The Contagion of Egypt's Awakening Has Begun to Spread to Tunisia

The contagion of Egypt's second awakening has begun to spread to Tunisia, where the Muslim Brotherhood, led by Rachid al-Ghannouchi, is repeating the same pattern of clinging to the reins of power as the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt had done, reaching a "red line" that portends a confrontation. So here is Tunisia, where the spark of the first uprising of what became known as the Arab Spring was lit, following in the footsteps of Egypt, which has set out to reform the situation engendered by its first revolution, in a second revolution that carries within its folds the promise of permanent awakening, and not mere passing protest. These are positive developments, as difficult and dangerous as they may be. Indeed, it would have been far more dangerous to submit to the dictates of the Muslim Brotherhood in power - power which the Brotherhood was never skilled at exercising, which led to its ultimate failure. The Muslim Brotherhood's practices in power invited resentment, as well as fear of living under the Islamist group's rule and its hold on decision-making. This is a clear testimony to the group's failure, which may well have been the swiftest in the history of political parties or movements rising to power. Developments in Egypt and Tunisia have obscured the events in Syria, which are wavering between battles aimed at military control and preparations for conferences that could impose political concessions. As regards Iraq, it is fire under embers, which threatens to bring about the partitioning of Iraq or its fragmentation - while bearing in mind that Prime Minister Nouri al-Maliki has not been skilled at the exercise of power and has contributed to implicating the country in a sectarian struggle that is feared to turn into a quintessentially bloody one. The only development that resembles an oasis on the Arab scene is the pledge by the United States to complete negotiations over a solution to final status issues between the Israelis and the Palestinians within nine months, amid pessimism that and low expectations that may well provide the opportunity for surprises. The United States will perhaps play a leading role in the Palestinian-Israeli issue, making it the only instance of such a role being played throughout the course of inaction adopted by President Barack Obama, who abstained from engagement in Syria and was forced to take notice of what was happening in Egypt and in Tunisia only later. Indeed, inaction still rules the scene in Libya, while checking every now and then on what is happening in Lebanon does not at all represent a leadership role for the United States. Even the European Union, in general and in particular, as a group and as individual countries, is fleeing forward, waiting for American leadership or using its absence as a pretext for inaction. Thus, the EU's High Representative for Foreign Affairs, Catherine Ashton, went to Egypt prepared to look into matters and to stress the European concept of democracy, not the historical and contemporary concept on the basis of the Egyptian experience. This is why the role played by Europe, as well as the United States, on the path of Arab transition, needs to be developed on the basis of profound understanding of the new Arab awakening.

The West is always accused of planning out the Arab political landscape in advance, and the question that is always asked revolves around what the United States wants and what the West wants. Russia and China are new to this equation in the thinking prevalent in the Arab World. To say that everything that happens in the Middle Eastern arena is in fulfillment of American plans is of course naïve, and in fact insulting to the role of individuals and societies in the Middle East in shaping their own history. Yet it is also naïve to say that the United States, France, Britain, Germany, and other Western countries have played no role in forging modern history to this day, or to say that Russia and China only play a marginal role in drafting the map of the Middle East.

To be sure, this region is not a region of institutions. It is an arena of powerful rule, either military or theocratic. And what is happening today is a fateful battle for secular rule through institutions. That is the necessary definition of modern democracy in the Middle East, which those lecturing in the name of Western democracy would do well to understand.

What is happening in Tunisia - before discussing the fateful events in Egypt - is that the Islamist Ennahda Movement, headed by Rachid al-Ghannouchi, and which leads the ruling coalition in Tunisia, seems surprised by the collapse of the might of the Muslim Brotherhood in a country like Egypt. Ghannouchi has become accustomed over the past two years to being the shining star at international conferences and the face of Islamist moderation, met by the West with passion, embracing, and jubilation. Ghannouchi, with his short stature and nearly constant smile, used to attract admirers outside of Tunisia, while wielding unusually great powers inside of Tunisia, seizing the levers of power through Ennahda from his own headquarters, which is characterized by opulence and grandeur in comparison with those of the government.

Today, Ghannouchi is responding to the demands of radical reform made by the people, the opposition, and certain members of his cabinet in the language of "red lines," and is speaking the language of legitimacy in order to contain the solutions being proposed. He said, "We consider the National Constituent Assembly a red line because it is the source of legitimacy"; "apart from this, we are open to consensus", he added, clarifying that his movement was "for dialogue, national unity, and consensus".

The assassination of opposition figure Mohamed Brahmi, after that of another opposition figure, Chokri Belaïd, became a rallying cry to start rebelling against those the Ennahda-led administration in Tunisia. The opposition has demanded the dissolution of the Constituent Assembly and of the institutions it has established, in reference to the cabinet and the presidency, after Ennahda came to dominate the Constituent Assembly. The Assembly was formed in the wake of the elections of October 23, 2011, in which the Islamist Ennahda Movement won 89 seats, subsequently dominating the Assembly through alliances with two other political parties. The opposition parties say that the Constituent Assembly has lost its legitimacy, in response to Ennahda's insistence on it being the only legitimate institution. The opposition, as represented by the Salvation Front, is calling for a national salvation government made up of independent figures, whose task would be to provide the appropriate conditions for holding free and fair elections. The Ennahda movement has rejected their proposal, as it considers the 2011 elections to represent its means to cling to power, and will not give up any of the means now at its disposal. This is why it accepts the idea of expanding the current government and dialogue over it, but rejects tampering with the Constituent Assembly, considering it to represent a "red line" for it, whatever the cost.

No matter how arrogantly Ennahda might behave and how much Ghannouchi might imagine that his stardom in the West provides him with protection, Tunisia will neither submit to the dictates nor to the mistakes committed by the Muslim Brotherhood and its Secretary-General Rachid Al-Ghannouchi in their exercise of power. Tunisia is headed towards rebellion, just like Egypt opted for rebellion against the "theocratic" rule of the Muslim Brotherhood, unless Ghannouchi realizes the magnitude of what is happening and stops speaking the language of "red lines" in response to attempts to emerge from this political predicament.

The Muslim Brotherhood got itself into this dark tunnel - first, because it hijacked the youth revolution in Egypt (and Tunisia) and considered the elections to represent a blank check for it to take control of all levers of power. Second, it has behaved with such lust for power, and forgot one of the basic necessities of democracy, namely, the separation between branches of government in order to ensure independence and fairness and prevent exclusion. Third, it refused to listen to the voices protesting for reform that came out in massive demonstrations in Egypt, and treated their demands with condescension. Fourth, it misread the people and did not adapt to them, after they had made clear to it what they wanted and what they did not want. Fifth, it refused to take part in the roadmap put forward by the Egyptian army so that it may participate in the political process and not be excluded from it. Sixth, it excluded itself politically and chose the path of confrontation at the security level. Seventh, it put Egypt in danger of bitter civil division. And eighth, it was committing political suicide and throwing itself back to a past of arrests and trials due to the behavior of its leaders.

Perhaps the West, and in particular Britain and the United States, had been aware of the fact that the rule of the Islamists would be a failure, as long or as little as it may last, and for this reason provided it with rehabilitation, approval, and support. The West defended its stance in the name of respecting the democracy that had produced the rule of the Muslim Brotherhood through elections - elections that had been "dubious" to begin with, not having allowed youth forces to engage in necessary organization after the revolution and having provided the Muslim Brotherhood with the opportunity to reap what it had sown for decades in terms of popular infrastructure in Egypt. The point is that many officials in the United States, Britain, and elsewhere had always predicted that the experience of the rule of Islamists would prove a failure sooner or later. But they most likely did not predict that they would fall and fail so quickly.

It is perhaps for this reason that Catherine Ashton appears like she is gathering herself and her thoughts, in the face of the momentous, dangerous, and surprising nature of the events in Egypt, so as not to support military rule, even a temporary and transitional one in partnership with civilian forces that carry weight and have much more popularity than the Muslim Brotherhood.

The interim government in Egypt finds itself under the microscope locally and internationally, out of fear that it might commit a mistake that would make it vulnerable to accusations by the Muslim Brotherhood of being a "military coup" against legitimacy and democracy. The fact of the matter is that the Brotherhood is the one purposely driving the interim government to commit mistakes it wishes it to commit, even at the expense of the lives of Egyptians. It is clinging to a past long gone, and in order to revive, it is placing people's lives and its own political future in jeopardy.

The Muslim Brotherhood wants to reinstate deposed President Mohamed Morsi - something that has become impossible, and the Brotherhood is well aware that it is out of the question at both the popular and political levels. The Brotherhood knows that no revolution of protests, no campaign to characterize what happened as a "coup", no calling for a referendum, and no help from Europe or the United States will return Morsi to the presidential seat. And yet, the Brotherhood is resorting to protests in order to provoke the army, instead of agreeing to join the political process through the roadmap it has been invited to participate in. It is resorting to violence in the hope of implicating the army in security measures that would lead to casualties - especially among women, who now occupy the forefront of its protest and demonstration before the cameras of Arab and international television channels, their voices no longer considered "shameful".

Egypt's interim government has over the past two days escalated its confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood by taking several measures, some of them unprecedented, and has pledged to disperse the protests by taking gradual measures without resorting to the use of live ammunition - unless security factors were to dictate otherwise. Indeed, the Egyptian government considered the Brotherhood's protests in the Rabia al-Adawiyya and al-Nahda public squares to represent a "threat to national security" and unacceptable "terrorizing" of Egyptians, in terms of the resulting "dangerous situation" and subsequent "terrorism and road blockages," charging security services with the task of ending the protest.

This has coincided with the Brotherhood's Supreme Guide Mohammed Badie, his Deputy Khairat El-Shater, and Rashad Al-Bayoumi being referred by the Office of the General Prosecutor to the Criminal Court on charges of "killing protesters," this being the first time in half a decade that a Supreme Guide is put on trial while in office. In addition to this, the government in Egypt has taken measures such as starting to investigate unlawful "foreign funding," in order to stop the funds received by the Muslim Brotherhood to cover the costs of demonstrations and the expenses of protests. The government has also issued decisions to bring in leaders of the Brotherhood's political party to the police for investigation.

Egypt's cabinet, in a statement charging security services to put an end to the protest, adduced "the huge mandate given to the state by the people in dealing with the terrorism and the violence that threaten the dissolution of the state and the collapse of the homeland," charging the Interior Minister "to take all the necessary measures in that regard within the framework of the provisions of the Constitution and the law" to protect national security, civil peace and the safety of citizens.

All of these pledges remain unfulfilled - and the greatest burden now falls on security services, which must not be dragged into blood-spattered confrontations and should not make excessive use of force. It is a process that is both delicate and dangerous, as protesting is one of the pillars of the Brotherhood's strategy, one which the Islamist group will not abandon easily or willingly - although it has the means to give it up by joining the political process and participating in government through the roadmap, before it is too late, if it is not already.

A necessary margin is needed that would allow the two sides to meet, if a certain extent of backing down or concessions, or even a process of correcting one's course, were to take place. And it is necessary for the Egyptian government to reiterate its clear invitations to the Muslim Brotherhood to give up inciting violence and join the political process, knowing that it will not be able to backtrack on prosecuting those responsible for killing protesters.

The role of the European Union, entrusted to Catherine Ashton, or of the US administration, which will be sending Senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham to Cairo at the behest of President Barack Obama, must not be one of hastily issuing verdicts or threatening to cut off aid. Any hint by the Americans of cutting aid or threatening to discontinue it would only represent an insult which Egyptians would not bear at this juncture and would be detrimental to US interests. Indeed, this is a battle of pride and fate for the Egyptian people, and American and European - as well as African or Arab - delegations should beware not to come to Cairo to pontificate on democracy, make threats or use money as a means to deter or convince. Egypt understands the limits and the perspectives of democracy perfectly well. It understands very well that chaos and demagogy must not replace government. Egypt is perfectly well aware that it is in the midst of a fateful awakening.