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Egypt's Slide Towards Civil War

16/08/2013 13:57 BST | Updated 15/10/2013 10:12 BST

In an ideal world it would be easier to understand the horrific events that have and are taking place in Egypt as a military dictatorship, lacking popular support, acting to suppress pro-democracy protesters, representative of the will of the masses, on the way to murdering the country's fledgling democracy.

But this is not an ideal world and it's not what is presently unfolding.

For while the massacre of hundreds of protesters in Cairo by the army this past week is undoubtedly a crime, complicit in this crime are the millions of Egyptians who called for the military to intervene to oust Mohammed Morsi from office in late June-early July. Moreover, many of those anti-Morsi voices are now either tacitly or explicitly lending their support to the army's use of lethal force to disperse the protest camps which the Muslim Brotherhood and pro-Morsi demonstrators had set up demanding his reinstatement.

What we are seeing unfold under a hail of bullets is the consequence of a mass opposition to Morsi and the Brotherhood back in June which lacked cohesion, unity, and leadership. Relying on the generals to provide this cohesion, unity, and leadership was always a direction of travel pregnant with danger and risk. Emboldened by the support it enjoys from a large section of the Egyptian people, those dangers and risks have come to pass, ensuring that Egyptian society is now more fractured and polarised than at any other time in its history.

Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood bear their share of responsibility for the calamitous outcome to the nation's first experiment with democracy. Soon after coming to power in 2012, on 51 percent of the vote, Morsi voiced his support for the drafting of a new constitution which while protecting civil rights would also enshrine Islamic law. In November 2012 he issued a decree effectively granting him immunity from judicial oversight while the new Constitution was in the process of being drafted by the nation's newly formed Constituent Assembly. He had also moved against the military leadership, ousting the head of the armed forces, Mohamed Tantawi, and the Army Chief of Staff, Sami Hafez Anan, to resign. These were Mubarak-era appointees, close to the previous regime, as were the judges sitting on Egypt's Supreme Constitutional Court.

Morsi's mistake was in attempting to challenge their power and privileges by granting himself more power and privileges - this in a society in which a large educated middle class remained suspicious of the Muslim Brotherhood and its intentions in the wake of Morsi's election. This suspicion was only heightened by the chaos and carnage that had visited Libya and Syria, where Islamist extremists were running rampant. The fact that Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt had made no secret of their support for medievalist jihadists in Syria, despite their barbaric methods, sent alarm bells ringing throughout secular Egyptian society and the country's military leadership, which feared the prospect of home grown jihadists embroiling Egypt in the same kind of chaos.

More importantly for an increasing number of Egyptians, the nation's economy was in freefall with no recovery in sight - though this was largely due to circumstances beyond Morsi's control, with the IMF playing a particularly onerous role in this respect.

It is significant that just as many if not more people came out against the first democratically-elected president than had come out against the dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. It is significant but by no means justification for the murderous policy deployed by the generals since Morsi was forcibly removed from office.

The army in Egypt has long been a major economic and political institution in its own right, with interests distinct from those of the nation at large. It controls anywhere from 10 to 40 percent of the Egyptian economy and has for decades run via those undeclared economic interests and investments a de facto state within a state. It is particularly reliant on an annual subvention from the US of $1.3 billion, making it questionable that it moved to suppress the Brotherhood without the prior approval of its paymasters in Washington, which at time of writing has expressed its 'concern' at the slaughter of hundreds of Egyptians.

What is beyond doubt is that a military junta is now firmly in place in Cairo. Any renewal of democracy in the country - increasingly unlikely given the war unleashed on the MB and its supporters - will be a sham while the power of the generals remains entrenched. The millions who called for the army's intervention got their wish and may well be looking at paying a heavy price in the shape of civil war and/or transition back to the future in the form of government by diktat.

As the man said, 'If you don't have your own strategy, you're part of someone else's strategy'.

The choice in Egypt between a military junta and Sunni Islamist government that supports medieval beasts who cut off people's heads for sport throughout the region is an awful one to contemplate. Secularism and Sunni Islamism is increasingly embraced in a struggle to the death in a part of the world in which sectarian fault lines have burst asunder in the wake of the Arab Spring.

Reverting back to that ideal world already mentioned, it would be nice to believe that, appalled by the violence unleashed, the masses would return to the streets in solidarity with their fellow Egyptians who're currently being gunned down in cold blood. The prospect of this happening, however, is near zero. The Muslim Brotherhood is viewed by a large swathe of the Egyptian people as the enemy within, with the military's brutal methods supported by them on that basis.

They should be careful what they wish for.