The unwillingness of President Mohamed Mursi, the Freedom and Justice Party and the Muslim Brotherhood to engage in open dialog with the opposition continues spiraling Egypt into conflict and instability. Encouraging dialog, while rejecting to address the core issues which have caused the conflict is not a recipe for successful crisis management or conflict resolution.
Analysts who know the history of the Muslim Brotherhood, have warned against the Islamo-Fascist nature of the organization. Its lack of inclusiveness and intolerance toward those who don´t embrace its program ”whole sale” may be one reason for its success as special interest opposition movement. With regard to successful parliamentary work or as a governing party which has to relate to the challenges of realpolitiks however, it is a policy that either leads to failure and conflict, to dictatorship, or to both.
The opposition is aware of the Mursi administrations propensity for totalitarianism and intolerance. Mursi´s incapacity for inclusiveness forces the opposition to a ”its now or never” approach to the crisis and to count on continuing to aggravate the situation until they achieve a result that could best be described as a game changer.
Game changers could be a situation where it becomes impossible to contain demonstrations, an intervention from Egypt’s Minister of Defense or the military, an initiative by Egypt’s Supreme Court, or foreign diplomatic pressure from an important European partner or the USA.
The imminent danger for Egypt and its people is, that the stall mate between the Muslim Brotherhood and the opposition could erode the populations trust in the country’s institutions to such a degree that any government, regardless who is at the helm, will have difficulties at reestablishing law and order. Egypt is maneuvering itself into a situation where it’s already serious economic crisis risks spiraling out of control. More dissatisfaction, disappointment and bitterness over economical and social injustice may then aggravate the situation even further. Egypt risks to enter a vicious and self-destructive circle.
The onset of the Arab Spring in Egypt, a little more than two years ago, has weakened Egypt’s economy. The Mursi administrations dealings with the IMF have weakened it further, and so did Mursi´s hunt for loans, from China over Qatar and the EU to the USA. Egypt’s foreign reserves are becoming depleted at a breathtaking speed. The question how long time there will go before Egypt will have problems with paying the wages of its public servants deserves serious consideration.
Many of Egypt’s police officers and those with lower and intermediate ranks in Egypt’s other security forces have become weary of cracking down on those who represent themselves. A situation where their meager paycheck does not arrive in time would for many of them be the breaking point, the game changer, where they either hang their uniform on the hanger and walk home to join the ranks of the protesters, or where they join any coup that seems to be representing themselves. The longer the Mursi administration remains incapable of compromise and the longer these officers have to face the daily violence, the more likely this scenario becomes.
The permeability of Egypt’s borders to Libya and Sudan provides easy access to a vast market for small and medium caliber weapons. The Egyptian opposition could easily see itself in a situation where the Mursi administration, supported by Libya, Qatar, Turkey, the UK and USA could provoke or manufacture a situation, where an ”Al Qaeda” uprising would force Egypt’s military into a confrontation with Al Qaeda forces.
Although the risk may not be too great, it should be taken into consideration that Qatar, Turkey and the USA have invested heavily in ”The Arab Spring” in Egypt and elsewhere, and that it was not a coincident that the Muslim Brotherhood came to power in Egypt. Seeing this victory slip away because of an ouster of Mursi may very well inspire the Muslim Brotherhood, Qatar and the USA to produce an in-depth risk-benefit analysis for this strategy and eventually to consider implementing the one or the other, most opportune and realistic version of it.
One of Mursi´s greatest problems is, that his credibility is inseparably tied to the fact that he succeeded at giving Egypt an Islamic Constitution, with granting special privileges to Islam and its institutions and to the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. Had Mursi succeeded at turning Egypt’s economy around this would have been a problem that could have been overcome more easily.
If Mursi begins negotiating the constitution it will make him appear like a President who has not achieved anything else than worsening the daily life of Egyptians. Entering into negotiations about the constitution may also reinforce long-held opinions among Egypt’s Muslim Brothers, according to which the will never be granted the right to be part of the realpolitik life of Egypt. Negotiating the one and only progress he has achieved for the Brotherhood will render Mursi extremely vulnerable to a revolution from within his own ranks.
The situation reinforces an ”it’s now or never” thinking among both the Muslim Brothers and among the opposition.
It is a most dangerous situation, because literally everything can happen. Mursi can be tomorrows new Egyptian dictator and he can be ousted by the military, the opposition or even by the Muslim Brotherhood. It is as likely that Mursi will be able to continue cracking down on the opposition as it is likely that he suddenly will be faced with the prospect of sharing a prison cell with Mubarak.
The opposition risks seeing its chances stolen by the sudden appearance of armed Al Qaeda gangs who force the military to step in. The possibilities for disaster are endless. The only real constant is that any of these scenarios will further boost Egypt’s descend into an economic, constitutional as well as institutional crisis.
The election results have given the Muslim Brotherhood and the Freedom and Justice Party political legitimacy in Egypt. It can be debated to what degree the election victory was caused by massive financial and political support from abroad, but debating this question will not help solving the crisis.
The legitimacy of the constitution could be debated on the basis that it has been approved through a referendum. It could also be debated that the opposition has been as ambivalent with regard to contributing to the process of writing it as the Muslim Brotherhood has pushed the new constitution through. Also that debate will not lead anywhere else than to a continuation of the crisis. Non of the approaches would be beneficial for building the consensus that would be required for stopping the deterioration of Egypt´s political, social, economical and military security.
The fist step that needs to be taken is that President Mursi and the Muslim Brotherhood agree to discuss an amendment to the constitution. An amendment which guaranties, that the next elections can be held under fair conditions. Mursi needs to show that he is willing to discuss an amendment to the election laws.
The Muslim Brotherhood would have to agree to, that it regardless of the outcome of the coming elections, will take part in forming an all inclusive constitutional council, tasked with drafting a new constitution that affords protection for, and guaranties the rights of minorities. A constitution that provides equal opportunity for all.
Mursi needs to guaranty that the Muslim Brotherhood will take part in drafting a new constitution that guaranties equal opportunity and rights for women, for all political parties, all religious communities and ethnicities. Ideally this guaranty should be brought before Egypt’s judicial authorities.
Knowing that these guaranties would be very painful for the Muslim Brotherhood and that it will have immense problems with selling the agreement to its basis, the opposition would have to agree to making concessions.
Those concessions should at the very least include, that it stops demanding that President Mursi steps down before the next elections, that it will play an active role in forming the new constitutional council, that it recognizes the political legitimacy of the Muslim Brotherhoods Freedom and Justice Party based on its election results, and that it recognizes the fact that Egypt is a predominantly Muslim country. Ideally the opposition would make the concession that it agrees to give Islam special consideration with regard to the cultural identity of Egypt.
Compromise can be politically costly for both the Muslim Brotherhood and for the opposition. One secure way to remedy the political losses would be to agree on a joint program for turning Egypt’s economic crisis around by granting interest free loans to all job creating infrastructure projects, social housing programs, large-scale hydroelectric programs combined with the creation of agricultural land.
Even hard-core Muslim Brotherhood members are likely to stop focusing on constitutional details if the opportunity to create social justice, employment and work is prioritized. Extremism, poverty and social injustice are seldom traveling alone.