Japan in Their Own Words (JITOW)/日本からの意見

Time for Egypt to Show its Wisdom
TAKAHASHI Hiroshi /  Associate Professor, Yokohama National University

October 2, 2013
Two and a half years since the people's revolution, the political situation in Egypt has become highly volatile. Having risen to power as a result of the revolution, President Mohamed Morsi was ousted by a military coup. More than 850 Morsi supporters including members of the Muslim Brotherhood who had been staging sit-in protests were killed by security forces seeking to remove them by force.

The failure of economic policy and frequent blackouts had reached a point that was unbearable for the Egyptian public. Nevertheless, the military ouster of a democratically elected President is clearly a setback for democratization. Though the coup d'etat was preceded by massive anti-Morsi demonstrations, they were not as energetic as protests that took place during the people's revolution, according to local media reports. The military establishment used the "popular will" as a pretext to regain power by taking over the mass demonstrations, quashing persistent pro-Morsi factions and intensifying its repression of the Muslim Brotherhood by branding it a "terrorist organization." There are some concerns that Egypt will become a second Algeria.

In Algeria, the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS), an Islamic fundamentalist group, won a landslide victory in the country's first multiple-party general elections that took place in 1991. Fearing a rapid transformation to Islam, the military leaders seized power and outlawed the FIS. Militant factions retaliated with frequent terrorist attacks, and more than 100,000 people lost their lives over the next seven years. In my view, the situation in Egypt is unlikely to deteriorate into a quagmire in the same way as Algeria. While military conflict and political instability may continue for some time, I believe Egypt's military establishment and the Muslim Brotherhood will move to resolve the crisis over the mid- to long-term.

The Muslim Brotherhood is a dedicated group operating social welfare activities out of mosques, and has the support of the underprivileged classes that make up 40% of the population. However, in 1952 when Gamal Abdel Nasser and his young military officers seized power, it caused an internal split in the Brotherhood and its militant faction got out of control, taking part in an assassination attempt on Nasser, who had become President by that time. The Brotherhood was outlawed and ruthlessly suppressed for half a century, leaving a bitter lesson behind. Today, even if some of its dissatisfied factions turn extremist, they are unlikely to win the support of the general public, which for the most part is seeking "stable living conditions rather than confusion and bloodshed."

Meanwhile, the military establishment cannot ignore the criticism against its coup d'etat and military crackdown from western countries – the United States in particular. The 1.3 billion to 1.5 billion dollars it receives in U.S. military aid is essential. It should also be noted that the U.S. government has not played along with the Egyptian military's claim that the Muslim Brotherhood is a "terrorist organization." Egypt is far more important geopolitically than Algeria, and any further deterioration in the situation will undoubtedly bring on a full-fledged effort on the part of the United States as well as the international community to prevent a deadlock. Neither should we overlook the mild-mannered and moderate national character of the Egyptian people.

The previous regime of President Hosni Mubarak was clearly dictatorial and the masses were effectively denied a voice. As one who has known those times I find it incredible that popular demonstrations openly challenging the military establishment or security forces have now become part of the country's daily life. Mass demonstrations that led to the coup were organized by the youth organization "Tamarod (rebellion) movement," and a petition seeking President Morsi's resignation was signed by 23 million people. A society that allows free speech has indeed been a "fruit" of the people’s revolution.

However, the media is currently facing even greater pressure than under the Mubarak regime, and public safety has declined to a point that threatens to turn Egypt into a police state. Many Egyptians simply meant to say no to a radical Islamic state; they weren't seeking military rule. What Egypt needs now is an open discussion between those with different standpoints, and the establishment of a model of "democracy based on a softer version of Islam" sought by its people.

I would like to call on the interim government to begin by lifting the state of emergency and apologizing to its people for the bloodshed caused by the military crackdown. That done, it should hasten the discussion on nation building that includes the Muslim Brotherhood. Individuals on bad terms with each may become caught up in an excited quarrel, but as the fighting takes a violent turn an elder would step in to break it up, saying "Alright, that's enough!" - I remember frequently encountering such a scene on the streets of Cairo. This characteristically Egyptian "wisdom" and "tolerance" is what I earnestly hope to see now.

Hiroshi Takahashi is Associate Professor of Yokohama National University and former Cairo correspondent for the Mainichi Shimbun newspaper.
The English-Speaking Union of Japan

高橋 弘司 / 横浜国立大学 准教授

2013年 10月 2日








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