It is now more than 18 months since Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood joined forces with liberals and leftists on Tahrir Square, bringing down the military-backed, authoritarian region of then President Hosni Mubarak. A democratic conflict to win the favor of Egyptians ensued. Peace, justice and jobs were at the forefront, while religion seemingly played only a secondary role.
The Muslim Brotherhood seemed to be on the path to becoming a "normal" party, liberated from its early tendencies to engage in fundamental opposition. In June 2012, The Muslim Brotherhood had won the runoff election, and Morsi became Egypt's first democratically elected president. The West applauded. The military remained in its barracks, and the divided liberal forces initially accepted the fundamentalist Morsi as president.
At his inauguration, Morsi promised to be the "president of all Egyptians," and yet what followed was a disaster. He had an Islamic constitution drafted, his supporters temporarily blocked the country's independent Supreme Constitutional Court, and journalists critical of the Morsi government were persecuted. His opponents likened his behavior to that of a modern-day pharaoh. Most of all, however, he destroyed the country's already deeply ailing economy through sheer incompetence.
Popular opposition began to take shape. On the anniversary of Morsi's presidency, hundreds of thousands flooded into public squares in Egypt's major cities, and 22 million people signed a petition by the Tamarod grassroots movement calling for Morsi to resign, which he ignored. On July 3, the military removed the failed elected president from office and placed him under house arrest in an undisclosed location.
Currently, the only decisive question in Egyptian politics revolves around who is capable of bringing the largest number of people into the streets. The crowds supporting one side seek to shout down the crowds supporting the other, creating a conflict that is little more than a village brawl devoid of content, a form of government the Twitter community is called "Streetocracy."
And, once again, it is apparent that free elections or the right of assembly are not the primary elements of a democracy, but rather the checks and balances among functioning institutions. Erudite, worldly thinkers like ElBaradei hope that they will be able to send the soldiers back to their barracks, and the constitution promised by the generals has awakened cautious hope. But skepticism is very much in order.
To defuse the situation, both the army and the Islamists would have to be willing to accept compromises. But the Islamists believe that Islam ( with Morsi reinstated) is the solution, while the military sees itself as the solution. Egypt's armed forces are traditionally interested in only one thing: maintaining stability in the country, by whatever means necessary, to ensure that they can continue to pursue their business interests. Interim President Adly Mansour declared on Wednesday that international diplomatic efforts had failed to resolve the political crisis and the government warned Muslim Brotherhood activists to leave the protest camps, saying the decision to remove them was final.
The Muslim Brotherhood, on the other hand, is more of a state outside the state. Its members are not permitted to hold positions in the military or the police force, both traditionally secular institutions. Most have probably never truly accepted democracy and are now refusing to back away from their unbending demand that Morsi be reinstated. Islamist supporters of Egypt's deposed president held a festive rally for the Eid al Fitr holiday on Thursday to demand his restoration after the military led-authorities that removed him held off from a threat to break up protest sit-ins.
But it is impossible to run a country on the totalitarian principle that Islam ( With Morsi) is the answer to all questions, and that anyone who thinks otherwise must toe the party line. Seen in this light, religion and democracy are truly incompatible, as are military rule and democracy.
Secular and leftist groups have also called for mass demonstrations and public prayers across Egypt to support what they see as a popular revolution that led to the overthrow of Morsi by the military after just a year in office.
But one thing is clear: most of the demonstrators in Egypt, regardless of which side they are on, are opposed to Western intervention. They are citizens of a deeply divided, polarized nation, either devoted fans of the Muslim Brotherhood or its hate-filled opponents.
Since July 03rd, more than 250 fanatics on both sides have been killed. On the other side liberals, in a strange alliance with the military, are not much more realistic when they dream of a flourishing economy, new jobs and a better future. Whether the government will manage to prevent further escalation remains unclear.
Egypt, the most important country in the Arab world, is at a critical turning point, as it faces the question of whether the military, radical religious forces or liberals will gain the upper hand and assume control of the country. But for future generations in Egypt, there is much more at stake.
By Guylain Gustave Moke
African Affairs Expert