The ongoing crack down on Morsi’s supporters exposes the indifference of the liberal voices that had called for the ousting of Morsi, precisely because they saw him as too authoritarian and undemocratic. It also serves to de-legitimise a major dissenting political voice in the form of the Muslim Brotherhood that could have dire consequences for the country as a whole.
Whilst the relative silence of the international community in relation to the crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood is notable, even more notable is the silence of the liberals in Egypt who had previously been so vocal against Morsi. In reference to the army’s arrests and detention of Muslim Brotherhood member, Mohammed El Baredie, the countries interim Vice President, said in an interview, “they are taking some precautionary measures to avoid violence, well this is something that I guess they have to do.” What is incredibly worrying about El Baredie’s remarks is that Muslim Brotherhood members continue to be arrested simply for being members. Gama Eid, the director of a leading Cairo NGO expressed concerns about this, saying, “you can arrest someone if they have done [sic] a crime but not just for their political background.” It took the deaths of 51 Morsi supporters and the fear of more violence for El Baredie to finally call for an end to violence and an independent investigation into the deaths of protesters.
The army’s response to the criticisms of international human rights organisations after the deaths of 51 protesters speaks volumes. “What excessive force? We were dealing with people shooting at us with live ammunition. It would have been excessive if we killed 300” said military spokesman Ahmed Mohammed. There is no doubt that the army’s crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood, though motivated by its own interests, is legitimised by the opposition’s anti-Brotherhood stance. Ominously, and as put by the AP’s chief of bureau in Cairo, “comments by the military spokesman betrayed the notion of the military in power and immune from accountability.”
The actions of the military and tacit approval from the opposition forces also serve to de-legitimise the Muslim Brotherhood as a leading voice of political dissent, increasingly signalling to the Muslim Brotherhood that they have no place in Egyptian politics. The increase in arrests and detentions as well the suspension of Brotherhood media outlets will only serve to further the grievances of the movement and its supporters, but it seems hardly likely that the military will back down in the face of the Brotherhood’s resistance against the new status quo, which could lead to a protracted struggle between the army and the movement.
Egypt’s democracy has often been said to have had a false start. For those who opposed Morsi’s presidency, the army’s intervention saved the revolution that toppled Mubarak. For the Muslim Brotherhood and Morsi’s supporters it signalled a huge step backwards. The real problem is that very few in Egypt are showing any real interests in democracy. Morsi’s greatest miscalculation was his failure to bring all of Egypt with him. Those who opposed him meanwhile never really accepted the results of the vote that brought him into power, and consistently undermined his authority. The unity that was so evident in the toppling of Mubarak has quickly disintegrated into factional interests driven by various agendas. Unless Egyptians are able to put those factions to one side, the country’s future remains a very uncertain one.