It is still unclear what the future of the “new” Egypt is going to be. Several groups are currently fighting to gain power and to have control over the country.
The U.S. support for the wrong group can be disastrous to the whole of the Middle East as changes in Egypt typically affect neighboring Arab countries as well.
Currently, the following groups are vying for power to have control over the new Egypt:
1. The military
2. The liberals
3. The Islamists
The Military: The military declared that they wanted to leave the power in the hands of the civilians. This could be true; however, the current security situation in the country — especially from radical Islamists — may need some form of military control for a longer period of time.
In addition, some persons in the military may have difficulty to let the civilians control them. This may create a struggle for power in the future that can cause more problems to the country.
The desire of the military to have more power in the new Egypt can be observed when several members of the military declared in the Egyptian media that the military is not only a protector for the revolution but is an integral and essential part of it.
In general, the military is more committed than the other groups to keep the peace treaty with Israel. Furthermore, the military can give more protection to Coptic Christians. After the revolution, the military re-built several churches that had been attacked by radical Islamists.
The military is not faultless. However, currently it is the most reliable power that can protect U.S. interests in the region — and provide the stability that the country needs during this critical period. The fears that the military can be lead to another Mubarak ruling the country is exaggerated as the rules of the game have changed.
After the revolution, the military realized the power of the people which will make them more likely to avoid Mubarak’s level of corruption in ruling the country.
Currently the military is trying to satisfy all the other players in the game of democracy. For example, on one hand they sit with the Muslim Brotherhood in their celebrations and on the other hand they rebuilt the destroyed churches to satisfy the Coptic Christians.
In addition, they try to satisfy the liberal groups by showing some acceptance of having foundational rules for the new Egyptian constitution to protect secularism in the country. Also, in an attempt to satisfy the Egyptian street, the military decided to put Mubarak behind bars in a courtroom.
Mistakes of the military after the revolution included choosing some Islamists such as Subhi Sale’ in the committee that modified the constitution of the country in the transitional stage. This could be partially due to sympathy with the Muslim Brotherhood, but is more likely to avoid frictions with Islamic groups during the unstable transitional stage after the revolution. Frictions with Islamic groups during this stage can bring more instability to the country.
During Mubarak’s time and the Jan. 25 revolution, there was a feeling that if Mubarak left power the military would take over the control of the country.
Currently, the feeling among the military is that if they lost power in a disorganized manner, the country as a whole will collapse as there will be no one to lead it but radical Muslims. This feeling probably led the military to peruse touch approaches such as holding military tribunals for many civilians who spoke against them.
The Islamists: Several factions work under this title for the aim of Islamizing the country. These include the Muslim Brotherhood, the Salafi groups, and the Jihadists.
Despite the relatively moderate image of the Muslim Brotherhood compared to the other groups, they certainly pose several threats.
Initially some of the leading members of this group, such as Essam al-Irian, declared the desire to encourage more tourism to the country. Later on, his real intentions became clearer when he and other members of the group announced that they will not allow alcohol to be sold in the country except probably for tourists (as they are Not Muslims).
Al-Irian said that tourists can bring their alcohol with them. In addition, members of the Muslim Brotherhood strongly rejected that female tourists be allowed to wear bikinis on the beaches of Egypt. This is a clear sign that if the Muslim Brotherhood came to power we will certainly see Religious Police (as is the case in Iran, Somalia, and Saudi Arabia) in the country to implement such laws.
It is also likely that if these values are implemented, the tourism industry will collapse and poverty levels and thus radicalism are likely to increase. This can certainly negatively affect the future stability of the country.
Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood until today do not refer to Israel on their official website statements but by the expression “the entity” without mentioning the word "Israel" or "Zionist" as they see that these words will make the website "filthy."
The Salafi groups on the other hand expressed their real intentions in a hostile demonstration to support Shariah implementation in Egypt. Many of them openly expressed their full support for bin Laden. These groups — if in power — will simply make Egypt another Taliban-like state.
The difference between the ideology of the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafi groups has been elucidated when the former started a musical song in Tahreer Square to support the revolution and the Salafists objected to them and wanted to stop the song — as musical songs, in their view, are “un-Islamic.”
The Jihadists showed their teeth in the Sinai area by repeatedly attacking the gas pipelines to Israel and by trying to declare parts of Sinai an Islamic state. Many of these groups collaborate with Palestinian terrorists in Gaza.
All these groups are united in implementing Shariah laws and in their extreme animosity to Israel which is likely — if Islamic groups came to power — to end in declaring war against the Jewish state. If this happened, we are likely to see a very destructive case scenario in the Middle East.
The liberals: In general, these groups are dedicated to secularism of the country. Unfortunately, they may lose the battle against the Islamists as the latter use the power of religion and have already Islamized a significant portion of the society during Sadat’s and Mubarak’s time.
On one hand, the biggest advantage of the liberal groups is their dedication to values of liberty and freedom. On the other hand, their biggest problem is that they are idealists in implementing their values.
For example, they do not allow any level of flexibility in accepting that the military can have a political role in the “new” Egypt. This has made the military more inclined to accept Islamist groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood as they are less likely — at least at this stage — to try to deprive the military from all its political powers.
In fact, in the day when Essam al-Irian of the Muslim Brotherhood was leading some of the demonstrations to support Shariah with the Salfi groups in Tahreer Square he was shouting in support of the Military Council by singing loudly “Ya Musheer Ya Musheer Alf Taheia Min Al-Tahreer” which means “O’ General Tantawi . . . we send you 1,000 greetings from Tahreer Square.”
Liberals need to accept a stronger role of the military in the “new” Egypt to avoid pushing the military toward the Islamists.
The general population of Egypt wants a hybrid system that combines elements of the above powers.
1. They want to feel secure with the military as they have been under military control for several decades. This feeling has increased because of the post-revolution increase in crime rates.
2. They want to have a role of Islam in the society.
3. They want some level of freedom and liberty so that the country does not become like Saudi Arabia or Iran. For example, Egyptians will not tolerate another man from the Religious Police beating their wives for dressing “improperly.” In addition, many Egyptians do not want to see Egypt becoming like Somalia or the Taliban.
In brief, the military feel that they have been fundamental to the success of the revolution (which is true) and thus deserve a stronger political role in the “new” Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood will accept that the military can have a stronger role as long as they allow them to implement some Shariah laws in the society.
The Liberals are idealists and their trend to insist that the military play no political role in the “new” Egypt may end up in pushing the military more toward Islamic groups which means that we may end up with an Islamic theocracy in Egypt supported by the military. The latter case scenario is frightening to the whole of the Middle East.
The best situation for the “new” Egypt that allows the country to remain part of the international society, to respect the peace treaty with Israel, and to avoid succumbing into the path of radical Islam is the situation of Turkey 30 years ago when the military remained in power to protect secularism of the country.
A liberal-military form of coalition to weaken the Islamists is likely to be the best-case scenario for the new Egypt. This means that the liberals need to show more flexibility to allow a larger role of the military in the new Egypt.
Despite the fact that the model of Turkey 30 years ago is not an ideal one in the view of many, it could be — in the meantime — the best situation that can lead to greater stability and protect the U.S. interests in the area.
The U.S. administration may need to consider supporting this option to protect its interests in the Middle East as demanding an ideal democratic situation can turn into the opposite direction and can actually be harmful to U.S. interests in the region.
Dr. Tawfik Hamid (www.tawfikhamid.com), is an Islamic thinker and reformer. He himself is a reformed member of a terrorist Islamic organization (JI) with Dr. Ayman al-Zawahiri who is currently the first in command of al-Qaida. He is also the author of "Inside Jihad: Understanding and Confronting Radical Islam."
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