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Wadah Khanfar Headshot

Egypt's al-Sisi Drags the Country Closer to Civil War

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The address which was delivered by the Egyptian minister of defense, Lt. General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi, on the July 24 was, in effect, an official declaration of a civil war, an additional proof that the military coup against the elected Egyptian president was an act which was extremely miscalculated and poorly handled. Sisi, by his speech, put aside the civilian government facade he appointed and wanted to use as fig leaf, has exposed himself as the new pharaoh of Egypt.

Three weeks after the toppling of Morsi, with its attendant arbitrary detentions, intimidation, and smear campaigns against his supporters, it is now apparent that the political crisis in the country is further away from a solution. The military senses that the supporters of the deposed president have begun to win the battle. They were surprised, as well as the so-called liberal forces (which support the coup), that the masses, which rallied in the squares of Cairo and cross Egyptian cities throughout the period, were much larger than they expected.

This indicates two things; first that the masses who opposed the coup are not only from the membership of the Muslims Brotherhood, a critical point that those who conducted the coup and their media outlets seek to emphasize. The other issue is that the determination and resolve of the protesters is much stronger than was expected. Despite the armed attacks on the protesters by the Egyptian security forces and those known as the baltagiya -- thugs, which resulted in more than 200 deaths and thousands of injured; even so, the anti coup protesters continue to increase.

The military leaders of the coup derived their legitimacy from the opposition demonstrations of June 30, since they claim that the army is the guardian of the will of the people, however, since the supporters of Morsi also succeeded in organizing massive rallies, the legitimacy which was ascribed to the coup has been shaken. This has led to the call by the minister of defense to his supporters to demonstrate.

The address given by al-Sisi, which contained lengthy justifications for the coup accused supporters of Morsi of engaging in violence and terrorism. He concluded with a demand that can possibly ignite a veritable civil war; he called upon his supporters to demonstrate on Friday, July 27, on the same day on which supporters of Morsi are preparing to stage huge demonstrations. He ominously added that he wants from the masses a mandate to carry what is necessary to fight 'violence and terrorism.'

Actually what al-Sisi intends from this mandate to confront what he calls 'violence' and 'terror' is to disperse the sit-ins supportive of Morsi by force. This would entail the shedding of blood of a section of the people according to a mandate granted by another section, despite the fact that the armed forces justified its coup against the democratic process as a necessity to prevent the shedding of Egyptian blood.

Therefore, we are on the threshold of the worse of expected scenarios and the most dangerous. If the doors of violence are opened it will fuel the state of instability and chaos that extends from Iraq, Syria and to Lebanon. In the event that Egypt, with its weight and Arab and African depth, joins the blacklist, it will expand the radius of chaos to unprecedented levels, not least because the countries which neighbour Egypt, namely Libya and Sudan, already suffer from complex security problems.

The army's leadership has thrown it into a destructive political battle; one that is more complex than its ability to administer its consequences. It erred in its assessment of the situation when it depended on the political collaboration of liberal and some former regime remnants, which do not have genuine popular support, even though they enjoy extensive media influence. Media may succeed in distorting the consciousness for a limited period, but it cannot change the constants of societies.

What contributed hugely to the miscalculation of the Egyptian army about the possibility of the success of the coup is that it depended on the supporting stances of regional actors except that these stances came from quarters which are supposed to be at odds. Political and financial support came from some Arab countries; Israel offered a warm reception; Syria's president Bashar al Asad offered praise; and Iran expressed satisfaction. However, all these stances were dictated by momentary calculations that were peculiar to the various parties.

Besides, the region itself is in a state of complete fluidity and all these parties suffer from their own specific problems. Therefore, even if the regional climate appears attractive, it does not bestow legitimacy to a coup which failed to win support internally.

Western positions vary between hesitancy in supporting the coup on the one hand, and justification on the other. Perhaps the worst calculated and most short-sighted is that of the American administration who refused to describe, what took place, as a coup. Instead attempted to justify it by pointing to President Morsi's failures. It is an unprecedented stand on the history of world democracy. If we allow armies of states whose governments suffer from poor performance or loss of popularity to topple the political process, the armies of many countries will topple their own governments and military tanks will descend on world capitals, even in the heart of Europe.

It is important therefore to save Egypt and the region from the impending violence. We are about to see the Middle East, as a huge contiguous field of violence and chaos, and it is upon the world to assume its responsibility and hasten to adopt an initiative that would allow the resumption of the democratic process. It is true that the initiative for reconciliation and the end of the conflict appears stalled at present except that a truce between the contesting factions, which would halt the drift towards violence, is needed and possible. This initiative must consist of steps that prepare an atmosphere for genuine reconciliation, beginning with the release of those detained after the coup, on top of them the elected president Morsi, and guarantees for the right of all Egyptians to demonstrate with protection from attacks and guarantees of freedom of the press to all by allowing media institutions which were closed by the army to resume their broadcast. That should also entail a commitment by all parties, of all forces, to abstain from resorting to violence.

The coup in Egypt has created a huge split in the souls of the region's people and if we do not capture it, we will be on the verge of opening a new chapter based on the resort to violence as the only way of political engagement. Then, no one will be able to convince the Arab masses that the peaceful transfer of power is possible because the calls for democracy have been buried under the heavy boots of the military.