Mohammed Mursi

Murderous mistake of Egypt's military

Gwynne Dyer says massacres prove political Islam cannot succeed through democracy

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 31 July, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 31 July, 2013, 4:23am

Two massacres committed by the Egyptian army in one week. At least 130 people killed in the streets of Cairo for protesting against the military coup. It is worse than a crime (as the French diplomat Talleyrand remarked when Napoleon ordered a particularly counterproductive execution). It is a mistake.

It is also a crime, of course. The killing has been deliberate and precise: only trained snipers could produce so many victims who have been shot in the head or the heart. General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Adly Mansour, the tame president he has installed, tell the kind of lies that generals and politicians always tell when this sort of thing is going on, but the reports of the journalists on the scene leave no room for doubt: this is murder.

But it is, above all, a mistake. When the army fulfilled the demands of anti-government demonstrators in Tahrir Square on July 3 by overthrowing the elected president, Mohammed Mursi, it must have known that his supporters in the Muslim Brotherhood would protest in the streets. And it must have had a plan for dealing with that.

The simplest plan would be just to wait the protesters out. Use minimum force, contain the demonstrations by both sides, and wait for people to get bored and go home. In the meantime, push on with rewriting the constitution to remove the Islamic bits inserted last year by Mursi's party and hold a new referendum to ratify it.

Was this really General Sisi's scenario for the future when he overthrew Mursi's government? Perhaps, the army's moderate behaviour in the first week after the coup could support that hypothesis. The likelier explanation is that Sisi planned to ban the Brotherhood from the start. Democracy be damned.

Either way, the army's political project now requires the massive use of force: Brotherhood supporters must be driven from the streets, by murder if necessary, and its leaders criminalised and banned. And other political idiots, in Washington, London and Paris, are going along with that too.

US President Barack Obama is uncomfortable with what is happening, but he won't call it a coup because then he would be obliged to cut off US$1.5 billion a year in aid to the Egyptian army. Instead, he calls it a "post-revolution transition".

Egypt is the biggest Arab country by far, and so long as the democratic revolution prospered in Egypt you could still say the Arab spring was changing things for the better, even despite the Syrian calamity.

But the Egyptian coup is stark proof that political Islam cannot succeed by taking the democratic path. The message it conveys to devout Islamists all over the Arab world is that Osama bin Laden was right: only by violence can their political project succeed. Thanks a bunch, General Sisi.

Gwynne Dyer is an independent journalist