Thursday, June 13, 2024

Egypt in and out of the comfort zone

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By Peter Knoope.

The news coming out of Egypt these days seems to be discomforting all of us. Whatever side one is on, the events seem are troubling and worrying almost everybody. The US is debating whether it should stop its military assistance, the EU is calling for a negotiated settlement of the dispute, neighbouring states are worried about potential spill over and last but not least the Egyptian population wants stability and progress for their troubled country. But the crisis continues as we speak. Some forces keep the momentum going. Once the chain of events is set in motion there are always forces to keep that chain moving forward. This is partly due to the incapacity to control human need for revenge, but also because there are always some actors that stand to benefit from the crisis. So the question is who is the winner? Who profits from the political and humanitarian crisis?

Some would claim that the Egyptian Muslim brotherhood has, over the years, adopted the colour and characteristics that are inherently connected to their real position in the Egyptian political environment: the underdog, the eternal opposition, the forbidden lot. Just like the camouflage of a chameleon, the organisation has adopted the colours that best suited its position in the Egyptian landscape. When voted into power in Egypt, the brotherhood had the advantage of being well-organised and well-rooted in Egyptian society. Sure, it also attracted those who opposed and those who protested it. A serious question therefore is whether the long history of being in opposition and an outsider position goes well with the requirements of leading a nation and governing the state machinery.

There is much to be said about the quality of governance under the short but turbulent rule of the brotherhood in Egypt. Allow me to be brief on this topic but let me just remind the reader of the discomfort of almost all parties in Egypt with the way the country was run during that period. Salafists, Christians and other minorities were as unhappy as the majority of Egyptians in the cities. The way the brotherhood handled international non-governmental organisations is probably indicative of the way they managed the country: inexperienced and with little knowledge of the concept of inclusiveness as a basis for democratic leadership. What else could one expect from the traditional outsider and underdog?

Recent weeks have shown the revival of the brotherhood as the underdog. Is this the brotherhood returning to their comfort zone? Nothing can justify the mass violence by the army against citizens of Egypt. I hardly think that someone can claim that the violence against demonstrators was proportionate in light of what Morsi’s followers were up to. But fact is that it catapults them back into the position that they had grown accustomed to. The Egyptian army claims that the violence was provoked by demonstrators. We saw the footage to proof it. At least some of it is true. The brotherhood certainly has some soul searching to do – were they really at ease in the position of the ruling party? Apparently very few others were.

Now we all wonder what will be next. We may very well see a coalition emerging with that other eternal outsider and underdog. Al Qaeda will be more than pleased to align itself now that that position becomes more evident. They are the other champion of turning a loss into a victory, where a corps is a martyr, where a lost child is defined as eternal fame is waiting to step in. They may very well build on present frustrations, exploit the chaos and power vacuum, and profit from the current state of affairs to recruit and gain a position that they had not been able to gain for a long time in Egypt.

And that scenario will bring everybody out of the comfort zone; not only Egyptians but also many others. In other words what is taking place in Egypt is a major headache for the US, EU, neighbouring states and many Egyptians. It may have brought just one actor back into its comfort zone but is has produced frowns and discomfort to all others.

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