While there is certainly a need to examine the concepts that got the US administration to handle the post – Mubarak Egypt the way it did, I believe the urgent issue now is to help navigate this country to stability through a peaceful transitional process. The US is in fact trying intensively at this moment to do just that.
But what are the chances for a wave of terrorist activities hitting Egypt in the next few years and affecting its journey to stability?
It may appear in the surface that the military coup – or sort of – is responsible for any terrorist actions that may take place. But such proposition is superficial. The armed groups that carried Morsi’s picture and appeared hours after his departure were already there before he was forced out of the presidential place. The Muslem Brotherhood (MB) had its own militia all along. This militia manifested its force last December when it used lethal force to end a protest of the opposition in front of Alittahadia palace where the president of Egypt is seated. Lines of MBs moving in an organized way stormed the square facing the palace and left several protesters dead and ended the protest then they vanished.
Military and police posts in Sinai were attacked on regular bases during Morsi’s reign and many soldiers were killed or kidnaped. Many die-hard prominent terrorist figures were pardoned by the president and released from prison after they gave “their word” that they will not resort to terrorism. They left to their home towns in Upper Egypt which later witnessed some remarkable armed violence when Morsi was toppled.
But the dynamics of what happened since Mubarak was overthrown should be re-examined on light of what happened in the first week of this July.The equation the MBs drew for Egypt seemed for a moment to be a win-win deal. The silent understanding between the Mbs and its Islamic allies was that Egypt will be “Islamized” democratically. If not some other means could be used.
Terror is not an end in itself for these groups. The rule of Shari’a is. The MBs were given a chance to reach that end. If it fails, arms will talk. ( (in fact, terrorism is not the first tactic of the group, it is just the second).
But what happened in the post Mubarak Egypt was, however, a positive step in a way. To include the MBs into the political process could have been a positive development. But what followed was a series of terrible errors. It was crucial to guarantee that the MBs once allowed into the political theater, will not have a free hand in “Islamizing” Egypt. There was a need to “force” them to play politics through a balanced constitution and relentless follow up with the MBs leadership in every step they take. Time was needed until the political game in Egypt deepens its roots and creates its set of mind, intrinsic forces and logic and really becomes a way of life. By giving the MBs a near “carte blanche”, and by believing their double explanation for every step they take and mismanaging the first military transition (including the catastrophic constitution), it was obvious that the country would certainly slide to a big crisis. That was even more obvious with the MBs clash with the judiciary, the opposition, the military and everybody else. Furthermore, this “carte blanche” shortened the life of the MBs in the political process. A longer stay would have been inevitably reflected within the organization in different levels.
Therefore, what followed the overthrow of Mubarak witnessed two parallel factors playing out when it comes to the MBS. One was its historical roots in terrorism which was used when needed. The second was its new role as a political force. It was necessary to prolong this role so far as it does not move them as fast as they wished to create what Hassan Albana specified as the ultimate goal of the organization.
This careful “risk” necessitated to slow as much as possible the MBs march towards this goal. It was as important to the MBs themselves as it was to Egypt, the Middle East and the World. Instead, they were almost given a free ride. The stubbornness of Morsi in his last days was a direct result of the arrogance of power and the inner calculation of the organization as a whole. If you are not used to be restrained and have limits, it is hard to teach you in few days.
Now, these mistakes should be corrected. Every possible way should be tried to convince the MBs to remain in the political process the way it is set right noe, i.e. without carte blanch. To achieve that they should be convinced with what is obvious to everybody else, that what happened was in fact a result of their own mistakes not of the inutility of the political process. The objective should be to put them in the mood of “self-criticism” and to build a process that is solid enough (based on a constitution that is balanced) to prevent their rush to grap every aspect of the countries life if they govern again.
But even that will provide no guarantee that Egypt will not suffer a wave of terrorism. If that happens, it will be important to list the population to confront the terrorists and that depends on educating the population to isolate the fanatics even more, so they feel that violence is a net loss. The current starting point has promising element: the fanatics have been tremendously isolated and lost a considerable part of their base. They are trying now to impose a distracting “point final”, that is to keep talking about the “coup” against a legitimately elected president, not the huge public protest against this president. This will not fly with the population unless the economic hardship continues. It is crucial that the population feels “the difference” after Morsi’s departure.
However, Egypt will definitely suffer of terrorist attacks in the next couple of years. The point here is to minimize that and isolate it by the Egyptian population before anybody else. I saw the wave of violence in the 90’s and I know that there was a portion of the population sympathizing with the terrorists, particularly in Upper Egypt.
As I do not accept the naïve assumptions that the MBs condemned terrorism as a matter of principle (and I may write to prove that beyond any reasonable doubt in another occasion), as I believe the Egyptian authorities unwillingly helped the expansion of Jama’a Islamiyeh and Jihad in the 90s with their crude tactics and with adopting only security measures in that confrontation.
There is still time to prepare the Egyptian security forces, the media and the relevant ministers to refine their ways and get ready to contain any threat. One important factor is that the security forces should learn how to respect the role of law during its campaign and that security measures do not lead to structural changes in a political balance. For those who may rush to condemn the military because of the “coup” I will just say that the military intervention stopped Egypt from sliding to a certain civil war. The alternative to civil war might be some terrorist acts. You choose what you prefer.