Prospects for a resolution to Egypt’s political crisis rest on how well the emerging governing coalition is able to integrate the nation’s swirling social forces, including the Muslim Brotherhood. This is the view of James Zogby, author of Arab Voices and the founder and president of the Arab American Institute in Washington, D.C. The interim government has made overtures to the brotherhood, he said, “And I hope they accept. For the future of the country a consensus must emerge.... It’s going to be a choice that the brotherhood are going to have to make.”
On July 12 Cairo streets were again filled with thousands of supporters of the deposed president, Mohamed Morsi, demanding his release—an aim endorsed that day by the U.S. State Department. Efforts to include Egypt’s Islamists in a meaningful way in the government that replaced Morsi suffered a severe setback on July 8 after 51 demonstrators were killed and almost 500 wounded by Egyptian military. The mayhem began when soldiers dispersed a crowd of Morsi supporters gathered by a Cairo barracks where many believe the deposed president is being held.
The army claims soldiers were provoked by attacks from the crowd while witnesses say the attack was initiated by the Egyptian military. Who fired the first shots is irrelevant, said Zogby. “What matters is that the military responded in an absolutely unconscionable manner. The ability to maintain order without taking the lives of that many innocent people is absolutely critical.”
The killings in Cairo were not the only violence seen by the nation since the military ended Morsi’s chaotic one-year rule. A number of attacks on Egypt’s Christians followed accusations by several Islamist sources, including the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brotherhood, that Christians were part of a “conspiracy” to remove Morsi. On July 6, in Masaeed in North Sinai, the Rev. Mina Abboud Sharoubim was shot to death; and a spate of other attacks have left at least four other Copts dead and church buildings and scores of Christian homes and shops damaged or destroyed by fire.
Despite the bloodshed, Zogby says there is reason to be hopeful that the turmoil will eventually end and the nation will return to a path of economic and political development. Of the second public uprising, which deposed Morsi just two years after a revolution in the streets ended the three-decade reign of Hosni Mubarak, Zogby noted that some analysts are concerned that Egyptians are exhibiting an impatience that could be harmful to democratization. “But the question is: Was this just impatience,” he said, “or were there signs of a deterioration in the political situation that [Egyptians] feared could become irreversible?
“The problem was not so much that the other guys won, it was what the other guys were doing when they won,” he said. Secular, moderate and Christian Egyptians feared that rule by the brotherhood was “changing the very character of Egypt and making it an authoritarian, religious, rigid state. They didn’t want to see Egypt going backwards.”
An indication that the nation is on the right track, according to Zogby, will be the nature of the revised constitution that is ultimately passed and the composition of the parliament that is elected. But if in six to 12 months the military is still running the show, Zogby expects that Egypt’s self-empowered revolutionaries will again take to the streets of Cairo.