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Egypt's Military to MB: Don't Forget Who's In Charge


The Muslim Brotherhood is failing to govern in Egypt, and its popularity is on the skids. Crime is up, jobs are as scarce as tourists and foreign investors, protests loom, and the Brotherhood is busy infighting as more radical forces edge toward center stage.

That’s why this story is important: Egypt’s military is stepping back into the picture. In comments posted on the army’s Facebook page, top general Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi warned that the military won’t sit quietly as the Brotherhood fights to smash its opponents in the street. Nor will it tolerate attempts by the Brotherhood (or anyone else) to insult the military or push it to the political margins. Attempts by the Brotherhood to smash the opposition will not be tolerated, said el-Sissi:

“It is not honorable that we remain silent in the face of the terrorizing and scaring of our Egyptian compatriots. There is more honor in death than watching a single Egyptian harmed while his army is standing idly by.”

This appears to mean that if it becomes necessary, the military will protect protesters against an aggressive display of Islamist street gangs. The generals are laying down a marker: Morsi won’t be able to use the violence widely expected when mass opposition protests take place at the end of June to defeat his political enemies once and for all.

One suspects that the generals aren’t completely unhappy with President Morsi’s inept year in power. Not being congenital idiots, they have to know that if he could, Morsi and his backers would do to them what Turkey’s Erdogan has done to his generals: locked a bunch up on whatever charges could be whomped up in short order and put the others on a very short leash.

Fortunately for the military brass, Egypt is such a mess and the Brotherhood (kept out of power for more than fifty years) was so unready for prime time, that the longer the Islamists stay in power, the worse off the country becomes and the less popularity they have. There was never much chance that the Islamists would match their Turkish colleagues’ success. In Egypt, the risks are all the other way. Egypt could end up looking more like Pakistan where a secure military presides over a ruined country than like Turkey where the military has been for now at least swept aside.

Back when Morsi and the Brotherhood were riding high, the military stepped back from politics. Now, the government is floundering and many Egyptians are less sure that getting rid of the old authoritarian system was such a great idea. What the military probably wants is a return to an authoritarian presidential republic in which a strong ruler backed by the soldiers keeps Egypt in order, balancing between the liberals and the Islamists and quietly beating up dissidents who get too far out of line. At this point, the ‘stability at any price’ party is getting stronger in Egypt by the day. One suspects that most of Egypt’s neighbors feel the same way; neither the Turks, the Israelis, the Gulf Arabs nor the Europeans want disorder in Egypt. (In Iran, perhaps, they have a different view.)

The real question mark over Egypt’s future isn’t whether the military will take advantage of Morsi’s weakness to entrench its position as the ultimate arbiter in the country. It’s whether anybody can halt Egypt’s downward spiral before the bottom falls out.

[General Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi whispers sweet nothings in the ear of Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim on May 22, 2013. Photo courtesy Getty Images.]

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  • Corlyss

    It would be a relief to see some adults/pragmatists intervene in the Arab Springs everywhere.
    What’s interesting to me is the fact that we were told the MB is dangerous because they are the only faction organized and capable of actually doing the complex job of governing, therefore in a much better position to move into positions of power where mobs take down governments. Appears not to be the case.

  • ljgude

    THE MB was never moderate – it is the founding organization of Islamism – political power centered Islam that was founded in the 30s at the time that modern mass movements like fascism and communism seemed like the way of the future. It is as thoroughgoing in its ideological orientation and totalitarianism as the movements it imitates. That it should turn out to be as incompetent at governing as, say North Korea, without the dead hand of Marxism holding it under water is a great blessing.

  • bpuharic

    Why haven’t Muslims taken the lead in characterizing the failures of their religion, and the consequences for belief? Has it never occurred to Muslim scholars, theologians, intellectuals, etc., that the widespread, almost universal failure of Islam to BE the ‘religion of peace’ means the very nature of the religion must be questioned? Why do Muslims keep repeating their mistakes in country after country?

    In many places in the Muslim world it’s a capital offense merely to question whether the Qura’n IS the ‘word of God’. There are so many questions, about religious freedom, the place of women, unbelief, scriptures, etc., that are being totally ignored, buried under assertions that Islam is the perfect revelation from God.

    Christianity’s equally bizarre contentions have, at least, been brought into question across the world. But Islam as a political theology seems above question. It is the failure of Islam’s leaders that is most striking.

    • rheddles

      “Why haven’t Muslims taken the lead in characterizing the failures of their religion, and the consequences for belief?”

      Because they don’t perceive them to be failures. And so far they are getting away with it. The Muslims are like adolescents who push, push at all boundaries until they reach resistance. That is why I expect them to push more and more until they provoke a Shermanesque response from the Anglo Saxon powers.

      • Pete

        “That is why I expect them [Muslims] to push more and more until they provoke a Shermanesque response from the Anglo Saxon powers.”

        Exactly right, Brother.

  • Pete

    I don’t know, Mead. You’re hypersensitive to racial stereotyping, but here you post a picture of the Egyptian general looking like a sly, swarthy, decadent Arab dressed up as a solider whispering backstabbing deceit into the ear of one of his stooges.

    And check out that watch he’s wearing. Did he get it from a Times Square hustler on his last trip to the United Nations thinking it might make him look manly?

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