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.
The economic and diplomatic blockade imposed on Qatar by Saudi Arabia and a select group of its allies is two and a half weeks old. Neither side has made much of an effort to alleviate the crisis. In fact, Doha and Riyadh seem to have used the time to dig their heels in even deeper. Attempts at mediation by Kuwait and other regional nations have resulted in nothing substantial. Vociferous Turkish support for Qatar, though self-serving, has served only to stoke the flames of anger and suspicion in Riyadh even more. The crisis has taken a back seat to other global matters and crises over time. The prime reason for this has been Saudi Arabia’s failure to present and explain its grievances with Qatar to the rest of the world.
As of today, however, that has changed. Today the Saudis delivered an ultimatum to Qatar, laying out in detail the terms Doha must agree to for the blockade to be lifted. The terms are heavy-handed, to say the least. The list of thirteen points include stipulations that Qatar shut down al-Jazeera, minimize its ties with Iran, remove Turkish troops from Qatari soil, and break off its relationship with groups that the Saudis and their anti-Qatari coalition consider to be terrorist organizations like the Muslim Brotherhood. Qatar has been given ten days to comply with the terms or else face undefined consequences.
Essentially, this is a list of demands, not so different from what a criminal gives to police when he finds himself barricaded with hostages. In that respect, this crisis has a few similarities with a hostage situation. The Saudis intentions here are as crucial as their actions. Riyadh could have made the terms so imposing in order to create room for negotiation and meet the Qataris somewhere in the middle. But the ultimatum could also be entirely straightforward and sincere. The Saudi terms do appear to mirror the laundry list of complaints that Riyadh, and its allies, have compiled against Qatar.
That being said, the demands are not reasonable by any stretch of the imagination. Western nations are treading carefully through this diplomatic minefield, especially the United States. The US wants to see this crisis resolved amicably, as Washington understands that the longer it goes on, the greater the chance that Qatar will eventually align itself with Iran. At the same time, it wants to see the grievances between Qatar and its Gulf allies and neighbors resolved once and for all.
The fissure between Qatar and its Gulf State neighbors and allies appears to be widening even more this morning. Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Bahrain, and Egypt have severed ties with Qatar. This potentially volatile diplomatic crisis has been a long time in the making. For years the Saudis, Egypt and other nations in the region have been wary of Qatar’s support for Islamists such as the Muslim Brotherhood, a group which the Saudis and Egyptians particularly regard as a dangerous terror organization. Saudi Arabia accused Qatar of backing militant groups, some of which are backed by Iran, that are operating in eastern Saudi Arabia and Bahrain.
SPA, the Saudi state news agency released the following statement summarily explaining Riyadh’s justification for its actions. “(Qatar) embraces multiple terrorist and sectarian groups aimed at disturbing stability in the region, including the Muslim Brotherhood, ISIS (Islamic State) and al-Qaeda, and promotes the message and schemes of these groups through their media constantly.”
The severing of diplomatic ties is apparently not enough to satisfy Saudi Arabia, Bahrain, the UAE, and Egypt. Qatari troops are being removed from the Saudi-led coalition fighting Houthi rebels in Yemen. The four are also making moves to cut off Qatar’s land, sea, and air routes to the outside world. Saudi Arabia has closed its border with Qatar. The tiny emirate receives 40% of its food from overland routes. Food trucks are now lining up on the border, unable to cross.
Iran, not surprisingly, has taken the opportunity to blame the rift on the United States. Tehran has identified President Trump’s recent visit to Riyadh, and the allegedly hawkish tone of his speech to the Muslim world as reasons why this crisis is developing. The Iranian government has also called for a peaceful resolution, and has hinted that it would be open to transporting food and other needed goods to Qatar should this situation continue.
The United States is urging the Gulf nations to negotiate a settlement to their differences. For now, Washington does not appear eager to make a statement or take action that could be perceived by supporting one side over the other.
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.