Brotherhood is not backing down and yesterday’s clashes with police and security forces left more than 500 dead and thousands injured.
It’s only going to get worse from here because the Brotherhood’s leadership now believes that they have no other options in the political arena. The military’s effort showed the Brotherhood that they will not be allowed to wield political power, and that’s infuriating to the group, which actually won the right to govern in the historic elections following the coup that deposed Mubarak.
But what the Brotherhood doesn’t understand is that their heavy-handed wielding of political power was not without consequences. It was tremendously unpopular with a majority of Egyptians who saw it as an effort to impose social restrictions at a time when the economy continued to suffer from the very problems that led to Mubarak’s ouster.
The Brotherhood wasn’t dealing with the underlying economic and social conditions that led to an anemic economy, high unemployment, food shortages, and high costs for fuel and food.
The military’s brutal crackdown against the Brotherhood’s protest camps across Cairo forestalls any kind of reconciliation, as the lines in the sand have been drawn. The Brotherhood isn’t going to trust the military or attempts to bring it back into a political process, when their leader remains arrested and out of power. The military is losing in this as well, given that they overthrew a sitting government.
Worst of all, Egyptians are losing out because the political chaos is exacerbating the economic chaos and conditions are only going to get worse. Extremists are going to take advantage of the situation.
All of this presents huge challenges for foreign countries in trying to deal with the chaotic situation in Cairo. For the US, it means trying to remain above the fray but condemning the violence and a need to return to a political dialog. Critics of the Administration claim that it lost Egypt, but that ignores that the Brotherhood and the Egyptian military are the ones who brought this crisis upon itself. The US has little influence to play here, except perhaps as a mediator. The one area that the US has influence is on providing foreign assistance and military aid — withholding that aid could get the military to buy into reconciliation talks. But the Brotherhood isn’t going to go along with a deal that doesn’t end with Morsi back in the presidency.
So, until the sides see the futility of the continuing violence and shrink away from an open civil war, they will continue to run up the body count.