The Egyptian military has not heeded U.S. warnings. In addition to imprisoning and cracking down on Mohamed Morsi and his allies, the military regime announced a government devoid of members of the Muslim Brotherhood. (“Egypt’s interim president, Adly Mansour, on Tuesday swore in a new 34-member cabinet dominated by liberals and technocrats . . . . But the body was devoid of any members of the powerful Islamist parties that held the majority in Egypt’s first democratically elected parliament, as well as the presidency, until a popular coup deposed Morsi’ s government on July 3.”)
Predictably, the MB is becoming an aggrieved party outside the political process, which plots revenge. The Post reports:
The message that the Brotherhood is seeking to send, two weeks after Egypt’s first democratically elected president was overthrown by the country’s powerful military, is that Egypt will become ungovernable unless Morsi gets his job back. The impromptu encampment outside a mosque in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City where the Brotherhood’s supporters and its fugitive leaders have gathered stands at the center of their escalating campaign of civil disobedience.
It is not clear that the MB will have the same level of popular support it did before its disastrous turn in government. But rather than integrate all the parties within a political system where conflict can be managed, Egypt once again has a government pitted against the MB, which is dedicated to its downfall.
Meanwhile, a cult of personality is developing around the leader of the coup. Army chief Gen. Abdel Fatah al-Sissi now holds not only the defense ministry but the post of deputy prime minister. Moreover, his image has been elevated in a manner not unfamiliar to those who have seen other tin-pot dictators rise in Egypt. Sissi is ambitious and not afraid of risks, as we’ve seen.
Soon after the coup Egyptians saw “a conscious attempt at Tahrir to elevate the Egyptian military to iconic status, as an unimpeachable guardian of political stability, social justice and patriotism.” Sissi is more than a caretaker it seems:
Posters are being distributed at the venue with Gen. El-Sisi’s pictures in full uniformed regalia, juxtaposed with images of former President Anwar Sadat; and Gamal Abdel Nasser, who had emerged as a celebrated symbol of Arab nationalism half a century ago.
It is apparent that Egypt’s new rulers are mounting a herculean effort to have Gen. El-Sisi in the popular imagination as the legitimate successor of the finest and the most idealistic that the Egyptian military has so far produced.
This has given rise to concerns that Sissi is a modern-day Nasser, as Steven Cook of the Council on Foreign Relations explains:
After the attempt on Nasser’s life, the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership was rounded up and placed before kangaroo courts. A “people’s tribunal” presided over by officers Salah Salim, Hussein Shafei, and future President Anwar Sadat sentenced the supreme guide and eight others to death, though the verdicts were all commuted to life sentences. An additional 1,100 Brothers were also jailed, while another 1,000 were incarcerated without being charged.
But while Nasser and the military could repress the Brothers and shatter their political power, they were unable to erase entirely the principles and ideas that animated the organization. Within Egypt’s prisons, debates raged between the Brotherhood’s rank-and-file and leadership about the identity of their enemy, and from where legitimacy to govern stems.
Like so many other radicals in prison, the MB developed into a more extreme and violent entity. (“What’s more, the Islamists’s prison experience helped crystallize their view of the Egyptian military elite as a politically corrupt, irreligious, and fundamentally illegitimate regime.”)
To some this might seem ideal: The pro-U.S. army is in charge, the MB is out of government and a military strongman is there to lead the country. But this is far from ideal for the Egyptian people and is a repudiation of the ideals the United States is seeking to advance there and in the region – the rule of law, increased civil liberties, religious toleration. Moreover, as we saw with the fall of a series of rulers since the dawn of the Arab Spring, such a system is not stable and itself provides a platform for terror.
We should not encourage Sissi’s political ambitions. Instead we should make clear that if it moves in the direction of dictatorship and repression, Egypt will no longer retain its close relationship with the United States. In our thirst to side with whoever is in power (first Mubarak, then the army, then Morsi and now the army), we show ourselves to be without principle or policy and foolish as well. We should know by now that we can’t pick winners in Egypt; better that we should pick principles and stick with them regardless of who sits (temporarily) as Egypt’s leader.