The 48-hour deadline the army gave President Mohamed Morsi and the opposition seems to be a pre-departure warning for Morsi since the army is certain neither side will sit together or negotiate because of the gaping divide between them that led to the current crisis.
The key question now is: what will happen if President Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are overthrown? What are the repercussions for the Brotherhood and other Islamist forces? Will Egypt replicate the Algerian model when the army carried out a coup with the support of secularists against the Islamists which resulted in bloodbaths in the 1990s?
In the eyes of Islamists, removing Morsi means a coup against legitimacy, democracy and the rule of the ballot box that brought him to power as the first elected civilian president after the revolution.
Many Islamists strongly believe there is a conspiracy to overthrow Morsi. The components of this plot include: remnants of the former regime (fulul), the media opposing them, and several state organs such as the Ministry of Interior and the judiciary, as well as some foreign players.
These thoughts are predominant in the minds of many Islamists, especially the Brotherhood, and many of them will reject this coup, might take up arms and commit attacks against the army and state institutions. Even worse, the Brotherhood does not control all other Islamist forces, especially the radicals and jihadists, which increases the possibility of violence even if on a smaller scale.
This could also convince some Brotherhood youth to reject democracy and its principles because it did not respect their choice or protect their elected president. We must also not forget this is the first time the Brotherhood has reached power after waiting for more than 60 years. Islamists are also worried that toppling Morsi would be the beginning of throwing them back in jail, which makes the conflict a matter of life or death for them.
The dilemma of the Brotherhood is not only about the possibility of losing the presidency and Morsi’s ouster, but also losing the support of a large sector of the citizenry that has turned against the group because of its mistakes and failed policies over the past year.
Morsi’s overthrow could also fracture Brotherhood ranks, whether because of finger-pointing and blame among leaders about the group’s mistakes, or because some younger members will abandon the Brotherhood because these leaders failed to manage the ongoing crisis.
Thus, the Brotherhood is trying hard to keep its ranks united until the crisis passes, which will be difficult. In other words, Morsi remaining in power is the primary guarantee that the Brotherhood ranks will remain intact, but that too would be difficult. Mass protests across the country are all demanding one thing: Morsi’s departure from power. This puts immense pressure on the Brotherhood leadership and puts it in a very tough position.
As for the possibility of repeating the Algeria model, I believe this would be very unlikely for several reasons. First, overthrowing Morsi is not because he is an Islamist but because he and his group failed in running the country during the transitional phase. This has fermented a lot of anger at them and their policies, which means the army has a license from the masses to intervene.
Second, the Brotherhood is not supported by all Islamists. For example, the Salafist Nour Party has opposed the Brotherhood for some time and joined the opposition in demanding early presidential elections. There are also many conservative and jihadist Salafists who oppose Morsi because he did not apply Sharia and holds weak ideological positions. As for more radical jihadists, they oppose Morsi because of what is happening in Sinai.
Three, Islamists experimented with violence throughout the 1980s and 1990s and achieved little, and instead became more isolated and spurned by the citizenry.
The only camp that still supports the Brotherhood and Morsi today is Al-Gamaa Al-Islamiya, which is a fragmented group without an organisational structure or many members. In other words, the number of Morsi supporters outside the Brotherhood cannot be compared to his opponents and his group. Over the past year the Brotherhood made many mistakes, most notably fighting on several fronts with the opposition, media, judiciary and police, as well as their failure to foresee the demonstrations of 30 June.
Over the past weeks, I spoke to many senior Brotherhood leaders and was shocked by their utter disregard for the opposition and the popular rage building up against their rule. I realised how badly mistaken they are about the crisis when I asked Mahmoud Hussein, the Brotherhood secretary general, about his expectations for 30 June demonstrations. Hussein said: “A normal day and the people will protect us.” It was then that I realised the Brotherhood is living on another planet and is disconnected from what is happening.
After mass demonstrations on 30 June, I spoke to some Brotherhood leaders and I detected their regret. One of them told me: “We misjudged the situation and we will pay the price.”
The last card the Brotherhood holds today is converting the crisis into a religious and sectarian battle in order to win the sympathy of some sectors in society. I found many Brotherhood youth in Rabaa Al-Adawiya who believe they are defending Islam and Egypt’s identity, not only the president. One leader told me: “The Islamic project is under threat”, which is similar to what Brotherhood leader Mohamed El-Beltagi said: “We will protect President Morsi with our blood.”
If that were true, the Brotherhood will lose everything – not just the presidency.