A Grim Turn in Egyptian Crisis

The Egyptian army’s killing of more than 50 protesters opposing the coup against elected President Morsi has escalated the political crisis by choking off hope of a peaceful resolution. The moderate Islamists of the Muslim Brotherhood also see their legal routes to power shut down, says ex-CIA analyst Paul R. Pillar.

By Paul R. Pillar

The most important consequences of the Egyptian military’s ouster of President Mohamed Morsi will become clear only over a long term. But for anyone who believes the coup was on balance a favorable event, an awful lot of favorable news will have to come out in the months ahead to offset what has already happened in the first few days after the generals moved.

The most visible disturbing developments have occurred on two fronts, neither of which should have been altogether surprising. One is a manifestation of the principle that closing political channels for more moderate Islamists increases the influence of less moderate Islamists.

The flag of Egypt.

The immediate beneficiaries in this case are the hard-line Salafists of the Al Nour party, who are seizing the opportunity to assert themselves as their more moderate and compromising rivals in the Muslim Brotherhood are knocked off balance, with the army incarcerating their leaders.

Al Nour includes the folks who want sharia to be the law of the land, unlike the Brotherhood, who in the writing of a constitution agreed with secularists that it ought only to be a source of principles in shaping the law. Al Nour so far can be said to be extreme only in objectives, not methods. Its assertiveness has included vetoing the candidacy for prime minister of former nuclear diplomat Mohamed El Baradei, who is the closest thing to a Western favorite among prominent Egyptian political figures.

The question of methods was raised by an even more disturbing development Monday morning, when dozens were killed as pro-Morsi protesters were gunned down in front of a military headquarters. This is likely to be a defining event for Egypt similar to, even if on a smaller scale than, bloody suppression of protests in past history, from Saint Petersburg to Beijing.

The bloodshed will be associated with whoever is put into office in Cairo with the sufferance of the military. Most worrisome is how such an event may lead to an all-around escalation of violence. One can read in several ways a statement the Muslim Brotherhood issued after its supporters were felled in the street, calling for an “uprising” by Egyptians against those who would “steal their revolt” with tanks and massacres.

As with other phases of political upheaval in Egypt, the United States lacks the power to repair, much less control, the course of events there. The task of dealing with those events, if only as a matter of bilateral relations, has just become even more difficult. It now ought to be harder than ever to do the Egyptian military the favor of not calling their coup a coup.

Paul R. Pillar, in his 28 years at the Central Intelligence Agency, rose to be one of the agency’s top analysts. He is now a visiting professor at Georgetown University for security studies. (This article first appeared as a blog post at The National Interest’s Web site. Reprinted with author’s permission.)

3 comments for “A Grim Turn in Egyptian Crisis

  1. Morton Kurzweil
    July 10, 2013 at 18:50

    One good coup deserves another. It was Morsi who is responsible for the coup d’Etat, the overthrow of the constitution in favor of sharia law. It is the military which had the authority under the same constitution to prevent the democratic nation from becoming another Islamic theocracy.
    Mr. Pillar should be aware of the similarity between the attempt by Morsi and the Brotherhood and the actions of another democratically elected leader, Adolph Hitler, who led a democracy into dark ages of bigotry, also in the name of ethnic cleansing and racial superiority.

  2. rosemerry
    July 9, 2013 at 16:52

    “United States lacks the power to repair, much less control, the course of events there.”
    Let us hope the USA does not interfere, as by not even admitting what has happened in Egypt (a coup would by law stop the US generous military aid) it is unable to do anything useful (as if it ever does!!).

  3. dahoit
    July 9, 2013 at 14:37

    Aint it amazing,prior to 48,that there was absolutely no sign of a militant Islam?And the more we repress it,the stronger the appeal of the fundamentalists. Never in world history have such unsophisticated spiritually devoid cretins(and I mean both sects of dual headed mansters) run our nation,despite their claims(and now reality) of all seeing and knowing omnipotence.
    Osamas tirades against the west were against US and Israels depredations on the Muslim nations;Well we sure turned the corner there huh?It’s worse than ever,and we shall reap again what we have sown ,as the swamp is bigger than ever with nary a drainage ditch in sight.

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