Egypt took one step forward on the military-backed post-revolutionary roadmap this week following the unsurprising approval of a controversial constitution. But this sentence could very well have been written in March 2011 or December 2012, and if the past is any indication of the future, we may be seeing it again soon following the collapse of the “third republic.” So while it may have been one step forward, we are now waiting for the inevitable two steps back.
Egypt today is arguably more divided than at any time since the January 25 revolution. To look at the news coverage in the country, with reports of car bombings and Al-Qaeda affiliates, Egypt more closely resembles Iraq or Syria than itself before the revolution. At least 14 people were reported killed and 444 arrested over the two-day constitutional referendum despite, or perhaps because of, the huge security presence. This is just part of a larger trend of Egypt’s new decision-makers stamping their authority on the country by literally stamping all over the former rulers. The only difference is that this time it is the military that is once more in power, while the faloul —the remnants of the former regime—are the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt’s military-backed interim government has taken a number of calculated decisions following former President Mohamed Mursi’s ouster on July 3, 2013—variously described as a military coup or a second or “corrective” revolution—to secure its grip on power. But lately, power in Egypt is more like a wet bar of soap—the tighter you hold it, the faster it will slip from your grasp. That is a lesson the Muslim Brotherhood and Mursi failed to learn. Will Egypt’s interim government and its popular defense minister, Gen. Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi, do any better?
From initial indications, it appears not. A spate of attacks targeting the security apparatus, most prominently the suicide bombing of a Mansoura police station on Christmas Eve, killing at least 14, was immediately followed by the military-backed interim government taking the—at best suspect and at worst unconstitutional—decision to unilaterally designate the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization before investigations could be launched and trials held. What cannot be denied is that if the Brotherhood weren’t terrorists before the announcement, they have no reason to follow the path of peaceful protests now that they have been further marginalized. This decision has served to divide, not unify, post-Mursi Egypt, and it was decision-making similar to this that ultimately led to Mursi’s downfall.
There is also the controversial constitution itself, which greatly expands the army’s role in Egypt. The new constitution permits military trials for civilians while also placing the post of Defense Minister outside civilian control for the next eight years, so that in very real terms the question of a Sisi presidential bid are moot. Whether Sisi takes the throne or remains the power behind it, Egypt has now entered the Sisi era.
Sisi-mania has become a sideshow in Egypt, with more and more Egyptians viewing a Sisi presidency as the answer to their prayers. Reality, unfortunately, does not work this way. In a post-revolutionary situation as complex as Egypt’s, no one man, or even one party, can fix everything, and this is why the military’s divisive policies are so dangerous at this critical juncture. As for Sisi himself, he appears charismatic and earnest, particularly when compared with the chaos and political ineptitude that governed the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule. Nevertheless, this is no guarantee of success. Questions have also been raised about this career soldier’s political prowess following a number of leaked videos and audio recordings. These range from him blithely talking about a secret military plan to get Egypt’s media on side to prophetic dream conversations with the late former president Anwar Sadat.
With many expecting Sisi to announce a presidential run any day now, the question remains: Is Sisi the solution? While ‘President Sisi’ could be no worse than President Mursi, and even if the man meets the Egyptian people’s wildest dreams, the next phase will be rife with challenges. The once-again ‘terrorist’ Muslim Brotherhood organization does not intend to return to the shadows quietly. The Cairo government may be able to lock up their leaders—including Mohamed Badie, Khairat El-Shater and Mohamed El-Beltagy—and threaten their supporters, but the people in post-revolution Egypt will not be so easily cowed. In fact, this could ultimately serve to inject new blood into the Brotherhood leadership, with politically savvy younger leaders taking over the mantle.
As for the military, it will continue to try to strengthen its position in post-Mursi Egypt. It is facing a number of difficult challenges, not least restoring calm to the restive Sinai Peninsula. But fighting a war on terror while also trying to kill off the Muslim Brotherhood and secure their grip on Egypt’s state institutions will be a far more difficult juggling act.
We have taken our one step forward this week with the approval of the constitution. Will Egypt’s post-Mursi authorities be able to keep going?
This article was originally published here.