By Philip Whitfield
I don’t have to be here. Shouldn’t be, according to some who brand the likes of me Peeping Toms. They say we’re voyeurs reporting naughtiness we’re not supposed to see. They’d rather we skulk around Northern Ireland counting the bandaged heads of police and politicians bashed up during their marching season.
Egypt’s ad hoc marching is creating democracy à la révolution française. Didn’t Benjamin Franklin describe that as two wolves and a lamb deciding what to have for lunch: the greater on the street prevailing over the fewer?
The doyen of Egypt’s commentators Hani Shukrullah thinks that the Islamists have blown it. He’s convinced that we’re witnessing the twilight of the Islamic revival not only in Egypt, but also across the Arab world. Why? He says for a while it was the only alternative to secular dictatorship. Not anymore.
I think he’s put his finger on it. Peaceful protesters have gained more in a few days than violence achieved in decades. The monoliths are crumbling. The Brotherhood Without Violence movement claiming to speak for Brotherhood youth says they’ll stop violence if Morsi is released.
Unless the Arab Muslim world recaptures its sublime inclusive spirit, David Ignatius writes in the Washington Post, the broken political culture will not mend.
Calls from President Obama and Chancellor Merkel’s foreign ministers to free Morsi should not be shrugged off. They spend their days dealing with history’s myopia. They’re aware of the bloody consequences of not reconciling quickly and how easily Egypt’s ride to freedom can be railroaded.
Are Egypt’s new rulers tarring Morsi’s gang by publicising a passel of accusations? Allegations include espionage, killing protesters, inciting violence and possession of explosives and weapons. If prosecutors are so convinced where’s the evidence? Is justice lapsing into recidivism, hurling mud when proof remains elusive?
According to the New York Times editorial board; the military proved disastrously inept when it tried to govern Egypt after the overthrow of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. Now, a week after ousting Mohamed Morsi, the first freely elected president, the military is orchestrating an even more dangerous manoeuver. We are deeply fearful that Egypt could devolve into civil war, which would add new trauma to a region already in turmoil.
The editorial describes the attempt to arrest Morsi’s political allies as “an outrageous move given that at least 51 protesters were killed by soldiers and police officers, and hundreds more wounded, most of them unarmed.” They conclude the military is pushing the Muslim Brotherhood into violent extremism.
Nadim Shehadi, a Chatham House think-tank guru, thinks likewise. The Muslim Brotherhood may claim victimhood giving hot heads credibility, she says.
Three issues to assist Egypt on the journey to democracy are security, plurality and fairness. All parties should renounce all violence. If that’s forthcoming hunting down Muslim Brothers should be called off.
Article 19 of the constitution giving the military absolute power is offensive. There’s no hope of reconciliation while more than 1,000 civilians await a military trial. A general amnesty should be given to all political prisoners who renounce violence.
Surely the strategy to achieve peace is to produce a government and parliament that reflects Egypt’s plurality? To that effect, the Commander-in-Chief constitutional powers should be restricted to a few weeks, not months. A cabinet that reflects the diversity of Egyptian politics needs its own space without a general breathing down their necks. It has to include the Brotherhood and technocrats with the skills to run the country.
There’s ample evidence the last elections were fraudulent. Millions of voting papers were pre-printed and stuffed into ballot boxes. The electoral rolls need to be purged and verified. The Brotherhood’s scheme to import dodgy electronic voting machines from India should be abandoned.
If all goes well, a presidential poll should follow. Then all elected representatives can draft a constitution to be tested in a national plebiscite. It’s a tall order carrying no guarantees. Since 1866 Egypt has tried seven parliamentary systems without coming up with one that works.
The majority want freedom of choice: to decide how to live their lives without being pressured by religious or corrupt leaders. They’re fed up with wolves in sheep’s clothing. This time around Egypt asks for an exception to the general rule that defines a military coup. What would happen if every country followed toppling governments willy-nilly?
Section 508 of America’s Foreign Assistance Act says no aid can be given to any country whose duly elected head of government is deposed by a military coup or decree. To get round it and continue aid Washington’s heavyweights play lexicography.
Egypt deserves a waiver says Kay Granger, the Republican chair of the House sub-committee overseeing foreign aid. If it’s in America’s interest Congress can find language to circumvent the law denying aid after a coup.
Freeing Morsi this week could head off a major confrontation with the Muslim Brotherhood and its extremist Islamist allies. Preconditions include renouncing violence in return for freedom to contest elections.
If the military and the interim president can’t stomach that, they’ll bear responsibility for elevating Morsi’s gang to paladins: heroes of an Islamist cause stretching far beyond Egypt’s borders.
Philip Whitfield is a Cairo commentator.