Tuesday, 9 July 2013

The Prospect of Civil War in Egypt

'War consisteth not in battle only, or the act of fighting; but in a tract of time, wherein the will to contend by battle is sufficiently known'-Thomas Hobbes.

It is possible that the military responded to the Muslim Brotherhood protesters outside the Cairo barracks, killing 51 people, because some in the crowd were armed and wanted to provoke or panic the army into shooting. Or else some were determined to give the Muslim Brothers a 'whiff of grapeshot'.

The military takeover was bound to be resisted by the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and these killings can only intensify the the sense of martyrdom that has been used to mobilise them; it has put a seal of blood on the cause and will commit the Muslim Brotherhood to continue advocating their people to 'rise up'.

The broad competing power blocs in Egypt now trying to pose as the legitimate heirs to the 2011 'revolution'-both the Muslim Brotherhood and those who supported its removal-have deep antagonistic roots that go back to the divisions caused by Sadat's 'open door' reforms of the economy in the 1970s.

After 1973 and Israel's victory in another Arab-Israeli War, Sadat had moved towards making Egypt more closely dependent on the US instead of the USSR in order to fund its military and economy. The IMF became involved and its deficit reduction conditions for aid led to food prices being raised.

The economic conditions were created, along with rapid urbanisation and growing populations, for the growth of the Muslim Brotherhood to represent the poorer Egyptians who migrated to Cairo and the struggling traders shut out of mainstream economic life by the control exercised by Westernised elites.

Set against that the way the Muslim Brotherhood had been repressed by Nasser after he came to power the 1952 with their help, the theme of the betrayal of the umma by illegitimate usurpers and fake Muslims has been a consistent one that has now been given added edge.

The irony is that President Morsi had accepted the close relationship with the US especially on foreign policy and he was never in a position to challenge the army's position. Neither were the army not anti-Islamist Egyptians prepared to give him time to preside over more economic uncertainty and decay.

For decades the economic model proscribed by the the US and the IMF has not made for social stability nor an economy not dependent upon an entrenched elite and bureaucracy from using aid to bolster their own interests. Infant industries have failed to compete against allowing Western technological imports.

Now in 2013 there seems to prospect of Egypt being able to move away from a failing economy at the very time when its political chaos is deterring investment and the IMF is imposing condition on aid that involve austerity measures such as the cutting of fuel subsidies and raising sales tax on goods.

Despite the fact Morsi backed these measures to get IMF aid, the collapsing economy is interpreted through 'culture wars' as Muslim Brotherhood supporters see the entire problem in Egypt as being the fact that evil corrupt pagans have monopolised the system for themselves.

The Muslim Brotherhood for a long time has preached that by Islamising society more it can create the conditions upon which true virtue will flourish and corruption in the way aid is administered banished and  the spread to real wealth to believers assured.

For his supporters Morsi's removal is an attack on those hopes and his restoration a precondition for any alleviation of their poverty and economic deprivation. For those who supported his removal it was seen as a precondition of any chance to revive tourism, push for open democracy and restore the economy.

The factors driving civil conflict are based on deep rooted intractable divisions. Both sides are claiming that the revolution has been perverted or stolen from them and both regard the other as counter-revolutionaries prepared to use force and terrorise the other. So now, perhaps, only power and force can decide the outcome.

The question is really whether radical Islamists could possibly put up an armed revolt and what access to weapons they have. There are no signs that any in the army are prepared to defect to the rival 'revolution' against which the coup was directed-both in the name of preserving the gains of 2011 against dictatorship.

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