Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Understanding Egypt 2nd Revolution: Containing the Islamist Factor in the Arab Spring



Hundreds of thousands of Egyptians celebrated this week the fall of Mohamed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood regime. Egyptians flooded streets and squares in all provinces recalling a similar picture two and half years ago during the celebration of the fall of President Hosni Mubarak’s regime. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the defense minister, has made ​​a statement on Wednesday July 3rd, after compliance with the national forces to ensure isolation of President Mohamed Morsi from office, and conduct early presidential elections. The chancellor Adli Mansour, head of the Supreme constitutional Court, temporary claimed the President responsibilities to manage the country during the transitional phase and the suspension of the current constitution, in response to millions of Egyptians who took to the streets on June 30 to demand the departure of Mercy.

The international reactions and Arabic reactions after the Egyptian army ousted Mohammed Morsi varied extremely. While the western capitals and the United Nations expressed concerns about the rising situation, the Gulf States and some Arab countries hastened to welcome removing the Muslim Brotherhood from power and these countries are (Saudi Arabia, UAE, Jordan, Syria) in addition to the Israel.

The rise of the Muslim Brotherhood after the overthrow of President Hosni Mubarak in 2011, enraged most of the Gulf Arab states including the UAE, which feared the strengthening of the so-called Islamists at home. Qatar was the only Gulf Arab states, which celebrated the Egyptian revolution in 2011 that toppled Mubarak. The Arab News Press reported that Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah sent a congratulatory message to
Chancellor Adli Mansour - Chief Justice of the Supreme Constitutional Court in Egypt- who is appointed as temporary head of state[1].

The United Arab Emirates also welcomed change in Egypt and commended the Egyptian Armed Forces. Reuters quoted "We followed with all consideration and satisfaction the national consensus that your brotherly country is witnessing, and which had played a prominent role in leading Egypt peacefully out of the crisis it had faced," UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan said in a cable to Mansour[2]. Kuwait's ruler Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah also congratulated Egypt's interim president. Reuters reported, “Sheikh Sabah praised Egypt's armed forces for the positive and historic role" it played in preserving stability”[3].

There was no comment yet from Qatar, the only Gulf Arab state that openly supported the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt. The only response is conveyed through al-Jazeera that stated that Qatar stands with the Egyptian people without mentioning which group of the Egyptian people (MB) or (non-MB)[4].

The Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, who is fighting to crush the uprising for more than two years now, considered that the unrest in Egypt, "the defeat of political Islam."[5] Assad said in an interview with
the state-run Al-Thawra newspaper, "What is happening in Egypt is the fall of so-called political Islam," Assad said. "This is the fate of anyone in the world who tries to use religion for political or factional interests."[6]

On the international stage, the European Union called for a quick return to democracy in Egypt. EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton, said in a statement: " I urge all sides to rapidly return to the democratic process, including the holding of free and fair presidential and parliamentary elections and the approval of a constitution,"[7]. Ashton said she hoped there would be a new representative administration in Egypt reflecting various spectra of political orientations in society. She also stressed the importance of ensuring full respect of fundamental rights and the rule of law. Ashton called on all parties to exercise restraint, saying, "I strongly condemn all acts of violence and offer condolences to the families of the victims and urge the security forces to do everything in its power to protect the lives and safety of Egyptian citizens."[8]

As for the U.S, President Barack Obama expressed deep concern of removing a democratically elected president by the Egyptian army, but did not condemn the move, which may lead to cut the bulk of U.S. aid to Egypt. Obama issued a written statement in response to the events in Egypt after meeting with his national security advisers in the White House. The meeting was held shortly after the intervention of the Egyptian army. Obama’s response did not reach the level of a direct explicit condemnation, in reference to the growing concern among U.S. officials over the leadership of Morsi and the MB[9].
The British position was more definite, as Prime Minister David Cameron said, “We never support in countries the intervention by the military, but what needs to happen now in Egypt is for democracy to flourish and for a genuine democratic transition to take place”. Cameron also stressed that "All parties need to be involved in that, and that's what Britain and our allies will be saying very clearly to the Egyptians."[10]
For his part, President Francois Hollande said, "The democratic process has stopped and must return. What is happening in Egypt is obviously a fail. It is not only people who gathered but also a president who was toppled after democratic election. So the challenge, now, is to do everything in order to start the process again”. As his British counterpart, Holland stressed that "What really matters is to organize irreproachable elections as soon as possible, as the army took the responsibility of toppling the president and asked the constitutional court president to fulfill this function."[11]
In a related context, the Secretary-General of the United Nations Ban Ki-moon considered the military intervention in Egypt to be "worrisome" while stressing that the demands of the Egyptians demonstrators are "legitimate".
The Secretary-General of the United Nations called all parties at this time of great tension and instability in the country to calm and resort to dialogue and non-violent means to solve this crisis.

Domestic Analysis

After the fall of Mubarak in 2011, the Muslim Brotherhood (which has been officially outlawed and worked in secret for over 80 years) emerged as the best and perhaps only organized political forces in Egypt next to the armed forces. The 2011 demands to start a democratic political traditional after spending 60 years under the army’s domination from Jamal Abdel Nasser to Hosni Mubarak, reflected peoples rejection of the army’s presence in Egypt’s political future. The Muslim Brotherhood managed to exploit this sentiment. Same as the Turkish AKP (the MB counterpart in Turkey) managed to win 2002 elections. However, the AKP was able to stay in power for almost 12 years without military intervention.

Due to its professionalism, military in Turkey was the institution that had the necessary organization and tools to take power. The Turkish Military became the guardian of the modern state system and the existing political regime. In 2002, Erdoğan took advantage of the general sense of popular fatigue with competing old-school politicians in a country still spinning in a circle of economic crisis. From the beginning, great successes marked the early years of AKP rule. Waves of non- religious reforms mostly targeting corruption in the government and its institutions, the opening of EU accession negotiations, the end of torture in jails, the strong economic expansion, the new ties with neighboring counties, and more improvements for ethnic Kurds made the AKP government more successful than any previous governments. Erdogan played down the Islamist notions and actions in his policies in order not to raise the anger of the Military and lead it to a coup to oust the AKP just as they did to Erbakan government in 1998. He learned his lessons from Erbakan’s explicit attempts to bring back Islam to the Turkish politics. Therefore, his strategy was to fill the Turks pockets, ensure their daily bread, and strengthen the economy. At the same time, Erdogan avoided any explicit so-called Islamization of the political (or military) system in Turkey, at least in first stages of his rule. Then, he started introducing changes little by little and one by one, so that it will not provoke the army. 

In this sense, Islamists in Turkey differed from those in Egypt in their political agenda and strategy. The MB was hasty in implementing their agenda. They wanted to control the political system leaving out all other groups and political orientations, establish a Brotherhood state that will set an example for other countries in the Middle East, and fight secularism, modernism, and the Western influence in Egypt while cooperating with it to stay in power. They tried to do in one year what Erdogan did in 12 years. Here lays the MB mistake.
The driving force behind the Arab revolutions in 2011 are mainly young dissatisfied middle class, but Islamic groups - like the Muslim Brotherhood - were in the best position to win the rewards of the transition process. The Muslim Brotherhood won in Egypt in several elections, including the presidential election and Morsi became the first democratically elected president in the country. Nevertheless, just as similar organizations in Tunisia, MB were not able to get rid of the secret habits they acquired through their past. Critics say they have sought to control all state institutions by occupying key positions and turning them into fortresses of the Muslim Brotherhood rather than serve the country. The Muslim Brotherhood incapability to solve the crisis stemmed from 2011 revolution has extended to the economy and produced an economic catastrophe due to mismanagement. Egyptians suffered from the scarcity of food especially poor families as well as higher prices of bread and fuel. As a result, Egypt suffered from worsening budget deficit, which rose to more than 200 billion pounds, a decrease in foreign exchange reserves of$ 36 billion to $ 13 billion, and a fall in the value of the Egyptian pound from $ 6 pounds to 8 pounds to the dollar. This situation is the motivation of the magnitude of the protest movement.
The MB political and economic mismanagement led to popular rejection of the MB rule, and after the army intervened to isolate Morsi, the MB political project is falling apart. Now the future of the movement seems uncertain at best. It is a heavy blow to the Islamic movement as a whole. The insufficient performance of Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood undermines the image of the Islamists, their status and their rhetoric throughout the region. It also raises questions regarding their competence and their ability to manage things.

Geopolitical Analysis

To understand the geopolitical implication of the second Egyptian revolution the question to be asked is not why it happened, but why now?

Let us connect the dots of latest events on the Middle Eastern stage:

1-     June 8 2013, The Syrian Army supported by Hezbollah capture al-Qusayr area and turned the table to their favor

2-     June 22 2013, Friends of Syria conference in Doha: stressed arming Syrian rebellions to rebalance the battleground that was leaning towards al-Assad camp

3-     June 24 2013, Ahmad Al Assir Army killed Lebanese Soldiers in fierce Clashes: his intentions were to expand the clashes to include Hezbollah.

4-     June 25 2013,  Tamim bin Hamad al-Thani assumes power in Qatar

5-     June 30 2013, Thousands of people joined protests across Egypt calling for President Morsi to resign

6-     July 4 2013, The military oust Morsi

Therefore, if we connect these events together, we will come up with the following:

A bunch of so-called Islamists (whether moderates such as the MB, or extremists such as al-Qaeda and its affiliates) are running the opposition battleground in Syria. These groups are fiercely supported by Qatar (shiek Hamad) who refused to tune down his support. The US and its western allies (and Israel) fear the uncontrolled spread of such groups in the Middle East. Saudi Arabia is bothered with rising Qatari role and influence in the region. Moreover, all (US, Allies, Saudis) are concerned about the way things are turning in Syria. However, although approved arming the opposition, they do not want arms to fall in the hands of extremists or so-called Islamist groups.

Therefore, starting from Doha conference, they decided to eliminate the so-called Islamist factor from the Syrian crisis. To do that, they need to eliminate their financial support and their political support. In Lebanon, they tried to keep Hezbollah busy with internal clashes by moving Al-Assir (Saudi Arabia proxy in Lebanon) and his militia against the Lebanese army to drag Hezbollah in to a fight. However, that did not work as expected. Yet, there are still extremists in Tripoli who provoke Hezbollah almost every day.   

Coming back to the so-called Islamists in the Syrian opposition, handing power to prince Tamim bin Hamad is the start to change Qatar uncontrolled support to these groups in Syria. To keep his father’s achievements in enhancing Qatar’s economic and political position in the world, prince Tamim needs the US. Therefore, he will be more compliant than his father to the US demands.                                                                                                               

As for the second Egyptian revolution, it was meant to happen eventually… but why now.

Most Egyptians (the non-Brotherhood members) felt their 2011 revolution was ripped off by the MB. This group, due to its highly organization, was able to take advantage of the chaos after outing Mubarak regime and succeed in controlling the parliament, changing the constitution, and reaching presidency. Morsi’s practices and his attempts to what newspapers call Islamize the political system in Egypt, caused continuous protests in Liberty Square. Only this protest succeeded mainly due to the army’s support.

Again, why now?

Eliminating the leading MB group in Egypt will weaken all other MB in the Middle East; especially in Syria. Containing this group in the Syrian opposition will open the way for so-called non-Islamist groups to become stronger whether in the FSA or in the Syrian opposition council abroad. This way, it will be easier for the US and its allies to arm secular-nationalist groups who can take down the terrorists groups (weakened by eliminating the Qatari support) and lead the opposition political and armed operations. By balancing the battleground, al-Assad regime will not win. All what might happen is dividing Syria into many pieces; one led by al-Assad, one by the opposition, and other enclaves (maybe a Kurdish one).

There is a need to contain the so-called Islamist factor in the Arab Spring. It is true that the US supported the Brotherhood rule in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya. But the events in Syria and attacking and killing US diplomats in Libya makes the US think again about allowing the so-called Islamists to rule the Middle East.

Bottom Lines


  • This hit to the MB will make them recalculate their policies. Even if they participated in the coming elections and win, they will have to share power with the army and other political groups in the Egyptian society. Thus, a balance will be achieved to always correct the MB path if they reach power again. This will also be a lesson to all MB groups in power in the Middle East.
  • The MB failed in its so-called Islamist project

  • It is clear now that people do not believe that their version of rule “is the solution”.


  • The MB proved their failure in ruling internally and internationally.  The future, however, is vague. There are fears of Egypt turning into Algeria in 1991after the army ousted the democratically elected so-called Islamist government. The MB retaliation might lead the country into a civil war or a blood bath.

  • There are also fears that the army will take over power again and confiscate the people’s revolution.

  • Any setback caused to the Muslim Brotherhood in their stronghold raises basic questions regarding their ability to rule in other countries from Tunisia to Syria. The reaction of MB in neighboring countries is still to be determined.
  •   This event might set a precedent in the Egyptian political system; whenever the people object their government policies, they take it to the streets, and if the will of the army came together with the will of the people, then we have a coup.
  • The army fulfill his timetable; parliamentary and presidency elections take place, power is handed to a civilian leaders, and stability is restored to the country.
  •  The MB realizes that defying the army and the people will lead to unwanted bloody clashes. The group resort to election ballots again and try this time to learn from their previous mistakes.

[1] Arab News, “King Abdullah congratulates new Egyptian leader”, Friday July 5, 2013 < http://www.arabnews.com/news/456958>

[2] Reuters, “UAE, Kuwait congratulate Egypt's Mansour after Mursi's overthrow”, Thursday July 4, 2013 < http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/04/us-egypt-protests-emirates-idUSBRE9630AX20130704>

[3] Reuters, “UAE, Kuwait congratulate Egypt's Mansour after Mursi's overthrow, Thursday July 4, 2013 < http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/07/04/us-egypt-protests-emirates-idUSBRE9630AX20130704>

[4] Al-Jazeera English, “International reactions to Morsi's removal”, July 4, 2013 <http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2013/07/201373223029610370.html>

[5] HUFFPOST world Canada, “Assad: Egypt's Ousting Of Morsi Means 'The Fall Of Political Islam'”, July 3, 2013 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/03/assad-morsi-political-islam_n_3542737.html>

[6] HUFFPOST world Canada, “Assad: Egypt's Ousting Of Morsi Means 'The Fall Of Political Islam'”, July 3, 2013 <http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2013/07/03/assad-morsi-political-islam_n_3542737.html>

[7] EUbusiness, “EU calls for swift Egypt elections after Morsi ousted” July 04, 2013 < http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/egypt-politics.por>

[8] EUbusiness, “EU calls for swift Egypt elections after Morsi ousted” July 04, 2013 < http://www.eubusiness.com/news-eu/egypt-politics.por>

[9] BBC News, “World reaction to the ousting of Egypt's Mohammed Morsi” July 4, 2013 < http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23175379>

[10] BBC News, “World reaction to the ousting of Egypt's Mohammed Morsi” July 4, 2013 < http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23175379>

[11] BBC News, “World reaction to the ousting of Egypt's Mohammed Morsi” July 4, 2013 < http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-23175379>

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