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The return of three relics from Egypt of the 1980s, 1990s, and 2000s form the terrible spectre to haunt the country’s political life for years to come: terrorism, the army in power, and exclusionary politics.
The events of the past few weeks depict a picture not alien to Egypt. The image of devastation from September 6, 2013 in what was then the house of Mohamed Ibrahim, Interior Minister, gave a strong sense of déjà vu. Nearly 13 years ago, another Interior Minister, Abd Al-Halim Moussa, survived a similar act of terrorism, which at the time claimed the life of National Assembly Speaker, Rifa’at Al-Mahgoub.The recent killings now emerging as a trend belong to a script that narrates the story of unequal state-society relations under emergency law that was the rule not the exception, only for a short period, under presidents Anwar Sadat and Hosni Mubarak. The former was assassinated on October 6, 1981 during the military parade commemorating the eighth anniversary of the 1973 Ramadan (Yum Kippur War). The latter was ousted in 2011 and has more or less been acquitted of all charges against him since the return of the army to politics after the ouster of elected President Mohamed Morsi on July 3, 2013.
Before Mansoura, a reference to the 24th of December blast at a police station in the Nile Delta which killed more than a dozen people and wounded many others, there were the Luxor massacre, one of many attacks against tourists, Egyptians of all faiths, and symbols of authority, especially the coercive machine seen by those excluded or excluding themselves from politics as the state’s long arm of oppression.
Eventually, Mubarak found a way to tame terrorists, namely from the Islamic group and Holy War, extremists who fought state and society and eventually lost, laying down their arms and choosing so-called ‘repentance’ (tawba). After the 25th of January revolution, many members of these groups formed or joined political parties and even won seats in the 2012 National Assembly elections. More or less, a process of ‘de-radicalisation’ gained momentum as politics emerged as the favourite modus operandi for resolving conflict and normalising state-society relations. Today, Egypt is witnessing a quasi-inversion of that process: radicalisation-cum-deradicalisation-cum-deradicalisation in reverse.
And this may be the tip of the iceberg if Egypt does not return to politics. That is, a state of fair play whereby the army does not call all of the shots in a singular way, where terrorism does not solidify as the means that justifies the end of venting political anger through bullets instead of ballots, and, least not last, exclusion of political foes through use of largely partial courts, fear of force is denied lest the country plunges further into chaos.The clampdown on Islamists for one reason or another in the 1980s, 1990s and 2000s or today feeds both peaceful revivalist tendencies as well as militancy by those who have no qualms with fighting the Egyptian state for the next thirty years. This would be a recipe for disaster for a country that for some time looked set to reconcile itself to its past and break the emotional silence over the price of excluding, oppressing or killing political foes of any kind.
Unless this is what interests within the security forces and the army are actually machinating: To fulfill the prophecy of the Islamists being terrorists. The 2011 New Year’s Eve bombing of the Coptic Saints Church in Alexandria, which killed more than 20 people, is a reminder of how the perpetrators of deadly attacks even when blamed on Islamists are difficult to establish.
This recipe – if maintained under the Egyptian army chief General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, may lead the country to not only instability, but also a reversal of all gains from the 25th of January Revolution, noted for its absence from the political establishment’s ‘official transcript’. Integral to this recipe is the designation of the Muslim Brotherhood as a terrorist organisation one day before the Mansour bombing portends continuous tumult in Egypt. Under draft constitutional amendments to be presented to voters on January 14, 2014, religious parties will not be allowed to partake in politics, an article targeting the Salafis and Muslim Brotherhood, the group with which deposed President Morsi is affiliated.
Recently, dozens still protesting daily for the return to ‘legitimacy’ (shar’iyya) or Morsi’s mandate to rule, have been arrested and will be tried for charges of propagating the Brotherhood’s ideas, membership of a terrorist organisation, and its support in any shape or form, including speaking and writing, accusations that can carry up to five-year prison sentences. Most the Brotherhood’s leadership is either in detention, with many facing life-time imprisonment, or at large. Schools, charities, media, intellectuals and business affiliated directly or indirectly to the Brotherhood are or will be on the radar of the ‘censor’ in Egypt.However, it is misleading to argue that only the Brotherhood is the target of the new army-led political order in Egypt. Many leftists and liberals who have openly voiced opposition to the coup face similar proscription.
Under the Brotherhood, which made lots of mistakes when in power, freer movement and organisation did eventually allow society to organise and depose an elected president. Right now, even if state-affiliated intellectuals and media are singing the praise of army chief General Abdel Fattah El-Sisi, the screws are being tightened on freedoms in general.
Amid the grim warnings and reminders, one thing is going for Egyptians – There are still positives from the moral flame of the 25th of January Revolution, new oppressors of any political colour will not last, and with time on the side of the country’s vibrant youth a democratic future beckons.