Thursday,19 October, 2017
Current issue | Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013
Thursday,19 October, 2017
Issue 1143, 11 - 17 April 2013

Ahram Weekly

Meltdown

Egypt and the Muslim Brotherhood: a failed state and an imploding regime. Or is it just the latter, asks Dina Ezzat

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Al-Ahram Weekly

Mariam, a 29-year-old civil servant, walked for two hours with her husband Emad and daughters Dalia and Dina to reach the Coptic Cathedral in Abbasiya as news spread about violent attacks against mourners attending the funeral mass of four Copts killed during sectarian clashes in Khosous. “I was afraid that the Cathedral would be burned,” Mariam said.
For Mariam and her husband the “attack on the Cathedral is the most horrifying of all the incidents of discrimination that Copts have faced recently”. “It is different from attacks against individual churches. The Cathedral is a symbol of all Egypt’s Copts. It is they who were being attacked.”
Many activists see Sunday’s violence as an extension of anti-Coptic sentiment which has been growing since the final years of ousted president Hosni Mubarak’s rule.
“The 25 January Revolution contained the hope that we could overcome sectarianism. Sadly that hope proved short-lived. It soon became clear there remains an absence of true acceptance between Egypt’s Muslims and Copts,” says activist Rami Kamil. Eyewitness accounts of how the attacks started vary.
Anti-riot police officers on duty claim the attacks were a “spontaneous” reaction from Muslim residents of Abbasiya outraged by the “harsh and vile” language used by some of the mourners as they grieved the death of relatives killed during sectarian clashes at Khosous. It is an account local residents, both Muslim and Copts, dispute. They say the anti-riot police themselves attacked protesters as they chanted anti-police slogans, accusing security forces of failing to protect the dead. “They were very angry and they were shouting down with the killers, down with the police and down with the terrorists. At that point anti-riot police started to attack them with tear gas,” says Mustafa, an eyewitness to Sunday’s violence. According to Amer, another eyewitness, once the mourners retreated inside the Cathedral compound they became a target for home-made explosives that were thrown into the Cathedral grounds. “The people doing the throwing were constantly talking to senior police officers on the scene. After a while those inside the Cathedral began to throw rocks back.”
A source at the office of Pope Tawadros II says the pope made endless calls to senior officials pleading for the violence to be contained. Eventually he managed to get through to the minister of defence who told him that should the police fail to protect the Cathedral the army, in line with its constitutional duties, would do so. Police subsequently cleared a zone around the Cathedral but small areas were still given over to violence in which heavily armed police in civilian dress were visibly taking part. Following a phone call between President Mohamed Morsi and Pope Tawadros II, these “pockets” were gradually eliminated. By dawn on Monday silence had fallen over Ramses Street. But anger remained among Copts. A visibly shaken Tawadros II told the press on Tuesday morning that he was dismayed at the government’s performance and its failure to prevent the violence. He said Sunday’s events may well mark a new phase of organised anti-Coptic sentiment and asked for the state to adopt “credible and prompt measures” to remedy the sense of grief and anger among Copts. But will it?
“We have been inundated with queries and protests from key Western capitals on the matter but we have not been issued any orders to accommodate Coptic outrage,” said one concerned government official. The Cathedral attack began to unfold as Morsi was meeting in Cairo with an already apprehensive Catherine Ashton, the European Union’s foreign policy chief. According to Cairo-based European diplomats and presidential palace sources, Ashton was forthright in her criticism of the failure to address the concerns of Egypt’s Copts. She also outlined the constraints on any future European economic assistance to Egypt, not least the outcry among European parliamentarians and rights groups over perceived shortcomings in the Egyptian government’s protection of basic rights. Ashton also discussed with Morsi the continued failure to open meaningful channels of communication between the presidency, the opposition and civil society. The week was replete with examples of this failure. It began with tensions between the presidency and Al-Azhar. These surfaced after Morsi visited a group of Al-Azhar University students hospitalised following a bout of food poisoning after they ate in one of the university hostels. Following Morsi’s visit demonstrations erupted both in support of, and against, the sheikh of Al-Azhar.
According to Ahmed Al-Bahi, a preacher at one of Alexandria’s mosques, the grand imam of Al-Azhar is “being deliberately targeted by the Muslim Brotherhood”.
“The Brotherhood wants to get rid of him and assign a new imam who will tow their line rather than the wider and more tolerant Islam promoted by Al-Azhar.” Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood regime he heads, Al-Bahi continued, are determined to control all mosques and Islamic endowments through a new draft law currently being examined by the Shura Council which will allow them to dismiss anyone perceived by the ruling group as dissenting from its views. “We have always said that Al-Azhar needs to be independent from the state. Now we are seeing an unprecedented attempt by the state, under the Muslim Brotherhood, to control Al-Azhar and all other outlets of Islamic daawa [preaching].” Escalating tension between the presidency on the one hand, and both the Coptic Church and Al-Azhar on the other, is compounding an already confused political scene. It serves to further underline Morsi’s failure to keep repeated promises, made to Ashton this week in Cairo and to US Secretary of State John Kerry last month, to reach out to the opposition. The week also witnessed new confrontations between the Morsi regime and its political opponents. Anti-riot police clashed with demonstrators from the 6 April Movement as they headed towards the office of the Prosecutor-General Talaat Abdallah, appointed by Morsi last autumn in an extra-judicial manner that prompted anger from across the political spectrum. Perhaps more worrying still is the deteriorating economy. Egypt is in desperate need of financial aid, and it must secure it within a matter of weeks.
Egyptian and foreign diplomats in Cairo say that Washington, fearing any further descent into chaos, is pressing the International Monterey Fund to agree a loan deal that would see some desperately needed cash flow into Cairo’s almost empty coffers. Government officials admit that should additional funding not be secured by mid-June, Egypt may well be on the way to becoming a failed state, leaving Morsi’s regime on the brink of collapse. Manar El-Shorbagui, professor of political science at the American University in Cairo (AUC), is convinced that whatever rescue mechanism Washington offers Cairo will be tailored to prevent Egypt from turning into a failed state rather than underwrite Muslim Brotherhood rule. It may well shore up Morsi, says Al-Shorbagui, but from an American perspective “the administration cannot allow Egypt to fall.” Commentator Gamal Abdel-Gawwad does not view the failure of either the state or regime as inevitable — yet.
“There is still room for a change of policies that could maintain both,” he says. But in the absence of major policy shifts a “change of power” may well become unavoidable — though this is likely to be arranged so as not to directly challenge the status of an elected president but introduce new players to the political administration of the state, “maybe even the army”. AUC political science professor Rabab Al-Mahdi believes a possibility still exists to force a change in policies without resort to undemocratic means. “The failure of both the regime and opposition could be circumvented by revolutionary forces,” suggests Al-Mahdi. “Pressure could be brought through syndicates, student unions and eventually, if they happen, through parliamentary elections.”
Demonstrations and the electoral process, argues Al-Mahdi, are not mutually exclusive, and could force a U-turn from the regime. Egypt becoming a failed state may not be around the next corner, warns Abdel-Gawwad, “but it is something that we should be really worried about”.

 

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