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The Nile Runs Red

Yesterday's confrontation between Egypt's army and the Muslim Brotherhood may only be the beginning.

4:01 PM, Aug 15, 2013 • By LEE SMITH
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Curiously, it was the democracies that least understood how the vote had changed the political equation in Egypt. Western diplomats had urged the army to reconcile with the Brotherhood and bring them back into the political process. This might have had some chance for success had there not been an election that put the Brotherhood in the presidential palace. But because there was, the army’s outreach was a non-starter. From the Brotherhood’s perspective it was like being invited back in to your own wedding after being thrown out by the caterers to watch your bride married off to the bartender. To participate in a political system stewarded by the institution that had unconstitutionally removed its candidate from power would mean providing the cover of legitimacy for an objectively illegitimate process. The army knew it would have to put the Brotherhood down, and the Brotherhood knew it was coming, sometime after Ramadan.

Yesterday’s showdown amounts to a draw. Yes, most of the casualties were Morsi supporters, but as Reuel Marc Gerecht wrote recently, the Muslim Brotherhood will rise again.  In the meantime, the Brotherhood now has hundreds of martyrs in its column, and as the victims of the army’s depredations has earned sympathy across the world—in spite of the fact that Brotherhood supporters burned dozens of Coptic Christian churches and attacked Copts throughout the country.

It is hard at this point to envision a future that does not entail more violence, engulfing everyone, including those self-described liberals who, having demonstrated to bring down Mubarak, have now invested their faith in Sisi to protect them from the Brotherhood. If they had an ounce of intellectual honesty or moral integrity they’d petition Sisi to free Mubarak, his family members and other regime figures presently in jail or in exile, for it is they in their frenzy to destroy who helped send them there. We will know that Egypt is on the right path when the liberals and secularists now supporting the army make an act of contrition and apologize to the old man, an Arab Lear betrayed by his two daughters—the army and the secularists whose advancement was made possible by the stability that he ensured for three decades. Since he has no Cordelia, let Egypt build a statue for him, not colossal like the sphinx and pyramids but on a human-scale befitting the stolid president-for-life who, like he said, really did understand Egyptians—not only the humor, earthy charm and sepia-tinted glamor of his children, but also the horrifying levels of violence that they might stoop to without someone to take the knives out of their hands.

There are many who believe that Sisi represents a return to Mubarak. For instance, Israel’s former ambassador to Egypt, Zvi Mazel, argues that “the new Egyptian government is pro-West and will have decent relations with Israel.”  Perhaps the army will continue to have good relations with Israel, but with a White House that’s turned its back on the Middle East and incapable of projecting power to undergird the relationship between Cairo and Jerusalem, it will be subject to the whims of an Egyptian army that has repeatedly proven its incompetence, especially in the Sinai. At present it is in the interests of Egyptian national security to maintain good relations with Israel, but there are other interests, too, like inter-regime struggles as well as domestic and regional dynamics, that might someday override border issues and maybe even the peace treaty. Moreover, it’s worth remembering that when mobs overran the Israeli embassy in September 2011 and Israeli officials called Cairo for help, the army didn’t pick up the phone—and that’s when it was run by Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, a bureaucrat with one eye on his retirement plan and not, like Sisi, a man eager to see Egypt leading and likely himself leading Egypt.

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