The Closing Window of Opportunity in Egypt

The Egyptian revolution is being crushed and I grieve for what is being lost. That glorious unarmed uprising that so inspired the world is now being gunned down by the armed forces. I grieve especially for the people of Egypt and the dangers that lie ahead unless something is to done to save the day.

The army’s massacre of dozens of people on July 28 was an unspeakable crime, equivalent to the horrors of the Mubarak era. It will go down in Egypt’s history as a day of infamy. I fear it could be one of those cruel turning points in history, when a gathering tide of lawlessness and instability burst into violence. The sense of foreboding is palpable.

The military’s brutality and lies are a grave menace to Egypt’s future. They make the incompetence and authoritarianism of the Morsi government seem mild by comparison. The Muslim Brothers are the main target of attack now, but all of free Egypt is in jeopardy.

Mohammed El Baradei and other liberals have finally criticized the military, but they must go further. I can imagine what Gandhi would say to them. Resign your posts. No one should continue to serve the military regime or follow any of their directives. Mass civil disobedience is the only solution in this emergency, not only in the streets but in pervasive refusal to accept military authority.

The military has gone beyond acceptable moral and legal bounds and must be forced to yield power. The Obama administration should work with the Arab League through the United Nations to support the creation of a broadly representative independent civilian authority in Egypt that guarantees the participation of all social forces, including the Brotherhood. Secular and liberal forces must work with the Brothers and the Salafists to establish an interim government and decide a road map to the future.

The international community should provide help to get such a political process started and must insist that the military turn over authority as soon as it is established. If the army refuses to yield power all U.S. and international assistance for the generals should cease.

Those who say the Muslim Brothers are not prepared or inclined for war do not understand the rage boiling over from the army’s repression. The deadly descending spiral of violence-begetting-violence is beginning, and may soon get out of hand as it did in Syria. Until now the Brothers have been very reluctant to use force, but there is likely a limit to their endurance, as for all people. Arms and materials for making bombs are readily available in the region.

The time to act is now, before it is too late.

Perils in Egypt

It’s a military coup, and it’s a tragedy for the Egyptian revolution. The Morsi government was certainly incompetent and increasingly authoritarian, but the army had no legal or constitutional authority to remove from office and arrest a legitimately elected president.

The Egypt revolution began in January 2011 with great promise and in 18 days overturned the Mubarak dictatorship through unarmed struggle that inspired the world. As a scholar and practitioner of nonviolent action I was eager to learn how the mostly young urban activists had sparked massive nonviolent protests across the country. I visited Egypt twice in the months after the revolution, helped to organize a conference at the University of Cairo on “lessons from the unarmed revolution,” interviewed dozens of young revolutionaries along with journalists and political observers, and wrote several chapters of a book trying to analyze and apply the lessons of Egypt to the study and practice of nonviolent civil resistance. Now I’m not sure what to write.

The military has taken power again, and we are staring into the abyss of a dangerous and uncertain future. The security forces brutally suppressed initial protests from Muslim Brotherhood members. So far the Brotherhood has remained officially committed to nonviolent methods. On Friday the Brotherhood organized massive occupation-style rallies and civil resistance actions.

The Brotherhood has said it will accept early presidential elections but it wants Morsi released and has rejected the military’s hurried and poorly planned outline for a new constitutional process, as have many other Egypt political parties, secular as well as religious.

If the Brotherhood is excluded from power after having won three straight elections, violence is likely to erupt. Already some angry voices have called for armed jihad. The scenario looks disturbingly like Algeria, where in 1992 the Islamist FLN coalition won an electoral victory but was prevented from taking office, prompting a bloody civil war that continued through the decade and took as many as 200,000 lives. Political strife has torn apart Syria.  Let’s hope Egypt does not suffer the same fate.