Crisis in Egypt
The events in Egypt associated with the removal from power of President Morsi and the confrontation of the Muslim Brotherhood with the army and Islamist opponents, reflect the split in the Egyptian society. A proof of this is the small gap in the number of votes in the presidential election of June 2012 in favor of Morsi (51.7%) and those in favor of his opponent Ahmed Shafiq (48%), representing the forces in opposition to Islamists. Various social forces, such as the liberal-democratic, nationalist, leftist forces, and movements of political Islam were involved in the mass social protest against the authoritarian regime of Mubarak. However, the latter, and namely the “Muslim Brotherhood” took advantage of the results of the Egyptian revolution.
After his election, Morsi said that he “is the president of all Egyptians”. However, in reality, Morsi’s actions were guided by the tendency to monopolize power and implement his particularistic goals to apply his Sunni “Islamic Project”. President Morsi has actually concentrated in his hands all the branches of the government – legislative, executive and judicial. When he came to power, such Islamic groups as the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and Islamic Groups, previously engaged in terrorism, started to create their own political parties along with the Salafi parties Nur (Light) and the Salafi Appeal. Islamist movements have increased their influence in the country. Paramilitary units, the so-called “Islamic Militia” have been created. As for foreign policy, Morsi openly supported the armed Syrian opposition and broke off diplomatic relations with Syria. The radical part of the Egyptian Brotherhood even tried to export the “Islamic Project” into the Persian Gulf, in which, according to them, the regime was not “Truly Islamic”. For example, in 2013 a group of Egyptian Islamists was arrested in the UAE who, according to the UAE authorities, planned “to carry out a coup d’état in the country” and “to expand their activities in Saudi Arabia”, which led to some tension in relations between the UAE and Egypt.
At the same time, the relationships with the U.S., Qatar and Turkey were a priority for Morsi, as he intended to develop the “Islamic Project” in the region with Ankara.
In domestic policy, Morsi’s Islamist leadership was not able to address the pressing social and economic problems, which had been the main cause of the Egyptian revolution in January 2011. According to the experts, in 2010 about 40% of Egyptians lived on less than $2 per day, in 2012, their number increased to 50%. This caused frustration and discontent, both of the political forces that took part in the revolution, and of ordinary citizens. Morsi’s policy, aimed at strengthening of the role of Islam in public life also provoked concern and protests of the population, who sought to preserve secular values. This situation led to division of the society, increased the social tensions and protests against Morsi’s leadership. The opposition movement, as they claim, have collected 23 million (according to other sources – 30 million) signatures, referred to the Constitutional Court, demanding the removal of Morsi from power. As a result of these actions, on July 3, 2013, the army, supported by the secular and democratic parties, police leadership, security services, Constitutional Court, as well as by the Grand Mufti of Egypt and the Coptic patriarch, temporarily suspended the constitution and removed the president Morsi from power. He was placed under house arrest. Along with this, several members and religious leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood were arrested on charges of inciting violence. The head of the Constitutional Court Adly Mansour was appointed as the acting president; he announced that early parliamentary and presidential elections were scheduled for early 2014. The Muslim Brotherhood refused the proposal of the new authorities to participate in the formation of a transitional government and began to organize protest demonstrations, which often grew into clashes with security forces and resulted in casualties on both sides. In accordance with the order of the Ministry of Internal Affairs and Prosecutor General, on August 14, the Egyptian police force and special forces of the army started to liquidate the tent cities and barricades in Cairo, situated in front of the mosque on the square of Rabban al-Adawiya, Nahda in Giza and in front of the Cairo University. Here, the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood conducted protests lasting one month, demanding Morsi’s return to power. Radical imams of the Muslim Brotherhood, such as Safwat Hegazy, called Morsi’s supporters to become “soldiers of Allah and sacrifice their lives for the return of Morsi to power”. During the operation, the Islamists showed a fierce resistance, including armed resistance. According to the official data, victims of clashes that occurred in the tent cities included several hundreds dead and about 2,000 wounded people, including more than 50 law enforcement officers. According to the representatives of the Muslim Brotherhood, more than 2,000 supporters of Morsi were killed. During the next days, the advocates of the Muslim Brotherhood attacked military officers and police stations in Cairo and several other cities. Administrative buildings were also subjected to attacks, in particular, the building of the local government in the district of Giza in Cairo and the trade union office were set on fire. In the city of Al-Arish, Islamist militants blew up the railway tracks; in the city of Minya they burned several Coptic churches and 5 schools.
According to eyewitnesses, among the attackers there were people, armed with assault rifles, pistols and Molotov cocktails. In Cairo, the gunmen fired at a police helicopter. The Prime Minister of Egypt, Bablavi,1 in his speech said that “some of the participants in the clashes had arms, as confirmed by the video shooting, a variety of weapons were also found on the site of the tent cities of the supporters of Morsi and he proposed to ban the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood. Egyptian media reported on the penetration of Al-Qaeda militants into Egypt and on the involvement of Syrian Islamists and militants of the Palestinian movement of Hamas in clashes with Egyptian security forces. Muhammad al-Zawahiri, the brother of Ayman al-Zawahiri, leader of al-Qaida, was arrested in Egypt. M. al-Zawahiri was the leader of the Egyptian Islamic Jihad and encouraged the leadership of Morsi.
At the same time, people in Egypt began to form teams of volunteers, who assist law enforcement authorities to restore order and stabilize the situation in the country. Representatives of the liberal-democratic and leftist forces, in particular, Ahmed Maher, the leader of the April 6 Movement, calls the removal of the Islamists from power the Tamarrud Revolution” (Disturbance – Arabic name of the movement, which acted against the Islamists), a return to the authentic ideals of the Arab Spring, which the Muslim Brotherhood tried to usurp. Amr Moussa – one of the leaders of the National Salvation Front, which is in opposition to Morsi – the former Secretary General of the Arab League, in his turn, said that “millions of people went into the streets to support the actions of the army, which is saving Egyptians from terrorism”.
As for the foreign reaction, of the forces that supported the Muslim Brotherhood, the most active actions were taken by Turkey; its prime minister condemned the “military coup” and called for an urgent meeting of the UN Security Council in connection with the events in Egypt. This position of Turkey is quite predictable, since its current leadership comes from the Turkish Muslim Brotherhood and the loss of an ally in the person of President Morsi means the collapse of Turkish foreign policy, oriented to an alliance with Islamist forces in the Arab world. The King of Jordan, where the influence of Islamists is increasing, supported the new regime in Egypt. Qatar spoke in favour of Islamists in Egypt, while Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait supported the new Egyptian government.
The USA turned out to be in the most uncomfortable situation. Before the beginning of the operation, carried out by the Egyptian army, a delegation of U.S. “mediators”, headed by the Republican Senator John McCain arrived in Egypt. Moreover, its position was announced in advance, “Morsi is the legitimately elected president, and the army should not interfere in the political process”. Naturally, such “mediation” had no success. During the clashes of the forces of law and order with the supporters of Morsi, the United States was fiercely criticized by both the supporters of Morsi, and his opponents. In this regard, President Obama was forced to announce that “the U.S. does not support any of the parties in Egypt”. However, later the United States condemned the actions of the army and the imposition of the state of emergency in Egypt.
The most odious was the joint statement of the Prime Minister of England, D. Cameron, and the French President, François Hollande, in which they actually supported the Muslim Brotherhood, condemned “the actions of the Egyptian authorities” and called to “elaborate a common rigid position of the EU states against Egypt”.
Russia for its part has called for an early end of the confrontation and a political settlement of the civil conflict in Egypt.
Summing up the preliminary results, we can say that the split in the Egyptian society continues. However, political Islam is unlikely to return to power in Egypt, even with the support of external forces. Thus, the success of the Tamarrud Revolution and the defeat of political Islam in Egypt mark a new stage in the development of the “Arab Spring”, and in the situation in the Arab world. The change of power in Egypt promotes it to the rank of such countries as Algeria, Syria, Iraq, which are fighting against radical Islamism. The fact that political Islam lost control in Egypt greatly weakens its position in the region. Tamarrud revolutions could take place in other countries of the Arab Spring, as political Islam has shown its complete failure in solving socio-economic problems and brought a worsening of inter-religious conflict and political terrorism.
Boris Dolgov, PhD of Historical Sciences, researcher at the Centre for Arab and Islamic Studies under the Institute of Oriental Studies, Russian Academy of Sciences, – exclusively for the online magazine “New Eastern Outlook”.