Some folks may remember my writeup on the Muslim Brotherhood after their initial rise to power in Egypt. In that writeup, I said that the MB taking power was no good for the longterm stability for the region.
Most pundits at the time claimed the opposite, and with little more than press releases and bits and pieces of history as background, were of the opinion that since they had been in opposition to the former dictator, they must be the "good guys" and their rise was naturally for the best.
Unfortunately, it looks like I will be impotently jeering told-you-so at an audience who doesn't care while Cairo burns again.
There will be another civil war in Egypt, and probably sooner rather than later. No later than a few months from now. The headquarters of the Muslim Brotherhood were stormed by protesters yesterday as the first direct action stemming from renewed revolutionary spirit.
Let's take a look at some very important tidbits from the press releases regarding the storming of the headquarters.
A spokesman for the MB has said publicly that they are considering putting together armed militias composed of MB supporters, criticizing the state security apparatus (the Army) for failing to protect the headquarters building, and for failing to quell the protests.
This is the same army that deposed a hated despot in a military coup, then stood by to guard the peace until the people had spoken loudly enough to form a free government. They then stepped aside and continued to serve quietly and honorably under the new government, and have maintained strict neutrality ever since.
Put yourself in the shoes of any of the protesters. After weeks of peaceful protest, some hoodlums break into the party in power's headquarters. Now the party in power is threatening to put armed gangs in the streets, and is faulting the army for not stopping your peaceful protests.
Here's some background, for those who have not been following the process. This is a quick and dirty, and if you want more details, you can read through the largely ignored news reports from the major media outlets during the last year.
Essentially, after taking power despite protests that they'd hijacked the elections, the MB immediately started to pack the government with political allies, rather than those most suited for the job. They focused on cultural and religious institutions rather than civic governance. They have been nearly completely unresponsive to criticism and protest at their incompetence in handling basic affairs in government. They have largely ignored the fact that the vast majority of Egyptians fall between extremely moderate Islam and wholly secular, and have even started to re-institutionalize discrimination against secular, Christian, and minority Egyptians.
They have even alienated many very religious Egyptians by taking 90 degree turns away from their campaign promises, which revolved around civic improvements and political freedoms, and have validated all of the concerns that they were simply using political experience to build a convincing facade during the initial elections.
The current President, Mohamad Morsi, while technically renouncing the Muslim Brotherhood to assuage fears that one party would control the legislative and executive branches of the Egyptian government, is still a member of the Freedom and Justice Party, an MB subsidiary/affiliate group, populated entirely by MB members and supposedly "former" members. It is also unclear whether or not his public separation from the MB stuck much longer than was necessary to get elected.
Major precipitating factors in the current round of protests are the following events not very well covered by outside media:
On June 14, 2012, the Supreme Constitutional Court ordered the dissolution of the lower house of parliament, ruling that a third of the MB-dominated lower house were elected illegally.
November 19, 2012: Liberal parties and minority religious representatives from the 100 person constitutional assembly resign. The assembly is responsible for drafting the new Egyptian constitution. Their official resignation is the culmination of their resistance to attempts by MB and affiliated Islamists to impose their will on the draft.
Three days later, President Morsi unilaterally grants himself expanded powers, including immunity from judicial review and removing the authority of the courts to dissolve the houses of parliament for any reason. This decree ran just days ahead of court decisions that would have dissolved the houses based on illegalities in procedure and election.
Within days, the MB-dominated panel completes the draft constitution and Morsi sets a deadline for referendum of less than two weeks. MB protestors physically block entrance to the Supreme Court, keeping justices from ruling on the legality of the proceedings.
By Dec. 22, the referendum is complete and the constitution is approved. However, less than a third of voters actually participated in what was widely seen as a sham. About two thirds of those who did vote, voted in favor of the constitution.
Over the next few months, as MB and hard-line Islamist appointees to lower courts, cabinets, and parliament continued. Protests grew alongside violence and attacks against minorities and secular Egyptians.
Morsi and the MB continue to battle with the Supreme Court over the legality, and now the constitutional basis, of every major decree and action sponsored by Morsi, including the dissolution and reformation of parliamentary and governmental bodies at will. The MB and its supporters continue to resort to physical obstruction of court proceedings and at times blatantly ignore the constitutional checks and balances under which they are nominally bound to operate.
Currently, millions of people are taking to the streets in protest against Morsi and the MB.
The current groups protesting the government in power come in three flavors: Those still loyal to the old regime, secular and minority-religious Egyptians, and alienated former supporters of the MB. Which group is largest is not immediately clear, but my assessment is that it is the secular and minority group. For now, they are all protesting together, as they have a common enemy.
The Army has been apolitical throughout the process, appearing only to keep the peace in cases of large scale violence. It is an absolutely stunning display of restraint, duty, and even-handedness, and a historically rare display of a military formed under a tin pot despot not following the same tired patterns of violence and power-grabbing that are familiar throughout the history of the world.
They are currently the only organized, disciplined, and cohesive structure in the country outside of the Muslim Brotherhood, and by far have the biggest sticks of anyone in the country, or even the region, with the sole exception of perhaps Israel... And they're doing the right thing.
Here's hoping that the people have learned from their very attempt at a free government in decades, and can get a do-over without too much bloodshed.
Twenty minutes after the initial writing of this essay, Egypt's military issued an ultimatum to President Morsi.
An excerpt of the Army's statement: "If the demands of the people are not met within the given period of time, [the military] will be compelled by its national and historic responsibilities, and in respect for the demands of Egypt’s great people, to announce a roadmap for the future, and procedures that it will supervise involving the participation of all the factions and groups."