In the aftermath of the mosque attack in the Sinai last week, Egypt’s allies and neighbors are expressing surprise, frustration, and grave doubts about the ability of Cairo’s security forces to effectively combat the Wilayat Sinai affiliate of ISIS. The mosque attack was one of the deadliest acts of terror in Egypt’s history with over 300 dead and appears to have completely blindsided Egyptian security services. This is the second major failure by security forces in the past month. In late October 50 Egyptian policemen were killed in a botched raid against a Muslim Brotherhood hideout west of Cairo. After battling the Muslim Brotherhood and Wilayat Sinai militants for years now it is hard to comprehend exactly how these groups are carrying out such murderous attacks with ease.
For Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the mosque attack is a challenge that needs to be met swiftly and with decisive force. Sisi came to power promising security, stability, and prosperous times for Egyptians in exchange for nearly-complete political control of the country. He has failed to deliver on any of the three promises, mainly due to his inability to stamp out the insurgency going on in the Sinai. Even before Sisi entered the political realm, the Sinai was a hotbed of terrorism. It’s the modern day equivalent of the Wild West in many respects. Wilayat Sinai, Al-Qaeda, and numerous other Islamist groups are active on the peninsula. Following the 2013 coup that saw former Egyptian president Mohammed Morsi ousted from power, the level of violence skyrocketed.
The United States is growing frustrated with Egypt’s lack of progress in battling the insurgency. Israel is concerned because an unstable Sinai is a threat to its security. Saudi Arabia is watching the situation closely, worried that Iran’s next venture could very well be increased support for the Sinai militants if the Egyptian military and security forces fail to get the upper hand. These are three of the many good reasons why the Sinai situation should be watched closely in the coming months.
Last month the Egyptian people were forced to make a choice. Challenge the democratically elected Mohammed Morsi and disrupt democracy in Egypt while still in its infancy. Or, remain inactive as Morsi’s hold on power became more absolute. The citizens of Egypt opted to challenge Morsi and the military stood beside the people for the second time in two years. This battle between secularists and Islamists in Egypt has been won and lost. The war, however, continues on.
Whether or not the military was justified in its handling of the crisis depends on perspectives. Many western observers quickly labeled the toppling of Morsi as a classic example of a coup d’état. An elected president was removed from office by the military. For the average Egyptian citizen, Morsi was an unpopular president who was making fundamental changes to many facets of Egyptian life. The average person’s life has not improved in the past year. In fact, things have become more difficult for Egyptians since Morsi’s election in 2012. The military may have moved to save the nation from dissolving into chaos and civil war.
The coming days and weeks will determine whether or not the military’s intervention was successful. The quicker Egypt returns to civilian rule, the better. Interim President Adly Mansour cannot afford another ‘massacre’ like the one that the Muslim Brotherhood claims happened outside of Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo yesterday. A large number of Morsi supporters were allegedly killed by security forces and police. The Muslim Brotherhood claims the ‘massacre’ took place during prayer time. Other reports are that the demonstrators shot first when they tried to storm the headquarters building where Morsi is being held. Details are scarce and what really happened may never be determined.
So far, the democratic experiment in Egypt has not brought forth the stability most people were hoping it would. But the path to democracy is a marathon course, not a 100 yd sprint. Something to keep in mind.
The democracy that Egyptians fought so hard to obtain during the 2011 Egyptian Revolution is slipping through their fingers at a quickening pace. Fresh from playing a positive, internationally visible role in the latest cease fire between Gaza and Israel, Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi issued a proclamation at home which exempts his decrees from judicial review until a new constitution is in place. The move is the latest in a series of controversial decisions handed down by Morsi since assuming the duties of the presidency in June of 2012. Although he has been in office for less than six months, Morsi has devoted much of his time and efforts towards obtaining and solidifying absolute power over Egypt. Thus far, these efforts have been largely successful and it is hardly unrealistic to imagine that Morsi and the Muslim brotherhood will have an unassailable lock on power by the end of the year. With Egypt potentially on the cusp of more political violence at the moment, it is only fair to look back and determine how a nation that fought so hard for a shot at democracy has reached this point so fast.
The reality is that Egyptians have used their newly minted powers of selection to elect a leader with an agenda that is embedded in a foundation of autocracy. Mohammed Morsi was elected by the voters and this fact should not be overlooked. Egypt has exchanged one autocrat for another. Only with Morsi they have done so of their own volition. Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood have incontrovertible support among a sizeable bloc of the people. Large numbers of those supporters are taking to the streets now to battle opponents of Morsi’s judicial decision. The coming days will certainly play a role in defining the future of Egyptian politics for years to come. If Morsi is allowed to continue along his course unchecked, Egypt’s brief fling with democracy is dead and the only lasting result of the Arab Spring in Egypt will be an Islamic autocracy in absolute control.