Can Egypt's generals and the Brotherhood embrace democracy?

The latest massacre of pro-Morsi supporters at the hands of the Egyptian military shows the country's push towards democracy is probably going to get a whole lot uglier before it secures the prize. 

The fragility of Egypt intensifies by the hour as a civil war scenario gathers more momentum.

It has not been helped by the latest killings of pro-Morsi protesters by the army, which unsurprisingly has provoked a Muslim Brotherhood call for an intifada against that army  until deposed President Morsi is back in the Presidential Palace.

Add to that the military’s press conference to explain the massacres erupted into chaos as the correspondent from AlJazeera Arabic was ordered out.

The military has already shut down pro-Brotherhood media channels. Now the military claims it can’t deliver the “facts” to the Egyptian people while AlJazeera is present.

As per usual with coups d'état or any other manipulation of an electoral process, facts are a very subjective commodity.  

The military’s ‘facts‘ are that it is working for all Egyptians in a free and democratic manner and the military remains “out of the political equation”.

Quite bluntly that is BS.  

The military’s pick of the country’s chief judge Adly Mansour as interim President is nothing more than a convenient civilian face for a military coup, and a military dictate.

There’s been much debate about whether it was actually a coup...anti-Morsi supporters tying themselves in verbal gymnastics in order to describe the ouster as the army listening to and acting on the will of the majority of Egyptians.

So-called patterns of transfer in the post colonial Middle East have regularly involved the military dictating who is in power, who stays in power....even who can run for office.

The Arab Spring had at its core the aim of subordinating military rule in the region to civilian leadership.

That’s one of the deepest ironies of the latest turmoil in Tahrir Square. Egyptians fought so hard to oust Mubarak, rein in the superiority of the military and participate in the democratic election of a new president.

They got Morsi. A political neophyte who had just enough savvy to initially convince that he would govern for all Egyptians. Once in the Palace his true Islamist colours began to bleed into all areas of government. He bumbled in major ways - the biggest crime being an unseemly constitutional power grab placing himself above judicial review. His withdrawal from that was not enough to stem the haemorrhaging of voter support.

His appointments of Brotherhood colleagues into key political positions grew to be increasingly unsettling for secular Egyptians. So too did his failure to guarantee the rights of women and religious minorities. 

More crucially Morsi did nothing to reboot Egypt’s perilous economy, crumbling infrastructure or bloated and inefficient institutions. Demonisation of Morsi and his Brotherhood was quickly underway and the fall was swift.

It is more usual in a democratic process for even a failing President to see out the rest of the political term. Not in Egypt’s nascent democratic process which is of course a major concern for the future. Islam may not be the solution, but it needs to be considered part of it given the nature of the Middle East. 

Otherwise there is a danger that political Islam will take the ouster of Morsi as a slap in the face for its efforts to be involved in the political process because, like the Brotherhood or not, it embraced the democratic process and won.

Its incompetence should have been voted out of office, not expelled. The Brotherhood’s anger will at the very least simmer, at worst boil over as perhaps it did at the Republican Army HQ early on Monday morning resulting in a massacre of protesters. 

Interim President Mansour has called for national reconciliation during what he refers to as a transitional period.

Transition from what to what?

From democracy to a military coup d'état which pretends to be otherwise, and then back to democracy?

Transition from the dethroning of an accidental president to a trial period for a new president and another possible overthrow should he (because it will be a ‘he’) also fail to sort out Egypt’s crippling economic issues and polarized politics?

Transition from free and fair elections but buyer’s regret with a bumbling Morsi and his Islamic agenda, to new elections which the Muslim Brotherhood has a chance of winning if the secular votes are again splintered?

Let’s face it the Brotherhood has survived much in its 85 years and plans to stick around. 

What has been established is the Egyptian military remains a very powerful force in the economy and is the kingmaker politically. Pro and anti Morsi forces know that. 

At this early stage in the democratisation of Egypt there will be more clashes, more violence and all political challenges will be categorized by the army and the police as security situations. When you have a hammer...

There is also a distinct possibility that the transition process will drag on.

It may well be the second phase of the Egyptian Revolution, but a protracted transition will further entrench polarization which will result in further violence, and hit an already desperate economy.

But least the democracies of the West wave the big ‘told you so’ finger about the compatibility of Islam and democracy, think of the long and bloody process endured before democracy was eventually established in those places which now boast of its superiority, while glossing over its many inconsistencies and inequalities.

A quick recollection of the last few US elections should do the trick nicely.

If that’s not enough, consider how convenient the great self-serving democracies have found it to deal with dictators world-wide, and how many coups America has had its fingerprints on in the last one hundred years. 

As Churchill pointed out during World War II, no one pretends democracy is perfect. Indeed Churchill considered democracy may be the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time.

Even with the events of the last week, Egyptians still show every sign of preferring democracy to the forms of government they have tried before. The key is whether the generals and the Brotherhood can possibly share in that preference because both have major concessions required should real democracy eventuate.