Page 2 of 2 SPEAKING FREELY Egypt: From counter revolution to civil war
By Monte Palmer
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It also scorched the interim president for appointing several Mubarak generals as governors of Egyptian provinces. So did the leader of a coalition of 26 diverse democratic currents in Alexandria.
Demanding the dismissal of the erring minister, he minced no words in declaring, "The revolution is running the country."  The
Sheikh of Al-Azhar, Islam's oldest and most revered institution, openly declared that all Egyptians had the right to peaceful protest.
European Union pressure on Sisi to move quickly toward democracy became intense and was reinforced by the IMF's insistence that it will only negotiate a desperately need loan with Egypt's democratically elected government.
While dissention within his own camp weakened Sisi's claim to legitimacy, other evolving changes are far more ominous and point to civil war. The diverse Islamic currents, once divided and hostile to the Brotherhood, have now began coalescing against Sisi and military rule. Like it or not, Egypt is primed for a war of secularism against Islam.
The Brotherhood and the far more extreme Salafi and jihadist counterparts are well organized, flush with arms, and fired with religious zeal. They have also been forced underground and are well positioned to fight a war of attrition against a military that displayed no zeal at all in protecting the Mubarak regime.
To make matters worse, extremists have taken control of both sides in the conflict. While moderates urge moderation on Sisi, youth groups demand that the Brotherhood be exterminated. Popular Islamic preachers have followed suit by calling on the Islamic resistance forces to attack military outposts and size their arms. They are also calling for military officers to resist Sisi's orders
The recently elected Coptic pope, fearing rule by Islamic law, joined the fray by praising the outpouring of support for Sisi and his call for a free hand in fighting violence. For the ultra-Islamic extremists, this was a declaration of war between Islamic extremism and Christianity that had been festering for generations. Christians, about 15% of Egypt's population who were represented in the Brotherhood dominated government, are now fair game for the ultra-extremists who have a long record of attacking churches.
Class conflict is also deepening as austerity programs being discussed by Sisi's puppet government threaten to cut subsidies of food and other vital essentials. The labor movement has responded by demanding increased salaries and benefits. Strikes have increased apace, many being crushed by military force.
The lack of equity is being compounded by a lack of justice as the police officers that killed protesters during the 2011 revolution are being acquitted. Police brutality and corruption were a key element in igniting the 2011 revolution, and they have again returned to the fore under the Sisi regime. The interim head of the police has acknowledged the hostility toward the Sisi regime caused by Egypt's undisciplined police by promising the masses a new police force that is people friendly, a people's police. In the meantime, the police have been unleashed on the Brotherhood and anyone else who protests against the Sisi regime.
An even more surprising indicator of change are hints that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, both intent on destroying democracy and the Brotherhood, may be having doubts about Sisi's usefulness. A recent article in the Saudi sponsored Al-Majalla went so far to describe Sisi's demand for a popular mandate to crush violence as "as an act of pure irrationality or political Machiavellianism at its worst".  The Saudis are nervous about an Egyptian civil war that will destabilize the region by pitting secularism against Islam. Perhaps they also fear mob rule more than they fear the Brotherhood.
Sisi responded to the above challenges with bluff and bluster. Men on horseback can't back down. They do, however, make some very curious decisions.
For example, when the US Secretary of State John Kerry embarrassed himself by proclaiming that Sisi's coup was the first step toward democracy, Sisi responded with a tirade condemning the US for not giving his rule adequate support. This, of itself was an indicator of a nervous dictator, but it paled in comparison to the outrage that followed John McCain's fact-finding mission to Egypt. Sisi, Senator McCain proclaimed, was an illegitimate leader who seized power by a military coup.
The Egyptian press interpreted McCain comments as punishment for Sisi's tirade against Kerry. Far worse, was speculation that the counterpoint between Kerry and McCain was a cruel American conspiracy to keep Egypt in a state of chaos or, perhaps, to return the Brotherhood to power. Why else, the conspiracy mill pondered, would the US support an illegitimate military dictator against the relatively moderate Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt, arm ultra-extremist Sunni groups fighting a Shi'ite dictator in Syria, and put a Shi'ite government beholden to Iran in power in Iraq? Clever people, these Americans, at least in the mind of Egyptian conspiracy theorists and an increasingly paranoid dictator.
It was at this point that Sisi changed his course and ordered his military spokesman to announce that the protesters were their brothers and had the same rights as all Egyptians. How curious, seeing how he had just ordered his puppet government to crush the Brotherhood demonstrators with maximum force.
It was not a retreat, but Sisi had blinked and the Brotherhood knew that he had blinked. This was a clear sign that their strategy was working and their supporters were energized.
Damage control was immediate. In a fascinating article, General Sarbi Yassin blames the apparent confusion in Sisi's decision making on Baradi, whom he accuses of browbeating a weak temporary government into giving him 72 hours to work things out with foreign diplomats. The result was a spectacular agreement that would free all Brotherhood prisoners and allow their participation in a revived democracy. All the Brotherhood had to do was allow the Sisi regime to save face by allowing the farcical crushing of their demonstrations.
The other culprit, according to the general, was the puppet president who, totally lacking in charisma, was unable to control the events swirling around him. If such claims are true, Sisi had lost control of the hand-picked puppets that he had put in office. One can only wonder how he would cope with democratically elected leaders.
The ultra-left Tagama (communist-Nasserite) party by contrast, attempted to boost Sisi's crumbling charisma by claiming that Sisi's apparent confusion was a stroke of genius designed to save Egyptian lives by confusing Brotherhood protesters.
It was at this point that Sisi's interim government blinked again suggesting that the best way to deal with the Brotherhood was to let the protesters consume themselves.  Pain and boredom were taking their toll, and the masses were blaming Brotherhood for the chaos in Egypt. It would just be matter of time before the demonstrations collapsed of their own weight. Sisi's mobs were having none of it and demanded an immediate crushing of the demonstrations with brutal force.
One way or another, popular support for Sisi's rule had become so fragmented that efforts to maintain a viable illusion of democracy had gone by the wayside. Only force could save the counter-revolution.
And so it was that Sisi's forces stormed the Brotherhood protesters killing hundreds and wounding thousands. Violence flared throughout Egypt as the Brotherhood and their ultra extremist allies stood their ground. Sisi's puppet government declared a state of emergency. The Brotherhood stated that it had been force into a civil war. Baradi resigned. The Sheikh of Al-Azhar claimed to have no prior knowledge of the attacks. The Coptic pope closed all Christian churches during the feast of Mary. The EU and the US denounced the violence. It was too late. Kerry's endorsement of Sisi's coup was blamed for encouraging military violence.
This is not to suggest that the Sisi regime is on the verge of collapse, but merely that it faces an interminable war of attrition. The man on horseback cannot back down, but neither can the Brotherhood. In the meantime, Sisi's efforts to crush the Brotherhood and its ultra extremist supporters will lock down Egypt with such brutality that the conditions that precipitated the 2011 revolution will pale by comparison.
1. "Civil Currents Demand Purging of Biblawi Government With Resignation of Adel Labib", Elgornal, August 13, 2013. (No author, Arabic).
2. "General Sabri Yassin Reveals the Reasons for the Delay in Crushing the Protesters", Sabri Yassin, Elgornal/Istiqlal, August 12, 2013. (Arabic)
3. "Egypt's Need for Common Sense", editors, Majala, August 2013. (Translated from Arabic by Majala)
4."Politicians Differ Over Government Report that the Brotherhood Protesters will Consume Themselves", Elgornal. August 13, 2013. (No author, Arabic)
Speaking Freely is an Asia Times Online feature that allows guest writers to have their say.Please click hereif you are interested in contributing. Articles submitted for this section allow our readers to express their opinions and do not necessarily meet the same editorial standards of Asia Times Online's regular contributors.
Monte Palmer is Professor Emeritus at Florida State University, a former Director of the Center for Arab and Middle Eastern Studies at the American University of Beirut, and a senior fellow at the Al-Ahram Center for Political and Strategic Studies. His recent books include The Arab Psyche and American Frustrations, The Politics of the Middle East, Islamic Extremism (with Princess Palmer), Political Development: Dilemmas and Challenges, and Egypt and the Game of Terror (a novel). His email is firstname.lastname@example.org and his blog is arabpsyche.wordpress.com