EDITORIAL: Army raises stakes in Egypt
IT IS OVER A YEAR since former President Hosni Mubarak was overthrown and the political situation in Egypt is far from settled.
Recent developments there suggest that democracy, though desirable, is never perfect.
The problem is compounded when the winning party is not of the political persuasion favoured by the armed forces and its allies. On Sunday, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi raised the stakes in the standoff with the Muslim Brotherhood, saying the armed forces would not allow a “certain group” to dominate the country.
His tough comments came only hours after he met with United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, who urged him to work with President Mohammed Mursi, of the Brotherhood, on a full transition to civilian rule.
Tantawi has made similar comments in the recent past, but it was the first time he has made the statement since Mursi’s inauguration. It was an authoritative signal that the military has no intention of giving the Brotherhood a free rein.
This followed last Tuesday’s parliamentary session called by Mursi which risked throwing down the gauntlet to all the critics of the Brotherhood, who have claimed Mursi and the party do not have the country’s greater interests at heart.
The ongoing showdown in Egypt between the country’s Islamists and its military rulers is a clear reminder of how difficult democratic transitions in the Arab world are likely to be. Obviously, failure to reach a power-sharing agreement will prolong political instability.
Mursi seems intent on proving that he has absolute power, but no one has disputed his position as the first democratically elected president. Many feel it is too early in his presidency to prove his power through positions which will inflame an already volatile situation between the military chiefs and the Brotherhood.
With an Islamist-dominated, albeit now dissolved, legislature, Mursi may well feel that he has the country behind him, but resting on this belief would be a dangerous move. The trip by Clinton may well be an attempt to diffuse a potentially dangerous situation.
Since the election, Mursi has recognized the need for an inclusive government and has repeatedly claimed to be president of all people, regardless of religious or political affiliation.
His decision to call a parliamentary session, dominated by the Brotherhood, has been criticized as biased, and could exacerbate fears that Egypt’s president has no qualms about pushing a certain agenda, regardless of the costs.
It is still too early to cast a final judgment on exactly what kind of Egypt Mursi wants to see, but with reports that extremist clerics have called for the destruction of the “pagan” pyramids, he must make his opposition to such positions clear.
Mursi must decide whether he will either be a president who governs in line with an independent judiciary and the rule of law, or he can decide that the support of the people will be enough to carry him forward.
He will not have both.