Here is the Pathway to Peace in Egypt

The interim Egyptian government has hinted that substantial changes may be made to the constitution, including clauses banning all religious parties. Significant articles of former President Mohammed Morsi's Islam-friendly constitution have specifically caught the eye of the interim government and many expect that at least two major clauses will be done away with. Sources also reported that the interim government was considering declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization.

While a reform towards a more secular constitution may appeal to many, it is important to note that such measures will not go down well with a significant part of Egypt's conservative and rural populations, let alone the supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood. Similarly, declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization will also deeply antagonize the substantial support base the party still enjoys in Egypt. Muslim Brotherhood supporters are already incensed by the Egyptian military's violent crackdowns against their sit-ins. The Brotherhood, for its part, must realize that resorting to violence will only hurt its own interests.

Pacification of the situation in Egypt will not occur unless both parties, the interim government/military and the Muslim Brotherhood, make significant changes in their current approach to the quagmire. The military needs to realize that the Muslim Brotherhood still enjoys a substantial support base in mostly-rural Egypt. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood needs to curtail its activities and avoid resorting to violent means or else it might quite realistically face the prospect of being labeled a terrorist organization by the military-backed interim government.

Then there is the matter of the proposed constitutional changes. Article 4 states that Al-Azhar's Council of Senior Scholars will handle all matters related to Sharia. Since Sharia relates to all spheres of life the clause can relate to pretty much everything. This gives significant powers to the council to interpret and make judgements based on Islamic Shariah while enjoying constitutional legitimacy. Article 10 promotes a state where religion and patriotism are the "basis of society." Many Egyptians object to religion forming the basis of the working of their society. Liberal and secular Egyptians find themselves at odds with the clause at an ideological level and feel it contradicts the very essence of what the country stands for. Changing the outlook of the constitution will be well received by such elements of the populace. However, they will not go down well with the religious and conservative factions of the Egyptian society. Needless to say, the interim government will have to handle the issue with care and with farsightedness of what consequences such changes might carry.

Coming to the issue of the military declaring the Muslim Brotherhood a terrorist organization, again, the situation must under all circumstances be handled with an eye on the possible consequences. The Muslim Brotherhood still enjoys a substantial support base among conservative, religious, and rural Egyptians. If the army expects these sections of society to sit quietly it will be in for a very rude shock. The same applies to any further overly-coercive measures to thwart sit-ins. As the current protests have shown the supporters of the ousted government are prepared to go to great lengths to protest in the support of their party.

On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood and the its supporters need to realize that resorting to violent tactics will only further legitimize the government's plans to declare it a terrorist organization. Consider the history of the Muslim Brotherhood, which has hardly been free of controversy. Its Egyptian branch is known as the Freedom and Justice Party. Back in the 1930s, the party enjoyed extremely close ties with Nazi Germany. It was involved in agitation against the British, including espionage, sabotage, and support for terrorist activities orchestrated by Haj Amin el-Hussaini in the British Mandate for Palestine. In 1948, Egypt's prime minister was assassinated by Brotherhood member and veterinary student Abdel Meguid Ahmed Hassan. In 1954, the Brotherhood was accused of being behind a failed attempt to assassinate President Gamal Nasser.

During the 1970s, however, the party went through some major changes. Extremist elements left and the party decided to integrate itself with the mainstream Egyptian political scene.

During the current protests however, as can be proved with videos and pictures, certain Muslim Brotherhood supporters carried live ammunition including machine guns and molotov cocktails and fired at security forces. Mutilated bodies of police and security service members have also been recovered. In such a situation the interim government, citing both current and historical incidents, may well end up declaring the group a terrorist organization, curtailing its activities and arresting its top echelon permanently.

Hence, for now both parties need to change their approach. Both need to take actions that pacify the situation and lead towards normality in Egypt. The current paths both parties have set out upon will only further exacerbate the divide in Egypt resulting in more bloodshed.

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Shahab Ahmad

Undergraduate Political Science student at LUMS, Pakistan. Interested in anything and everything related to foreign policy and international relations.

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