There has been a growing tension that seems on the verge of becoming larger, and happening more quickly in Egypt than many had estimated taking place.
At the heart of the latest crisis in the making is the voiced intent of the Muslim Brotherhood to run at least one candidate for president. That set off the controlling military which issued a rather stern–and repugnant–message this past weekend.
In a statement read on television Sunday, Egypt’s acting head of state, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, made a veiled reference to the years after the 1952 anticolonial revolution when the military banned the Brotherhood and arrested thousands of its members. Field Marshal Tantawi reminded the public “to be aware of history’s lessons, to avoid past mistakes we do not want to see repeated.”
But Field Marshal Tantawi’s response was “quite possibly the worst thing that you can say to the Brotherhood. You’re essentially threatening to wipe them out,” Shadi Hamid, an expert on the Brotherhood and director of Research at the Brookings Doha Center. “For some it may seem like history but for every Brotherhood member it’s something that is real and present in their minds.”
This has not set well among those who support the Brotherhood, or who have a sense of history about the fate of the organization over the decades when it was banned and thousands suffered at the hands of those in power in Egypt.
“If things are not defused within the coming few days…then we have a serious confrontation,” said Khaled Fahmy, a history professor at the American University in Cairo and a political analyst. “If the military leadership pre-empts this by dismissing Parliament, then we will have a civil war.”
Not all in Egypt are in agreement about the role the Muslim Brotherhood should play in upcoming elections. Some see a trust being broken following last year’s revolution–promises undone as power seems closer at hand. The Middle East’s largest English daily ran this editorial, and regardless of how one feels about the Brotherhood the article promotes a moderate course that Egypt very well may wish to take.
The Brotherhood should not run a candidate in Egypt’s upcoming election. The reason being it would stain their record. The group already promised not to have their own candidate last year in the lead-up to the Parliamentary vote. But reneging on this statement, the group would be signaling that it is politics as usual in Egypt, where once a group enters into power, they become almost intoxicated by it and want to maintain and grow their will over the country.
This is exactly what the Free Officers did in the early 1950s, which continues to this day in the form of the military junta. The Brotherhood needs to show Egyptians, both liberals and conservatives, that they are going to change the status quo and build a new political structure based on honesty and openness. Deciding to field a candidate would all but end that hope.
In many ways, for the liberals and activists in the country, who had hoped that a moderate figure, such as former Brotherhood top official Abdel Moneim Aboul Fotouh would be able to bridge the growing divide between the Islamists and the liberals, an official MB candidate could go a long way in ending those hopes.
“I think where we are at is to simply worry about the future of Egypt and its democracy,” one liberal MP told me recently. He argued that if the Brotherhood does put forward a candidate, “it could spell the official end to the revolution and what we had fought for.”
Others tend to agree, with activists arguing that at the current moment, the democratic and civil future of Egypt could very well be determined.