A week ago, when officials rejected international calls for dialogue and said the time had come to clear the protest camps, western reporters said the technique would probably be to cut off water, power and food supplies and besiege them into gradual submission. Little did they realise the cruelty that the military and security establishment would resort to.
The tragedy is made worse by the support given to military repression by thousands of secular Egyptians, many of whom call themselves liberal and progressive. Some have been bamboozled by the government media's propaganda onslaught, which turns reality on its head by claiming the Muslim Brotherhood is a bunch of terrorists who are planning to overthrow the state.
They seem to have forgotten that Mohamed Morsi was elected president by millions of people in a free vote. Some are infected by years of anti-Islamist articles and imagery in school textbooks and the media over the decades since the Brotherhood was first banned. Morsi's rhetoric was often crudely partisan but his actions were not so one‑sided or narrow, given that he tried to appease the military by appointing several Mubarak-era technocrats to his cabinet.
Yet secular Egyptians' support for the military coup is not as surprising as it may at first seem. Ahmed Shafik, whom Morsi defeated in last year's presidential election, was an air force commander and Mubarak's last prime minister. He received more than 48% of the vote, a figure he could not have reached if a huge number of liberal secular and middle-class Egyptians had not thought a one-time Mubarak crony had a safer pair of hands than an Islamist.
Subsequent events have only helped the army. It held the balance of power. For a time Morsi hoped to push the generals away from politics by promising not to undermine their economic privileges and control of state assets. But some time last autumn and winter the army and interior ministry switched sides, deciding to go with the secular forces and use them to help destroy the Islamists. After all, this has been the army's traditional position ever since Nasser's time.
The coup was well-planned. Fuel was artificially held back so as to create shortages and dissatisfaction with Brotherhood rule. The old state-controlled unions mounted public sector strikes that further sabotaged the economy and annoyed people. Police-controlled thugs who had been used against the Tahrir Square demonstrations in 2011 came back into action. The scene was set for the mass protests throughout June that triggered the army's direct intervention – though the numbers have been wildly exaggerated.
Since the plan to mount a coup and destroy the Brotherhood has been prepared for months, those who call for dialogue risk seeming naive. Appeals for "restraint on all sides", as though the distribution of power is roughly equal, are also futile. The Brotherhood still has millions of supporters, but they have been traumatised and intimidated by last week's massacres. The army has shown it holds overwhelming power.
Can the outside world do anything to bring Egypt back to civilian rule and some degree of pluralistic politics in which elections, and their results, are respected? Lecturing, or quiet words in diplomatic ears, will achieve nothing. Washington's will for genuine democracy in Egypt is highly questionable. It was taken aback by the anti-Mubarak protests in 2011 and hesitated for days before persuading General Hussein Tantawi, the top military man of the time, to tell Mubarak to resign. It supported Morsi's removal after the event (and perhaps in advance), claiming the army is "restoring democracy" in John Kerry's phrase.
If Washington seriously favoured constitutional rule in Egypt, it would have to outline clear steps the army must take: release Morsi and his colleagues, reopen the Brotherhood's television and radio outlets, and announce elections for the presidency, parliament and a constituent assembly to be held no later than October – in which the Brotherhood's party could take part.
Firm pressure is needed if such steps are to have even a slight chance of being taken. Obama would have to suspend all military aid to Egypt immediately, and threaten travel bans and an asset freeze on the coup leaders if they did not act within a week.
But Washington's influence is as limited as its will, and to outline policy recommendations of this kind only shows their unreality.
If Egypt is to avoid a return to entrenched dictatorship, its own people will have to find solutions. A handful of prominent secular figures came out to criticise the army last week. The Salafist al-Nour party, which initially supported the coup, has also changed tack. So have the progressives in the 6 April movement, which started the February 2011 uprising. A few even took part in the Brotherhood's sit-ins that the army has just smashed so viciously.
Now all these voices need to make common cause with the Brotherhood and create a democratic umbrella group that campaigns for a return to civilian rule – if necessary by mounting new street protests. Otherwise, once it has finished with the Islamists, the army will turn on any secular forces that call for freedom and social justice, just as it did in the Mubarak years.Source: The Guardian