Rarely has Ramadan come at a more tragic time for Egyptians, or for that matter for Syrians. The spirit of the season is intended to be a holy month of peace and worship; of turning away from the material world and tuning in to the spiritual; of seeking forgiveness and redemption through fasting and self-abnegation. And yet the new moon that announces the advent of this year’s Ramadan shines a grim light on Egyptians killing Egyptians in the streets.
The elation was short-lived for the millions who marched to oust Morsi and his catastrophic administration on June 30th. First there was the backlash from the Muslim Brotherhood, echoed by a chorus in the international media accusing 'a coup against Egypt’s first democratically elected president.' The fact is that the Islamists, notably the Brotherhood and the Salafis, cannot lay claim to the Revolution of January 25th , a revolution they initially boycotted, and whose ideals they neither subscribed to nor sacrificed for. If anyone stole the revolution, they did. Similarly Morsi supporters’ mantra of ‘legitimacy’ rings hollow: he acted illegitimately in office from the day he was elected, grabbing power, riding roughshod over the institutions of government, putting himself above the law, and stuffing his administration with incompetent cronies.
On the other hand, the liberal/secular camp- for want of a better catch-all designation for the diverse factions forming the opposition to the Islamist parties- the liberal camp exaggerates the role U.S. foreign policy played, or could have played, or should have played, during the past year and in the days leading to the June 30th uprising. Had American policy openly supported an uprising backed by a military coup against Egypt’s first democratically-elected, Islamist president, how would that American support have played domestically in Egypt and in the Arab/Muslim world? It is hard to imagine that the Muslim Brotherhood camp would have failed to make propaganda of the fact that the Egyptian military is the United States closest interlocutor, and that the ousting of an Islamist regime in Egypt is welcome news in Israel.
There has been much criticism of how the aftermath of the ‘coup’ was handled, with house arrest of leading Muslim Brotherhood leaders, and taking Islamist television channels off the air. But these media were being used to enrage and incite the mass of Morsi supporters, who shouted into the cameras blood-curdling threats of revenge and killing, particularly against the Christian minority. By any measure, in any country, these threats constitute hate speech and incitement to violence, and would have been taken off the air.
Nevertheless, the deaths of fifty-plus Morsi supporters demonstrating before a mosque at dawn on Monday is a sickening and tragic development. It should never have happened. Even if there had been provocation on the part of the Brotherhood supporters, the military should have been ready to control and contain a confrontation, not overreach with lethal force. The same use of deadly military force against protesters resulted in the deaths of more than 25 protesters, mostly Coptic Christians, during the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces' eighteen-month rule in the transition from Mubarak to Morsi. It was such incidents that turned public opinion against the military and brought thousands into the streets chanting ‘Down, down with Military Rule’. How could that lesson have gone to waste?
The path to a positive future for Egypt is anything but straightforward. The Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamist parties cannot and should not be excluded again from political life, but it is not at all clear that their participation, now or in the near future, can take a constructive turn. Egypt’s Islamist parties have shown that they do not subscribe to the spirit of democracy, as opposed to the ballot box. In fact they do not even claim to subscribe to it. For them, the separation of politics from religion is illegitimate, and a plurality of opinion is heresy. For them, the ballot box is only a means to an end, and once that end is achieved, the box is to be discarded once and for all.