Can Egypt Escape its Dictators?

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The unrest in Egypt is one stage in the cycle that has held the country hostage for decades, where its leadership operates like a dysfunctional family. Problems are mismanaged, with inaction to address socio-economic troubles and severe overreactions in its military endeavors.

In a cycle of autocrats, the failure to create lasting solutions opened a revolving door of strongmen. They wrestled with terrorism, and granted the army broad authority to regain stability. Egypt’s last four presidencies have come to power through controversy, and exited the same way. Much as the beginnings of the regimes of Nasser, Sadat, Mubarak, and Morsi, Egypt presently finds itself in a similar dysfunction. Political dissent runs rampant, militant threats grow, and a security vacuum widens. 2011 marked the most recent breaking point. A culmination of unmitigated issues- including poor education, high unemployment, corruption, and regional tensions- all contributed to revolution. The inability to tackle these dilemmas was directed at Pres. Hosni Mubarak, who had been in power for 29 years. His ousting led to the election of Mohamed Morsi; his brief administration ended with a coup.

State Department Photo

Sec. of State Hillary Clinton meets with Pres. Mubarak in Sharm El-Sheikh, in 2010. 5 months later, the army would depose him, as it did Morsi thereafter.

Like a broken home, Egypt exists with conflicts among opposing ideologies and a deteriorating relationship between its government and citizens. This is the Egypt that may mark the beginning of its next presidency. One that speaks of democracy, yet continues the policies that led to crisis. Where trading liberty for security and underreacting in the face of a worsening economy is commonplace. Such a dynamic does little to move Egypt forward; it is likely to agitate its burgeoning violence.

A HOUSE DIVIDED

The two rivals at the core of this schism are the Muslim Brotherhood and the Military. One, a conservative, non-secular interest group and the other, a secular-favoring branch of the government, with strong ties to the presidency.

The Muslim Brotherhood, an Islamist group, has been at the center of the Egypt’s autocratic cycle for decades. The Brotherhood opposes secularism, has repeatedly used or advocated violence and is therefore banned. Amidst their attempts to gain control of the state, many of its supporters are persecuted, imprisoned, or spent much of their lives underground. This has left them in a perennial state of survival, stoking hostilities.

Photo by Jonathan Rashad/CC BY

Protests rail against Mubarak in Cairo, Feb. 2011. Mubarak transferred his powers to other officers that day, but refused to resign. (Photo by Jonathan Rashad/ CC BY)

Egypt’s Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) has struggled to quell them. And if the Brotherhood is increasingly antagonistic due to their persecution, the SCAF has been equally belligerent because of their inability to subdue them. For 60 years, all but one of Egypt’s presidents have been former commanders of the SCAF. The SCAF has played a powerful role in politics, which it strives to preserve. Not surprisingly, the frontrunner for the upcoming elections is Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the former Field Marshal of the SCAF, and as well as the man who led the coup against his predecessor, Morsi, a Brotherhood appointee. Should al-Sisi win, this will reestablish the SCAF’s relationship with the executive power.

RISE OF MILITANCY

A poor economy, conflict with the Brotherhood, as well as irregular application of law enforcement, caused a spike in crime. It also attracted militants, when widespread oppression allowed cells to identify with locals; but poor governance, mixed with political transition, also promoted militancy. Two other examples are the Palestinian territories and Syria.

(Photo by Jonathan Rashad/ CC BY)

Morsi announces his election victory, in 2012. The Brotherhood’s history of assassinations and secrecy troubled many. The army, which controls factories, restaurants, and land, all tax exempt, saw Morsi as a threat. (Photo by Jonathan Rashad/ CC BY)

As the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) took the reins of bureaucracy, they released allied insurgents imprisoned under Mubarak. These rebels quietly reorganized during Morsi’s tenure. The Sinai desert, grown lawless, became their home. Groups like Ansar al-Maqdis and Ansar al-Shariah or lesser known Ajnad Misr have been connected to various attacks in recent years; taking aim at foreigners with the killing of four Korean tourists, the firing of rockets at Israel, and most recently, a series of bombings at Cairo University.

Top Photo: A man stares at a damaged tank in Cairo’s Tahrir Square, on Feb 3, 2011, amid protests that brought down Mubarak. Wild confrontations between the regime and dissidents killed 840 people and injured 6,000.  (Photo by Amr Farouq Mohammed).

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