Sunday,23 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)
Sunday,23 September, 2018
Issue 1244, (30 April - 6 May 2015)

Ahram Weekly

Commentary: Flying in the face of fact

Amr El-Shobaki explains why political reconciliation is a non-starter

Al-Ahram Weekly

There are regular calls for reconciliation in Egypt, though they often appear to be voiced in a vacuum, paying little, if any, attention to the political context.

The simple fact is the conditions for reconciliation do not exist. This is not only because the parties concerned are not interested in reconciling but a result, too, of the dispute being between two ideas or projects that have long shown themselves irreconcilable. For any “reconciliation” project to succeed, it would have to begin with a declaration of faith in one or the other of two projects — either the nation state or an Islamist/Muslim Brotherhood dispensation.

If the Muslim Brothers succeed in dismantling the state Egypt will turn into another Libya, Iraq or Yemen. If the state succeeds in imposing its conditions on the Muslim Brotherhood then Egypt will repeat the Tunisian, Turkish or Moroccan experiences where the Islamists remain part of the political process but only after the state managed — with great difficulty — to force them to conform.

The Achilles heel of any reconciliation project in Egypt is that the aims of the Muslim Brotherhood have not changed. It remains bent on destroying the nation state, its tactic being to undermine, subdue and finally bend the state in the interests of the Muslim Brotherhood and its Islamist project. As long as the Muslim Brotherhood’s discourse remains rooted in this paradigm there can be no hope for reconciliation.

The Muslim Brotherhood does not criticise and argue against policies like an opposition party, it agitates and incites. Virtually every day it issues a new call for destruction and sabotage, indifferent to the needs and aspirations of the Egyptian people.

Whether it is an economic conference, an Arab summit or negotiations to resolve the dispute over the Renaissance Dam the Muslim Brothers rail against it and do their best to undermine it. They pray for a ground offensive in Yemen in the hope that Egyptian soldiers die and the president fails. They have taken to cheering the defeat of the Egyptian national football team and extract a macabre delight in natural disasters which they cite as proof of the regime’s failure.

There are those, in government and in the media, who feed polarisation and thrive on issuing constant reminders of Muslim Brotherhood peril. It is, after all, a useful tactic to divert attention from poor performance, negligence and corruption. They promote image over substance. But this does not negate the fact that political reconciliation is not possible at present.

Muslim Brothers do not want to participate in the political process not because of its flaws and deficiencies but because they reject the process in its entirety. What happened in Egypt in the summer of 2013 was a military coup, they claim. The group refuses to accept a vast majority of Egyptians supported both the mass demonstrations of 30 June and the declaration of a new roadmap on 3 July.

Reconciliation, of course, cannot include political forces that took up arms and engaged in incitement to violence. It is being urged on society by a minority that opposed the intervention of the army on 3 July and believes it could have been avoided. This camp includes some youth coalitions, civil forces and a small but influential segment of democratic and liberal public opinion. It also includes some who sympathise with the Islamist discourse and are influenced by Muslim Brotherhood claims. These people are not members of the Muslim Brotherhood but people with whom you daily interact. They account for between 15 and 20 per cent of the population — some place the figure as high as 25 per cent — and can best be described as opponents to the current process. Some harbour resentments and bitterness due to having lost a relative or friend in confrontations with security forces.

 On the other side stand the vast majority of the Egyptian people who support the post-30 June process and believe that one of the major achievements of President Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi is to have put an end to Muslim Brotherhood rule. Contrary to the Muslim Brotherhood portrayal of him as a coup-commander, they see Al-Sisi as the man who saved the people from Brotherhood tyranny. Many in this camp lost friends or relatives who were members of the police or army and for whose deaths they blame the Muslim Brotherhood and its supporters.

Regardless of which side we sympathise with, it is impossible to deny that Egyptian society is divided, not just at the level of its elites, as is generally the case, but at the level of large segments of ordinary people. This unprecedented and unfamiliar phenomenon poses a threat to the future of the country and undermines opportunities for economic and political development.

As long as the Muslim Brothers continue to depict massive opposition to their rule as a military coup and refuse to acknowledge that millions of people took to the streets on 30 June to protest against them, and these same people welcomed the army’s intervention to end Brotherhood rule because this was the only alternative to civil war, then any discussion of reconciliation is redundant.

There can be no reconciliation with a group that continues to reject the very basis upon which the system of government of the country is built.

Muslim Brothers in Libya opted to destroy the remnants of the Libyan state and, through Libya Dawn and other militias, are working to prevent it being rebuilt. In Egypt they shroud their opposition to the very concept of the nation state in rhetoric about the purging of institutions and the legitimacy of revolution. What irony. Throughout its history the conservative and reactionary Muslim Brotherhood always rejected the concept of revolution. It became a “revolutionary” group only after it was removed from power. This cynical positioning, too, makes any discussion of reconciliation a non-starter.

Unfortunately, the rhetoric of rejection and incitement finds fertile ground in Egypt. The main reason for this is the lack of any engagement with the root causes of political and social alienation. There are many angry and frustrated young people. Some have turned to violence, some to adolescent revolution, yet others to political apathy and hatred of politicians. Yet many of these people would be willing to take part in the political process in an environment that was open to peaceful political activity. It is with these people that we need to begin a process of reconciliation, and in doing so bolster political participation and strengthen Egypt’s democratic course.

The writer is a political analyst in Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies and a former MP.

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