Egyptians are bitterly divided and fighting in the streets after the Egyptian military overthrew the government of Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood on Wednesday night. Since Morsi and his cadre were sacked and placed under house arrest, violence has erupted in 17 geographical districts, causing nine deaths and leading to fears of a civil war reminiscent of Algeria’s in the 1990s, all Arab media outlets report.
The state-owned Egyptian newspaper Al-Ahram leads off by informing the world of the appointment by the military of a new interim president, Adly Mansour, the chief justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court. Mansour, a relatively unknown career bureaucrat, is considered someone not likely to stir up trouble with his military overseers. He and the military will rule Egypt indefinitely until new elections are held.
Now that the paper is under the auspices of a military regime, it should come as no surprise that Al-Ahram features numerous op-eds and editorials praising the ousting of Morsi.
“Praise be to God who gave Egypt back to us,” writes Essam Abdel Moneim. “The Egyptian people showed the world the largest peaceful demonstration in history. . . Morsi committed one mistake: a misreading of the people’s complete rejection of them. To restore the position of Egypt in the world, there must be a commitment on all sides to the (military’s) political roadmap, which, God willing, will give Egypt a real constitution and strong pillars of democracy.”
Editorialists in the Cairo-based daily Al-Masry Al-Youm completely agree with this sentiment. Responding to criticism that the overthrow of Morsi by the military is itself a repudiation of democracy, Amr Shobaky, a prominent journalist, explains that the military’s actions constitute a “soft coup” that will enable real democracy to take hold.
“This soft coup is different from anything the world has witnessed in the past century,” claims Shobaky. “The military is not expected to take the side of one political party over another. . . The army did not come to this situation for ideological reasons. It merely witnessed the unprecedented demonstrations by the people and knew the will of the people must be enforced.”
Time will tell if there are any grains of truth to this argument. However, what cannot be ignored is that tensions between the military and the Muslim Brotherhood were fraught since the latter came to power. Since Morsi dismissed Field General Mohammed Tantawi, the defense minister under former President Hosni Mubarak, he had been looked at with mistrust by the country’s military establishment, which receives approximately $1.2 billion in aid from the United States every year.
To many Muslim Brotherhood loyalists, Morsi’s overthrow was a conspiracy long in the works between Defense Minister Abdul Fatah al-Sisi and Egypt’s secular media establishment. The Doha-based media network Al-Jazeera states that if this perception continues to take hold, a large Islamist sector of the population will feel alienated by any new administration and may escalate violence against the new establishment.
“Abdul Fatah al-Sisi proved he is the head of Egypt and that the military is the only coherent operating institution in the country,” writes Abdel Bari Atwan, the outgoing editor-in-chief of the London-based Al-Quds Al-Arabi. “But he has also ensured that all who support the Muslim Brotherhood, which has existed for more than 90 years, will feel that the presidency has been unfairly stolen from it. The popularity of the Brotherhood cannot be underestimated. They will never see this coup as legal. If the Brotherhood leadership calls on its supporters to fight until the last drop of blood and the last martyr, Egypt can only expect the worst.”
It may be true that Morsi was a poor leader and politician during his one year as president. He stands accused by Abdul Rahman Al Rashed of the Saudi-owned A-Sharq Al-Awsat of having ridden the wave of revolutionary fever to office only to then alienate vast segments of the population responsible for that revolution. He tried to enshrine Muslim Brotherhood control across all aspects of government, install a constitution that a minority of Egyptians identified with, and failed to halt the economy’s freefall.
“Because of Morsi, the Brotherhood lost a great opportunity to rule Egypt,” Rashed states. “He proved that political Islam seeks to use democracy only to seize power only to bury the democratic dream later.”
But what happens now to the world’s largest Arab country is a question that sparks fear in those familiar with recent Middle East history. Will Egypt devolve into civil war between Islamists and a military-backed secular government, like Algeria did from 1992 to 2000, which resulted in the deaths of nearly 200,000 people?
“The current tensions in Egypt could lead to Egypt repeating the experience of Algeria, which ended in severe national tragedy,” a number of Algerian members of Parliament warn in an open letter to the Egyptian people, according to the Dubai-based media channel Al-Arabiya. “The shedding of blood of Egyptians under any pretext should be condemned out loud by everyone. Give priority to reason, logic, and adopt dialogue. There is no other way.”