The internal political crisis in Egypt is a reflection of the schism in Egyptian society. On 14 August, Egypt’s political forces and army special forces, in accordance with an order given by the Ministry of Internal Affairs and the Prosecutor General, cleared protest camps and barricades in Cairo in front of the mosque on Rabaa al-Adawiya square, Nahda square in Giza and Cairo University. It was here that Muslim Brotherhood supporters had been carrying out demonstrations over the past month demanding the return to power of Mohammed Morsi.
Radical imams of the «Brotherhood» had given inflammatory sermons and made threats towards opponents of Morsi. Calls had also been heard to become «soldiers of Allah and to give one’s life for Morsi’s return to power» Before the start of the operation to clear the squares of Islamist camps and barricades, the Egyptian authorities repeatedly invited the «Brotherhood» to «integrate themselves into political life». However, they preferred to take the path of direct confrontation with the authorities.
Islamists put up fierce resistance during the operation on 14 August, including armed resistance. As noted by eyewitnesses of the day’s events – the residents of neighbouring apartment blocks – the first shots came from the barricades that «Brotherhood» followers were grouped behind. As a result of the operation, the protest camps were destroyed. According to official figures, several hundred died in the clashes with almost 2,000 injured, including more than 50 law enforcement officers. According to a statement by members of the «Brotherhood», meanwhile, more than 2,000 Morsi supporters were killed, including the daughters of two «Brotherhood» leaders – al-Shakra and bin Tahi.
Over the next 24 hours, Islamists carried out attacks on military personnel resulting in the deaths of seven soldiers. Attacks also took place on police departments in Cairo and a number of other cities. Administrative buildings were also subjected to attacks, including the local administration building in Giza, Cairo, and a trade union office, which were both set on fire. Islamist militants blew up railway lines in the town of El-Arish, and several Coptic Churches and five schools were burned down in the town of Minya. According to eyewitness accounts, the attackers included people armed with automatic weapons, pistols and petrol bombs. In Cairo, militants fired MANPADS at a police helicopter.
Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem Al Beblawi (1) reported in his speech that some of those involved in the clashes were armed. This is also backed up by video footage. Different types of weapons were also found at the Morsi supporters’ camps. Egyptian media has reported on the penetration of al-Qaeda militants into Egypt and the involvement of Syrian Islamists who had previously fought in the ranks of the Syrian armed opposition in clashes with Egyptian forces of law and order, as well as militants from the Palestinian Hamas movement.
A state of emergency has been introduced in 11 of Egypt’s 21 provinces, and a curfew is being enforced in Cairo. Governors appointed by Morsi have been removed from their posts in some of Egypt’s provinces and replaced by newly-appointed ones. Egypt’s Ministry of Internal Affairs has announced that it will resolutely suppress all activities «aimed at destabilising the situation in the country, as well as attacks on administrative buildings and other targets». Groups of volunteers have started to get together to help law enforcement agencies put things in order and stabilise the situation within the country. Amr Moussa, one of the leaders of the Morsi opposition party «National Salvation Front» and former Secretary-General of the Arab League, announced that «millions of people went out onto the streets in support of the army’s actions which are saving Egypt from terrorism».
With regard to foreign reaction, of those in support of the «Brotherhood» in Egypt it was Turkey that came out most decisively, with Turkey’s prime minister condemning the military coup and calling for an immediate meeting of the UN Security Council in connection with events in Egypt. Ankara’s position is accountable by the fact that the current Turkish government is an offshoot of the Turkish «Muslim Brotherhood», and the loss of its Egyptian ally would mean the collapse of Turkey’s foreign policy which is oriented towards an alliance with Islamist forces in the Arab world.
Islamists in Egypt were also supported by the Palestinian movement Hamas, which was created by the «Brotherhood» and has received considerable help from them, as well as the Jordanian «Brotherhood» in the name of the «Islamic Action Front» party. The King of Jordan, meanwhile, where the influence of Islamists is intensifying, gave his support to the new regime in Egypt. Qatar has also come out in support of Egyptian Islamists on previous occasions, while Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait took the side of the new Egyptian authorities. Moreover, all of the heads of Arab states are calling for an end to the violence and the start of a political process.
America’s position, however, seems somewhat ambiguous. Shortly before the events of 14 August, a delegation of American congressmen headed by Republican Senator McCain arrived in Egypt to mediate the settlement of the Egyptian crisis. The delegation’s position had been established beforehand: «Morsi is the legally-elected president and the army should not interfere in the political process». It goes without saying that this kind of «mediation» ended in failure.
During the clashes between forces of law and order and Morsi supporters, America continued to come under harsh criticism from both Morsi’s supporters and his opponents. A spokesman for the acting President of Egypt announced that «decisions regarding the fate of Egypt will be taken in Egypt, not the White House». After this, President Barack Obama was obliged to cut short his holiday and issue a statement saying that «the US is not backing either side in Egypt». However, Washington then condemned the army’s actions and the introduction of a state of emergency in Egypt.
The most hostile towards Cairo is the joint statement by British Prime Minister David Cameron and French President François Holland, in which they virtually come out in support of the «Brotherhood», condemning the «actions of the Egyptian authorities» and calling for «the EU to work out a common hardline position with regard to Egypt». As such, a spokesman for the Egyptian Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced: «Europe does not understand what Egypt is up against. We have to stand up to the radicals who are terrorising Egyptians».
The schism that Egyptian society has fallen into is a phenomenon which is nothing but unhealthy. Nevertheless, the majority of society, including the middle class, government employees, the intelligentsia and the rural population, along with virtually every liberal democratic, nationalistic and left-wing movement in which Muslims are well represented, support the actions of the army and law enforcement agencies. Egypt will not return to an Islamist regime, even with the support of external forces. The broad participation of the Muslim Brotherhood in political life is also going to be fairly problematic in the near future.
All evidence points to the fact that the defeat of political Islam in Egypt marks a new stage in the development of the «Arab Spring». The change in power in Egypt moves it into the ranks of countries like Algeria, Syria and Iraq that have experienced and are continuing to experience the pressure of radical Islamism. The battle is far from over. The unrest of the Egyptian example could move on to other countries of the «Arab Spring» starting with Tunisia, where political Islam has shown a complete failure in solving socio-economic problems, has aggravated interfaith relations and given life to terrorism.
The defeat of Islamists in Egypt is evidence of the collapse of Western policy in the Arab world with its support of Islamism. Such support only seems absurd at first glance; in reality, it is pursuing strategic objectives, including the removal of undesirable regimes and entire state formations. The nationhoods of Iraq and Libya have virtually been destroyed, while attempts to destroy Syria are still going on. The media is reporting on the seizure of maps during searches of a number of Egyptian NGOs financed by the US showing Egypt split into four parts. The old political formula of «divide and rule» is still going strong…
(1) Hazem Al Beblawi (1937- ) is an economist and Sorbonne graduate. He was the Minister of Finance in the first Egyptian government following the overthrow of Mubarak. He is one of the founders of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party, which is affiliated with the National Salvation Front – an alliance of lay political parties.