Mursi Code

07.12.2012

To say that Egypt is leaning towards civil war, as some media sources has already concluded, is at least premature.

In all cases of civil wars that unraveled in the Middle East in recent years, there were two sides: government institutions (read – authoritarian regime) and opposing popular movement. Both authorities and rebels drew upon already existing split within society based on national, religious or tribal principle. In Libya, dividing line stretched along the border between Tripolitania and Cyrenaica, in Syria – between Sunnis and Alawites. In places where there were no such split (Tunisia) or it didn’t play a significant role during the struggle (Yemen), when regime couldn’t rely on a specific domestic group, conflicts were rather short-term and relatively nonviolent.

To a large extent the same thing happened in Egypt in February 2011, when it was not some fraction of society but almost all Egyptian people who rose against Mubarak. And army leadership quickly understood that there was nobody to rely on in defending the president.

Today, the situation is as far from apocalyptic one as it was then. Indeed, representative of the Muslim Brotherhood are in power in Cairo, and it’s true that they are trying to secure their position. Yet this is a natural stage of political struggle, shaping of the very checks-and-balances system which is a foundation of every democratic state. In absence of constitution and parliament, when some institutions are discredited and army is put aside from active political life, elected president is trying to fill the vacuum, and it is little surprise that its being filled with him and his allies. In this political struggle Mohamed Mursi can’t rely neither on state machine, which is weakened and not entirely controlled by the president, nor on judicial system, nor on the army. At the same time freedom of speech and freedom of the media are perhaps one of the most obvious achievements of the Arab Spring. That is why the president relies on the Freedom and Justice Party and part of the electorate that helped him win his seat with 52% of the vote.

Meanwhile it’s important to understand that division of Egypt’s population into Islamists and secularists is rather arbitrary. Thus, second article of the Constitution of Egypt, adopted in 1971 under Anwar Sadat (who was assassinated by Islamist extremists 10 years later) and remaining in force until 2011, declared Islam the established religion and Sharia – the main source of the legislation. This didn’t raise any questions, in fact constitutions of the majority of Arab states look similarly. And today Mursi’s opponents generally associate themselves with Ummah and denounce not Islam but usurpation of power by the President and Brotherhood representatives and their departure from democratic principles (admittedly, they include freedom of religion).

Moreover, installation of Iran-like theocracy in Egypt also is not the case. On one hand, Mohamed Mursi earned his PhD from the University of Southern California, and its subject was properties of Aluminium oxide, not theology. On the other hand, when the Muslim Brotherhood came to power (and it required recruiting considerable part of association’s leadership to fill public positions), mosque were left to Salafis, and there’s no reason to strengthen the latter. On the whole, in past 1,5 year Brotherhood representatives has showed themselves as rather pragmatic politicians, soberly assessing their powers.

Hence, neither Islamists, nor angry citizens are the proper base for waging a large-scale civil war.

On December 6, Egypt’s army occupied the square in front of the presidential square and pushed both supporters and opponents of the incumbent president from it, showing that there is a powerful third force in the country ready to broker the situation. Meanwhile, for  Mohamed Mursi it’s not necessary to struggle to the utmost in order to hold the power. To reach compromise it would be enough if he gives up some authority that he assumed and agrees to review provisions of the new constitution. This is not a very high price to pay for remaining in history as the first democratic president of Egypt to stay in power for the whole term.

(English translation - cortesy Oleg Shakirov)

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