The renowned Lebanese journalist and writer Hazem Saghieh believes that the events of recent weeks in Egypt have shown that Arab societies are only capable of bringing forth military power and political Islam after all, and that the champions of democracy, on the other hand, are not a force to be taken seriously when the chips are down
Using cut-and-dried simplifications is definitely not the best way of getting to grips with the highly complex crisis in which Egypt currently finds itself. After all, the acute political problems that are coming to light there at this time are the result of a social gulf that grew wider and wider during the country's long period of military rule and has most recently been further widened to a significant degree by the Muslim Brotherhood. These problems and this gulf are, therefore, two sides of the same coin.
This is clearly illustrated by the fact that there is absolutely no common ground between the social environment of the Muslim Brotherhood and the rest of Egyptian society and no attempt to build bridges across the divide.
Post-Nasser standstill in Egyptian political life
An in-depth look at recent Egyptian history suggests that a party like the liberal Wafd Party would have been the most likely candidate to assume a social bridge-building function such as this. However, the military rule of the early years of the Nasser era destroyed any chances of that. The Wafd Party sank into oblivion, as did Egyptian political life as a whole.
This gulf cannot be filled in without patiently holding fast to democratic practices and without a long-term willingness to enter into democratic dialogue and an effort to seek compromises that are based on a process in which all sides play an equal role in jointly shaping Egypt's new political landscape together.
By demonstrating a pathetically low level of willingness to enter into democratic dialogue with potential partners, the Muslim Brotherhood and President Mohammed Morsi, who hails from its ranks, missed a valuable opportunity.
The collapse of the Muslim Brotherhood before the coup
In this respect, however, the brotherhood's opponents have shown themselves to be even more naïve by letting their impatience get the better of them and by allowing themselves to be seduced into giving preference to a military coup.
After all, the Muslim Brotherhood government was already badly shaken by the day-to-day tensions of being in power. Moreover, its repressive measures went hand in hand with weak leadership, visible signs of wear and tear and an astonishing ability to make itself a laughing stock (Morsi's "iron totalitarianism" can safely be dismissed as an exaggeration on the part of his opponents).
This leads us to the conclusion that the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood – and therefore also the possibility of a permanent decline in political Islam – by political means seemed within reach, which would have impacted on other countries in the Islamic world as well.
It was in this situation that the military coup occurred and now threatens to lead to five very specific and extremely dangerous developments.
The ascendency of political Islam
Firstly, it is now clear that despite its impressive mass presence on Tahrir Square, the broad anti-Muslim Brotherhood movement depends on the intervention of the army when push comes to shove. The events of recent weeks have shown that those people who claim that our Arab societies are only capable of bringing forth military power and political Islam are right after all, and that the champions of democracy, on the other hand, are not a force to be taken seriously when the chips are down.
Secondly, it is now clear just how fragile the democratic culture is at the present time, a point illustrated by the (mysteriously) short period of transition that separated the cries of "down with military rule!" and the cries that the very same military was the country's much-longed-for saviour.
Thirdly, all of this has helped political Islam out of a tight spot by handing it the role of victim to use as a weapon. How could that have happened? Have people forgotten what happened after the election victory of the Islamist FIS in Algeria in 1991? Whether we like it or not, the Muslim Brotherhood has now become the guardian of democratic lawfulness.
New confrontation unavoidable
Fourthly, one might argue that the coup saved Egypt from a confrontation between the country's two social blocks. However, it is much more plausible to say that Egypt is now on course for an even more serious and more embittered confrontation. Certainly, all of the statements made by the Muslim Brotherhood and its representatives seem to indicate that it is.
Fifthly, in stark contrast to the innocence that some analysts of the coup are demonstrating, we cannot see any precedent that leads us to feel confident that the military is going to hand over power just like that, particularly as the protest movement we witnessed in the run-up to the coup will have to throw in the towel sooner or later.
Let it be known that the person who penned these lines would like nothing more than to be proven wrong in his analysis of the situation!
© Al Hayat/Qantara.de 2013
Hazem Saghieh is a renowned political analyst and writer of opinion pieces for the leading pan-Arab daily newspaper Al Hayat.
This article was originally published in Al Hayat.
Translated from the German by Aingeal Flanagan
Editor: Lewis Gropp/Qantara.de