Egypt’s de facto ruler, General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, has made a catastrophic mistake, greater than all the mistakes made by President Mohammed Morsi which were used to justify the protests against him and which gave the army a pretext to overthrow his regime, writes Abdelbari Atwan.
The Egyptian government’s decision to dissolve and criminalise the Muslim Brotherhood would be the gravest and most dangerous error for Egypt, its security and stability.
President Morsi’s mistakes were administrative and procedural ones, caused by lack of experience, overconfidence, his initial refusal to co-exist with others, his attempt to rule exclusively and his wish to impose the ideas of the Muslim Brotherhood on certain aspects of Egyptian life.
But General Sisi’s mistakes are bloodshed, dividing and destabilising the country and aggravating the economic crisis: the International Monetary Fund has suspended its negotiations, Western and Japanese factories have closed and tourists have fled, along with foreign investors.
The excessive use of force to disperse demonstrators in Rabaa el-Adwayia and Nahda Square caused fear and panic in the country after thousands were killed and wounded, in a land that traditionally rejects and avoids violence.
General Sisi closed all doors to a political solution to the crisis in Egypt when he launched a fierce attack against Islamists, particularly the Brotherhood, during a meeting with several leaders and officers of the army and police force in which he said that “Islamist violence will not succeed in weakening the state. The military institution will not tolerate attempts to subjugate the country and its people, or terrorise innocent people.”
This clear threat means General Sisi has decided to adopt repressive security measures against the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of democratic legitimacy, which will mean more bloodshed, and dragging the country into a bloody civil war.
Perhaps what General Sisi and his supporters inside and outside of Egypt didn’t realise is that the Arab peoples who have tasted freedom and encountered the ballot box and free and fair elections for the first time, cannot now accept military dictatorship, under any pretext.
Dissolving and banning the Muslim Brotherhood completely in Egypt, just as other military rulers did for 60 years before lifting the state of emergency and officially scrapping the ban on the organisation just over a year ago, would be a declaration of war against it.
I would not be exaggerating if I said this was the most dangerous move since Morsi’s regime was ousted on July 03 – for the following reasons:
1. Dissolving and criminalising the movement would mean pushing it from the public arena to operating underground. This may lead to some of its branches developing violent tendencies.
2. The dissolution of the movement would mean an end of democracy and all it entails, such as political parties and freedoms, particularly freedom of expression and the freedom to protest.
3. Fully closing the door to the political solution the crisis needs, and adopting instead a security solution, as well as returning to the methods of President Mubarak’s rule and his dictatorship that people revolted to overthrow.
4. Removing ideological differences between the Brotherhood and other Islamist jihadist groups, and the formation of a united front against the ruling regime in Egypt and the Arab countries that support it.
5. Legitimising, in the eyes of some militant groups, the use of arms against the state and its institutions, which will lead to a security collapse and the subsequent weakening of the state and its institutions.
It is clear that the Egyptian army has begun to represent the vanguard of the war against Islamists and the Muslim Brotherhood in the entire region. It is supported in this by several Gulf States, led by Saudi Arabia, which unambiguously supported the Egyptian security forces in their storming of the protests, which killed and wounded thousands, as well as the UAE, Bahrain and Kuwait.
Perhaps one of the most significant harbingers of this war has been the decision by Prince al-Waleed bin Talal to dismiss Kuwaiti preacher Dr Tareq Sweidan as the manager of Al-Risala (The Message) TV channel, which belongs to the Al-Waleed group. Other TV stations banned his fellow preacher Salman al-Awdah and others, accusing them of being members of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Prince al-Waleed committed a grave mistake in taking this decision, as the move gave great popularity to Dr Sweidan, infuriating as it did his millions of Twitter and Facebook followers. With this kind of following on social networks, Sweidan no longer needs Al-Risala channel to deliver his message to anti-Brotherhood regimes, and there’s no doubt his hostility will become more aggressive following his dismissal.
The fact that the Gulf states have fiercely announced their hostility towards the Muslim Brotherhood and Islamists in general, while at the same time complaining night and day in the media about the danger posed by Iran and its Shiite supporters, raises the question: Is this the right time to open two fronts at the same time? And, is it wise to harbour such strong hostility to an Islamic current that runs so deeply in Gulf society?
The military coup in Egypt will not restore democracy. It destroyed a newborn democratic life before it had the chance to grow, develop and correct its mistakes, like all new democracies must – and more than that, replaced it with an exclusivist and bloody alternative.
How can the Muslim Brotherhood return to the political process, which the military claims to have faith in and be preparing for, when it faces a campaign of hostility, exclusion, criminalisation and bloody repression, despite having earned the right to rule through the free choice of the people?
A spokesman for the Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem el-Beblawi used al-Qaeda as a “scarecrow,” saying the Brotherhood had waved the organisation’s flag during their sit-ins. But the truth of the matter is this: repression and killings will bring the real al-Qaeda to Egypt – not this fake propagandist one. Fighters from Libya, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Yemen will flock to join a new jihad.
Neither side will win this bloody confrontation. The Muslim Brotherhood’s roots in Egyptian society and the Arab world are too deep to be uprooted. The army, which is considered the largest force in the region, is also difficult to defeat. The army is certainly mistaken if it thinks that the country can be taken back to the pre 25 January Revolution era and the dictatorial rule of President Mubarak.