Egypt is currently caught in a downward spiral of political violence and propaganda, but there is hope for a better development in the long run. That is the analysis of Egypt expert Koert Debeuf, who believes that the economic realities may be what eventually force a proper dialogue.
Following the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi and the subsequent crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, the country has seen a string of violence. Over 1,000 people, mostly pro-Morsi protesters, have been killed in clashes with security forces over the past months.
This week saw several attacks on security forces and an attack by rocket propelled grenades (RPG) on a satellite station in Cairo, indicating that Islamist radicals, feeling that their dream of an Islamic state in Egypt has been shattered, are increasingly resorting to acts of violence.
The RPG terrorist attack was claimed by the previously little-known al-Furqan Brigade, and it happened right in Koert Debeuf’s backyard. Debeuf represents the liberal Alde group of the European Parliament, in the Arab world.
“It was 4 a.m., so I didn’t even hear it. I slept through it,” Debeuf said. No one was injured in the attack, but what the event signals may be more disturbing, according to Debeuf.
“[The al-Furqan Brigade] used the same channel as Islamic State of Iraq, so there is definitely an al-Qaeda connection, which is a bit frightening,” he said.
Militants have been operating on the Sinai Peninsula for quite some time, but that they are now striking targets in Cairo is indicative of the declining political climate in Egypt. Debeuf said that he didn’t see this development coming in early July, as he was still thinking that the army “would be smart enough to talk to the Muslim Brotherhood.”
It remains unclear if and how the Muslim Brotherhood would be allowed to participate in the upcoming elections. On Sept. 23 an Egyptian court ordered the Muslim Brotherhood to be banned and its assets confiscated. On Wednesday Egyptian authorities announced that Morsi will be put on trial starting Nov. 4.
It certainly seems unlikely that they will have any influence on the new constitution. Debeuf therefore does not believe in any stability in the coming months.
“Can you have a free and fair referendum on the constitution while you have state of emergency and this kind of media propaganda?” he asked, adding that this is not the right environment for creating a proper democracy. A backlash will likely follow.
“I assume this is not going to be the last constitution,” he said.
In the long run, however, he believes that all sides will eventually be forced back to the negotiating table—if not by anything else, then by the economy. If these kinds of terrorist attacks keep happening, investors and tourists alike will flee Egypt, or not return. In that case, the current hyper-nationalistic fervor where “criticism is not allowed on any level,” as Debeuf put it, will not last; people will lose faith in the government and demand a dialogue.
“That’s going to be the only path forward,” Debeuf concluded.
Indonesian Scenario versus French Revolution
Debeuf had earlier argued on Egyptian TV that Egypt could choose one of two paths. Either it went for what he called, “The Indonesian scenario” where all stakeholders worked together for a common constitution and political future, or “The French revolution scenario,” where counterrevolution keeps following revolution, with no dialogue.
Unfortunately, according to Debeuf, Egypt seems to have chosen the latter: First, the Brotherhood was trying to get rid of all things secular and liberal, and now it’s the other way around.
“From the moment it was clear [the government] didn’t want dialogue, it was pretty predictable that we were going to see violence and that it was going to get pretty extreme pretty fast,” he said.
There are worrying historical ties, as al-Qaeda grew out of the Muslim Brotherhood. But despite this, and although groups in some way affiliated with al-Qaeda are now claiming responsibility for terrorist attacks in Egypt, this does not necessarily mean that they are acting on the Muslim Brotherhood’s orders.
Debeuf believes that terrorist attacks would happen regardless, and that these groups don’t need any direction. It is also hard to verify what connection, if any, the Brotherhood leadership may have to these attacks. But what is significant is that they become part of the current vicious circle in Egypt, as a justification for the government to take its “war on terror” even further, targeting the Brotherhood, he said.