The Current Situation
A surge of violence in Egypt of late has raised questions about the new government and its ability to save the broken country. The military-backed government came into power during July of this year after informing former President Mohammed Morsi that he must step down and put a stoppage to his authoritarian governing tactics to promote a conservative Islamist agenda that alienated moderate voices. Avoidance in addressing the country’s most pressing problems such as unemployment, rising prices, power cuts, and over congestion also contributed to his downfall. Since then, the provisional government has tried to return a sense of normalcy to the country, most notably calling for nationwide elections for a new government as early as next spring. Despite this, upheaval has disrupted within the country yet again with numerous street clashes in various cities between military supporters and Morsi loyalists. On 6 October 2013, 51 people were killed amid protests and mass demonstrations as the country celebrated the 40th anniversary of the 1973 war with Israel.
As expected, there is a large divide between how both the loyalists and military perceive themselves: the loyalists argue that there are cracks in the military and made a powerful symbolic move by protesting at Tahrir Square, a stronghold for the anti-Morsi movement. On the other hand, the military supporters remain adamant that the Islamist Morsi supporters are “agents, not activists” and, thus, they must be vanquished. This demonstrates that the fissures between the people of the country are so deep that even a national landmark of celebration could not act as a unifying force.
International Response: How and Why?
Both the US and Canada have remained relatively mum on the military coup. The administration of Prime Minister Harper has issued no comment since President Morsi’s ousting in July. The most it has done includes expressing its extreme concern over the arrest of two Canadians in Egypt and multiple attacks on Christian churches in the country.
Likewise, the Obama administration has yet to convey a strong sentiment on the matter. The administration is not prepared to label the government change as a coup and, as a result, is not planning on changing its aid program to Egypt (which includes $1.5 billion annually). However, it did condemn the use of any violence, and cautioned the military to “exercise maximum restraint” with its citizens.
This muted response from both North American nations is likely because of the fragile relationship between them and the Muslim Brotherhood, of which President Morsi is a member. Both Canada and the US endorsed him at the outset of his presidency because it was the first time that Egypt had a democratically-elected president in 30 years. It served as one of the more hopeful landmark moments of the Arab Spring, which was marked by bloodshed, and restored hope for Egyptian civilians that power would be put back in the hands of the people. On the other hand, the West was wary of Morsi because of his long-standing affiliation with the Muslim Brotherhood. The Muslim Brotherhood has presented ideological problems for the West because of its intention to install an Islamist democracy in Egypt (despite the large population of Coptic Christians within the country), and the Brotherhood’s antagonistic view of Israel (Hamas, the Islamist party that controls the Gaza Strip and is viewed by most western nations as a terrorist organization, is an offshoot of the Brotherhood). The latter especially presents a problem for Canada and the US as both are steadfast diplomatic allies of Israel. In fact, the aid that Egypt receives from the US is contingent on the 1979 Israel-Egypt peace treaty.
What the Future Holds
While the ruling of Muslim Brotherhood was immensely tumultuous as civilians took to the street to voice their opinions, the future of Egypt remains uneasy with the interim military governance. An economic meltdown has been hindered by aid from Gulf States who were hostile to the Brotherhood, but bloodshed continues because of the animosity between the military and Brotherhood supporters – the latter are trying to restore the order that they had but are perceived as a threat to national security. Experts are hesitant to praise this change, as it is highly doubtful that the military is ruling with discretion, as soldiers or officers will not swear allegiance to any civilian laws, and it is likely that the next president’s administration will be akin to Mubarak’s old, military-minded establishment. Despite the clear ideological cleavages that exist among the Egyptian people, we can remain hopeful that they will elect a government that ensures security for all.