THE BLOG

Egyptian Military Going After the Muslim Brotherhood With a Vengeance

CAIRO - Any notion that Egypt's new military rulers would assume power only to allow the Muslim Brotherhood to win it back can now be fully dismissed. The military leaders who drove Mohammad Morsi from power on July 3rd are going after Morsi's Muslim Brotherhood hard and appears determined to wipe it out before any new elections take place.

It's not the first time Egypt's military has had the Brotherhood in its sights. It severely repressed the group for playing a key role in the assassination of President Anwar Sadat in 1981.

This week Egypt's interim cabinet branded the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization and announced any member or financial supporter of the group will be punished.

The Egyptian military appears to have gauged public sentiment and calibrated its actions accordingly. General Abdul Fattah al Sisi, the leader of the country's armed forces who also serves as defense minister and deputy prime minister, is extremely popular. Sisi won Time magazine's 2013 Person of the Year Poll because of "the genuine popularity of a man who led what was essentially a military coup in July against the democratically elected government of then President Mohammad Morsi," according to the magazine's Ashraf Khalil. CBS News this week reported on Sisi's growing "cult-like following."

The military likely assesses the public to be primarily interested in restoring stability and security, and sees its crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood as a key component of doing so.

Clashes between Brotherhood supporters and security forces have resulted in several deaths over the last few days, but there have not been the kind of mass demonstrations for the Brotherhood that might be expected if the group was more popular. The military's crackdown on Brotherhood demonstrators over the summer left close to 1,000 people dead.

Recent attacks on police stations and government buildings, along with a broad increase in the presence of Islamic terrorists in the Sinai Peninsula, seriously degrades Egypt's ability to lure foreign direct investment and tourism. Restoring security is not on a political necessity for the leadership, but an economic imperative.

In Giza, tourist hotels remain largely empty and the tourism sector, which in more peaceful times drove a significant part of the country's economy remains severely depressed.

Bad headlines and news stories about violence anywhere tends to have a disproportionately negative impact on tourism, making restoring a high level of stability and security over a sustained period of time critical for luring back visitors.

The security situation around the major tourist sites themselves appears stable. A walk from a Giza hotel to the pyramids this week involved a few locals approaching and badgering to take a cab ride or shop in their market, but not more than one may find when visiting any number of major sites around the world. Foreign direct investment, another critical component to getting the Egyptian economy back on track, likewise requires sustained stability as investors need confidence they will make a return on their investments over a period of time.

Assuming the military is successful in restoring stability to the Arab world's most populous country, its leaders will be faced with the challenge of creating a more competitive economy that can survive without the massive infusions of cash currently coming from Arab countries like Saudi Arabia and the Gulf states (which share a common hatred for the Muslim Brotherhood and see Egypt's success as critical). Long term stability will require a serious commitment to economic modernization, but that is a battle for a later day.