The Muslim Brotherhood’s Suicide Leap

Marc C. Ginsberg (Ambassador to Morocco, 1994-1998)

Cross-posted from Ambassador Ginsberg’s July 2, 2013 post on The Huffington Post.

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This was not the return to Tahrir Square that Egyptians desired. For the millions converging on this cradle of revolution demanding the ouster of their president Tahrir symbolizes all that has gone wrong so quickly for so many.

Today, Egypt is a country paralyzed by a modern day version of the Ten Plagues. The Muslim Brothers rank amateur mismanagement of a revolution that democratically rewarded them their first chance to run the show since their founding eighty years ago has been squandered — and they seem to be the last to acknowledge it. No matter the mile-deep political divisions within Egypt’s society the Brothers have no one to blame but themselves for the state Egypt is in. The ever so secretly autocratic Brotherhood leadership and their miscast front man Mohammed Morsi have surely disturbed the Almighty. They have proven they cannot govern and it is time for them to go.

In a cataclysmic year of crisis begetting crisis, Egyptians have no reason to take the long view of a revolution gone awry. There are multi-mile-long lines for gasoline, food, power. The state coffers are almost empty. Egypt’s chronic poverty rate has swollen tenfold in less than a year. Lawlessness reigns in many of its cities as the streets become fertile territory for crime, extortion and vigilantism. Exhausted, demoralized, and betrayed, vast swaths of Egyptians gathering 22 million strong in Tahrir Square have shouted to the rafters they cannot take it any more.

To steal an often applied Middle East expression, Morsi never lost an opportunity to lose an opportunity. Instead of fulfilling his pledge to heal divisions upon taking office Morsi insincerely exacerbated them by abusing his mandate to rule like a modern day pharaoh determined to rid Egypt’s government of secular opponents. Instead of seeking consensus to reboot Egypt’s economic morass, Morsi acting like an Iranian ayatollah demanding fealty to an uncompromising highly theocratic Islamist ideological agenda that sabotaged any hope to reverse Egypt’s economic decline.

At almost every turn Morsi took the wrong turn.

And who can blame his opponents for demanding Morsi’s departure. Wherever one falls on its political spectrum every tier of Egyptian society confronts a period of devastating uncertainty that has the potential to push Egypt further into the abyss. Something has got to change to prevent the country itself from collapsing into absolute anarchy.

Across Egypt tonight the question on virtually everyone’s lips is whether the Egyptian military will rescue the country by decapitating the Brothers’ hold on the presidential palace and impose their own solution to the crisis. The problem is that the military has no sure-footed path forward either.

Nevertheless, to signal that a point of no return has been reached, earlier today, Defense Minister Abdel Fattah al-Sissi issued an ominous ultimatum declaring the military’s intention to intervene within 48 hours unless the county’s warring factions negotiate their way out of their jam and prevent Egypt from sliding into chaos. No one really knows what this “intervention” entails. Whatever the stakes, it is highly unlikely that any political accommodation will be reached given the zero-sum confrontation playing out across Egypt unless it it at the point of a gun..

Even if the military replicates its role when it ousted Hosni Mubarak, Egyptians face a very bleak future — the only hope being that that the military’s threat forces everyone to come to their senses. There is a very real threat that by staging a military coup against Morsi, the military could make matters worse by unleashing an Islamist backlash by Morsi’s supporters against the military and Morsi’s opponents. There is simply no roadmap to guide anyone out of this deeply dug ditch, just as there was no roadmap after Mubarak was tossed overboard. Moreover, Egypt’s military is not a panacea for what ails Egypt. Its own prestige was badly tarnished as a result of its post Mubarak adventures into the political fray which helped create this mess in the first place.

The all-important question in the U.S. is whether it matters if Morsi stays or is forced out of office. The answer is not so simple. For all of Morsi’s domestic misfortunes he has been surprisingly accommodating to Washington on critical regional issues, including reigning in Hamas, opposing Iran’s regional terrorism, and facilitating Libya’s transition. Moreover, whether we like it or not, Morsi’s secular opponents have so soured on the Obama Administration that they relish serving up conspiracy theories extolling Washington’s love affair with Morsi so the United States is caught up in this web of intrigue, as well. No matter. Egypt’s disintegration can only benefit the Salafist elements of Egypt’s society and even a chastised Morsi is no panacea for the ills that have befallen Egypt. Some new form of grand coalition that brings Morsi’s secular opponents into a power-sharing arrangement is vital to stabilize Egypt, and this is what Washington must work toward.

For Morsi’s apologists who contend no one has the right to upend his bare democratic election, all I can somewhat uneasily declare that they can join Morsi as he sinks the Egyptian ship of state to the bottom of the Nile. A total collapse of the Egyptian state is too high a price for Egyptians to pay to stand on principle. If this is what Islamist “democracy” is all about, the ruling Muslim Brothers must make a hasty retreat to their redoubt to figure out what went so very wrong.

Locusts, anyone?

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