Many of my Egyptian friends joined the celebrations on Tahrir Square in July when General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi declared that Muhammad Mursi is no longer president. Believing in the power of people, they were convinced that their peaceful protest ousted a president who they deemed incapable of managing the country’s deep economic crisis and political stalemate.
Weeks later, the same circle of friends faces a dilemma. How should they trust the interim government’s roadmap which promises elections and parliamentary democracy, despite the fact that emergency law was reintroduced? Should they accept as true the official version of events which declares supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood to be terrorists? How should they reconcile their commitment to human rights, when, according to official statistics, eight times more civilians were killed in two weeks than in Mursi’s first year?
While my friends still debate recent events, they don’t seem to recognize that the Tamarod movement they supported also contributed to the ‘counter-revolution’. In an odd twist of events, the same liberal and socialist groups, which less than two years ago ousted Hosni Mubarak, were used to stage a coup which disposed an elected president. Despite their dedication to a civic state which respects human rights and democracy, they helped to put an end to a democratic beginning.
Following the recent unrest, preparations are made to ban the group and declare it as a terrorist organisation. Mursi and his fellow members of the controversial Muslim Brotherhood find themselves back in the prison cells. Of course, this does not mark the end of the organisation – the organisation’s history shows that it is well capable of mobilising its followers despite legal restrictions. Although the ban would bar members and sympathisers of the Brotherhood from public offices, the organisation knows how to play the system through informal networks.
What worries me is that my liberal and socialist friends do not see that banning Islamists does not solve the problem but in fact reemphasises existing divisions within Egyptian society. The planned constitutional injunctions against all religious parties might be welcomed by secularists, but it also silences the political voice of many Egyptians. The intended restrictions on parties excludes a number of Islamist parties from formal politics and with it affects a large section of society which sees their conservative political views informed by religion.
Even if General al-Sisi keeps to his words and commands the interim government to prepare for parliamentary elections, there should be no doubt that his new military regime firmly dictates the rules of the game. Al-Sisi will remain the power broker behind the scenes and any newly elected government will have to bend to the will of the military. The circle is closed.
For a more detailed explanation on the twists and turns of Egyptian politics, read my article in openDemocracy.
Dr Barbara Zollner is Lecturer in Middle East Politics at Birkbeck.