Egypt’s defense minister has warned that continuing political conflict could lead to “the collapse of the state.”
“In an apparent rebuke to Mohamed Morsi, the Islamist president, and his liberal and leftist opponents,…General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi, who is also the armed forces commander, said the political, economic and social challenges facing the country represented a ‘danger to Egyptian security and the cohesion of the Egyptians’ state if they remained unresolved by ‘all sides,’” the FT reports:
Diplomats and analysts say the military is not seeking a return to power, and that senior officers such as Mr Sissi consider that the institution’s reputation had taken a battering as a result of its involvement in politics. The army, they argue, does not want to rule as long as civilian authorities can maintain stability, leaving the military to focus on its defence duties and vast economic interests.
Sissi’s statements were “well within the boundaries of how the army understands its role.” said Michael Wahid Hanna, an analyst with the Century Foundation.
“This is a warning that the army is losing patience, not that they want to intervene,” he said. “The question now is whether Morsi and the Brotherhood understand the limitations of their own power. The army still has weight.”
The leading opposition groups comprising the National Salvation Front have rejected Morsi’s calls for dialogue and have demanded a national unity government and a politically diverse, representative committee to amend the Islamist-drafted constitution.
“The opposition is trying to push to get as much as it can,” said Egyptian political analyst Mazen Hassan. “But I think they might just miss the point where it is most suitable to stop and collect the prize of the pressure they are exerting because if the violence continues and they still insist on not participating in dialogue this might backfire against them as people see they are the ones not really willing to cooperate.”
But some observers believe the opposition is not leading but following political developments on the ground.
The front “takes its cues from the street activists, not the other way around,” said Hani Sabra, a Middle East analyst at the New York-based Eurasia Group.
Opposition leaders like Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei “fear that meeting with Mursi would compromise their support at the street level,” he said. “The rift in Egyptian politics is likely to continue to widen and the likelihood of more explosive violence has increased.”
Morsi is responsible for the bloodshed over recent days because he is pursuing the same repressive policies as deposed former President Hosni Mubarak, said Amr Hamzawy, the head of the Freedom Egypt Party and a leader of the National Salvation Front.
“The events since last Friday demonstrate that the current regime uses the same tactics as the Mubarak regime,” Hamzawy told A-Sharq Al-Awsat, “with suppression of the people and the opposition, instead of opening up to the demands of the people and engaging them in serious dialogue.”
The Obama administration said that recent events demonstrate that Egypt is on “a difficult path’ towards democracy.
“We have engaged directly with the Egyptian government as they move forward on the difficult path towards greater democracy and rule of law, and we will continue to do so,” White House spokesman Jay Carney said Monday. “There needs to be a lasting solution to the conflict that we see in Egypt and it has to be a solution that adheres to the rights of all Egyptians.
While many secular Egyptian activists believe the US is bolstering Morsi’s Muslim Brotherhood, other observers suggest that Washington has no other option but to engage the authorities in Cairo, whichever party is in power.
“This is the kind of group that will be a pain to deal with for the United States, but it’s not al-Qaida; it’s not a security threat,” said Nathan Brown, a professor at George Washington University. “The biggest fear on the part of the (Obama) administration is a political breakdown in Egypt. They are worried that a collapse in the Egyptian state would be destabilizing on the region, and might allow the flow of arms and fighters among more radical movements in the region.”
The recent revelation of virulently anti-Semitic comments made by Morsi reportedly shocked U.S. officials, and legislators on Capitol Hill have expressed their reluctance to approve a $1 billion aid package for Cairo.
“How would the American people feel about cutting money to education programs here and giving money to a government that is anti-Semitic?” said Rep. Frank Wolf, R-Va., a member of the House Appropriations subcommittee that oversees funding to foreign governments.
“I don’t think the administration has any right to say they are going to grant this foreign aid because I think this Congress may very well condition it,” Wolf said. “I think there are a lot of questions, and I don’t think it’s a given.”
A day after Morsi declared a state of emergency in three violence-stricken provinces, the country’s largest opposition bloc declared that it would not participate in a national dialogue to discuss a unified response to the unrest, the Project on Middle East Democracy reports:
Mohamed El Baradei, a leading member of the National Salvation Front, stated Monday, ”The dialogue to which the president invited us is to do with form and not content,” echoing the sentiment among opposition members that dialogue with Morsi’s government would not produce serious compromise. National Salvation Front leaders insist that President Morsi must first name a commission to amend the country’s controversial constitution and appoint a national unity government before talks can be held.
”We support any dialogue if it has a clear agenda that can shepherd the nation to the shores of safety,” El Baradei said.
Egypt is becoming increasingly polarized under the Brotherhood’s leadership, in large part due to the newly adopted constitution, says political scientist Amar Ali Hassan.
“Before the revolution, to openly speak in a derogatory fashion about the Muslim Brotherhood or the Salafis was simply not accepted by the population, as this was the equivalent of insulting Islam,” he tells Qantara.de.
“Things have since changed radically. People in the cafés and out on the squares are explicitly demanding that intellectuals now criticize them,” he says. “They want us to uncover scandals and expose propaganda. This used to be unthinkable. Such demands have only been voiced since the Muslim Brotherhood has been in power.”