By Emad Shahin, American University in Cairo
The violent deaths of hundreds and the injury of thousands of peaceful pro-democracy protesters in a few short hours yesterday is tragic. What is the more tragic is that it could have been avoided.
In past weeks, foreign mediators and domestic sides have presented sound initiatives to resolve the ongoing crisis in Egypt peacefully. None was headed by the leaders of the military coup that repeatedly rejected these initiatives in “substance and in form” and insisted on superimposing their own road-map that toppled a freely elected civilian president, suspended the constitution and dissolved an elected parliament.
In their place, the military junta has installed an interim figurehead president, appointed an unelected cabinet, issued a constitutional declaration that merged legislative and executive powers and cracked down on the Islamist opposition. All these steps were taken under the guise of a staged popular support and mandate to rid the country of 12 months of Muslim Brotherhood rule.
The pro-coup media and the military-backed government spared no effort to demonise their opponents, dubbing them terrorists and projecting the conflict as one between the people and the Muslim Brothers. They focused people’s attention on whether the government was going to disperse the pro-Morsi supporters and restore normality to the nation’s life, thus bypassing the real issue. The essence of the ongoing conflict is a true struggle between military rule and a democratic future for Egypt.
The overall performance of the Muslim Brothers over the past year shows they have not been the best democrats or statesmen. They lacked the experience and inclusiveness required for a proper management of Egypt’s rough transition. They were also blocked by certain strongholds of Mubarak’s deep state.
A failure of democracy
Yet the Muslim Brothers were certainly not worse than some segments of the military-backed “liberal” opposition who are no more inclusive or experienced. This is the nature of authoritarian regimes that usually deprive their opponents of any power sharing opportunities. In democracies, you punish failure at the ballot box, not by a military coup and depriving the majority of their right to rule.
Egyptians are clearly divided over serious political issues: identity, ideological orientations, distribution of power, models of development and foreign policy. These should be resolved through dialogue and compromise. The coup’s leaders have sided with a certain party, thus deepening the division and polarisation.
The current military-backed regime is pushing Egypt toward an unnecessary violent path that could trigger a prolonged civil war. The coup and its advocates, admittedly millions of Egyptians who have been fomented over the past year by a biased anti-MB media, a politicised judiciary, uncooperative police, and obstructive opposition, is entrenching itself in the state institutions, restoring a police state and rolling back the democratic gains Egyptians scored following the January 25 Revolution.
So far, the coup leaders have undertaken repressive and extra-legal measures against liberties and human rights, including the detention of hundreds of opponents, closing down satellite channels, freezing bank accounts, imposing travel bans, and staging politically motivated trials; resurrecting some of Mubarak regime’s regular practices. In the latest bloody confrontations, they have deliberately targeted journallists to prevent journalists covering the atrocities that have taken place during the ongoing massacres. Sky News cameraman Mick Deane was killed by what appears to have ben a sniper’s bullet. Other journalists killed include Habiba Ahmed Abd Elaziz from Gulf News, and Ahmad Abdel Gawad from Akhbar newspaper.
Great revolutions are often associated with violence and blood. Egypt’s initial struggle against Mubarak’s authoritarian regime was peaceful – and all Egyptians took pride in their success in removing a dictator by peaceful means.
Violence begets violence
But the latest violence by the coup leaders marks a threatening turn. Violence begets violence. The leaders of peaceful pro-democracy protests will not be able to control their supporters if the violence against them continues. They will have few arguments to use to prevent them from demanding that Egypt goes all the way towards an Islamic Revolution.
Fortunately, there is still a window for a legitimate exit to this crisis. The best way forward is to defend the democratic process against the coup. The military junta has failed so far to consolidate its coup, despite controlling the state institutions: the media, the police and their goons, the judiciary and huge material resources. Their excessive violence and killing of peaceful protesters is not helping. They need to exit the scene and withdraw from the political process.
The solution to the crisis needs to emerge from a constitutional legality and not from the reality of an illegitimate coup. The 2012 Constitution, which received the support of almost two-thirds of a majority of Egyptian voters, can provide a framework for a legitimate and peaceful resolution.
Whether we like it or not, Mohammed Morsi is still legally the president of Egypt, and he is the key to any legitimate transfer of power. The 2012 Constitution allows the president to delegate his powers to a prime minister that can call for immediate parliamentary elections, followed by presidential elections.
Egyptians have paid in blood for democracy. It is not too late to restore constitutionality and avoid further bloodshed. The alternatives are bleak: a looming civil war that must be avoided or a military rule and a police state that could take decades to uproot.
Emad Shahin does not work for, consult to, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has no relevant affiliations.