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The Balance of Power: Egypt, the Brotherhood and the Regional Dynamics Beyond Morsi

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Mohamed Morsi, the previous head of the Muslim Brotherhood's Freedom and Justice Party, assumed office on June 30, 2012 as Egypt's fifth and first democratically elected president with 51.7 percent of the vote. A year later, Morsi was unseated on July 3, 2013 by Egypt's defense minister Colonel General al-Sisi, a military man that attended the United Kingdom's Joint Command and Staff Course in 1992 (the same senior officers course I would undertake fifteen years later).

With Egypt's Head of State ousted, initial discourse is focusing on whether the (former) president has been subjected to a 'coup d'etat'? A worthy debate, but there are also more complex internal and regional questions at play as the balance of power shifts once again in the Middle East.

Regionally, the two-year conflict between President Bashar Assad's forces and anti-government rebels has claimed over 90,000 lives. Critically, a bitter sectarian divide between Sunni and Shi'ite protagonists is descending Syria's bloody security situation into a deep vacuum devoid of any law, order, accountability or governance.

On June 15, 2013 Morsi attended a rally populated with 'hardline fellow Islamists' calling for a Holy War in Syria and encouraging Egyptians to fight abroad. Morsi's party, the Muslim Brotherhood, were also vocal at the rally accusing the Shi'ites of 'being at the root of sectarian conflicts' and supporting the call for a jihad.

Beyond Mori's rule, self-restraint by the Brotherhood's already radical approach to sectarianism in Syria may be challenged by the more right wing members of the group, as well as the ultra-conservative Salafi Islamist parties, deepening the barbaric violence between Assad's forces and the rebels.

And what of Morsi and his party's reputation? Being Egypt's first freely elected President and overturned by its own Army just a year later will not instill confidence in the International Community for future Syrian political initiatives. But there also appears to be a contradiction in the Brotherhood's policy objectives. On the one hand, the Arab world's largest Islamist movement currently holds an influential role in one of the more prominent hopes of a political solution in Syria beyond the current regime: the Syrian National Council (SNC). And on the other, right wing elements of the Brotherhood are calling for a Holy War - both dynamics do not bode well for a near-term solution in Syria or stability in the region.

Sectarian violence is also spilling across Syria's borders into Lebanon. Should the SNC become a political force in the future, and with the hard-line stance that the Brotherhood is taking on Shi'ites, stability in Lebanon could deteriorate further through empowerment of Sunni elements in the North (Tripoli) and the absence of Hezbollah's staunch ally -- Bashar al-Assad.

Whilst likely to draw fire from his critics through seeking to control (and not govern) his own country, the deposed Egyptian President was a stabilizing force during the most recent encounter between Israel and Palestine in November 2012. Morsi and his government revealed themselves as 'pivotal' in the Gaza cease-fire talks.

Historically, Egypt, through Mubarak, has played a critical negotiating role in outbreaks between Palestine and Israel, but the relationship between Morsi and the Brotherhood with Hamas (akin to political cousins) has brought a more even keel to recent negotiations. Moreover, Morsi's political counter-balance proved key to recent diplomatic successes, such as the release of the Israeli soldier held captive for five years by Hamas, and plaudits from Khlaed Meshaal, the exiled political leader of Hamas.

Internally, and to the upside, the security mechanisms within Egypt, post Morsi's rule, remain intact - namely the Army and Police force structures. The reaction of the Brotherhood's more hardline elements to the apparent coup d'etat will be the centerpiece of General al-Sisi's contingency planning.

There are already indications that Sisi is adopting a 'strike early' strategy with arrests and travel impositions on members of the Brotherhood's senior leadership. Such a move is likely to provoke an angry response during protests planned by the Islamist group over the coming days.

The Defense Minister's reaction to protests or violence in Cairo or any of Egypt's other major conurbations will shape the national and regional security situation over the coming days and weeks. One of Sisi's biggest challenges will be to counter any unrest with a firm but fair tactical plan that doesn't compound an already fragile regional security disposition as seen in Syria, Turkey and Iraq. A passive and patient approach to containing civil disorder can sometimes be the best remedy - the use of live bullets before tear gas, probably is not.

The General's other challenge will be to maintain political momentum by creating the conditions for a swift and subsequent election. Latest developments are proving that even the appointment of Mohamed Elbaradei as an interim solution will be fraught with complexity. Stabilizing Egypt's delicate economic and sociopolitical standing through a swift return to the ballot box will be a priority for Egypt's next caretaker Prime Minister; yet at the same time, elections will also be one of Sisi's critical vulnerabilities. The logistical mechanisms for electing a new Head of State will offer militants the opportunity to inflict maximum disruption to the democratic process; Pakistan and Afghanistan continues to fall victim to such frustrations.

Morsi may have gone but the Muslim Brotherhood remains a preeminent force in Middle Eastern politics. How the Arab world's most influential Islamic movement (and its more extremist offshoots) react to Morsi's deposition will define the Brotherhood's future credibility, directly impact the short-term prosperity of Egypt and play a crucial role in shaping the long-term stability of the region.