Lessons from the Egyptian Crisis

A month-and-a-half-long stand-off between Egypt’s military authority and supporters of ousted President Mohammed Morsi came to a head last week Thursday when security forces violently dispersed Cairo sit-ins, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured.

There was world-wide condemnation of the gruesome killings. But many keen observers of the unfolding Egyptian crisis have started wondering loudly about the fate of Egypt’s democratic transition as General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, the military strongman and commander of the armed forces, declared a temporary state of emergency and returned the military to a position of seemingly unfettered power.

Nearly two-and-half years after Hosni Mubarak’s overthrow, Egypt is embarking on a perilous transition in many ways, disturbingly akin to the one it had just experienced  only with different actors at the helm and far more fraught with atavistic violence. Polarisation between supporters and opponents of ousted President Mohamed Morsi is such that one can only fear more bloodshed; the military appears convinced it has a mandate to suppress demonstrators; the Muslim Brotherhood, aggrieved by what it sees as the unlawful overturn of its democratic mandate. Thus a stalemate is created where literally the falcon can no longer hear the falconer.

But what is at the root of the crisis is the obvious intransigence of the former President Mohammed Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood supporters who are hell-bent in imposing Islamic supremacy on Egypt that is hitherto known to be a secular state;  the very secularity that the military authority is trying to protect at all cost.

The fate of the Muslim Brotherhood is at the centre of the equation. Smarting from its dramatic loss of power and persecuted in ways unseen since the 1960s, it is reviving its traditional narratives of victimhood and injustice. It is depicting the struggle as a battle between defenders and opponents of both democracy and Islam. It is closing ranks, banking on a war of attrition to expose the new rulers over time as a more repressive version of Mubarak’s old regime; exacerbate divisions among their current backers; and discredit them with domestic and international public opinion. In mirror image, the new authorities believe that, by preventing a return to normalcy, the Islamists will continue to lose popular support and  if they refuse to retreat  justify a more forceful crackdown.

Egyptian political life is polarised because the major political parties unfortunately owe their allegiance to religion and other sundry primordial sympathies  rather than cutting across these cleavages.

This is where the lessons lie for Nigeria. Even though Egypt is far away from us, yet it is near enough because unfortunately too, our political system shares the same peculiarity with that of Egypt in its affiliation with religions and ethnic groupings.

We must learn these lessons very fast for 2015 general elections are fast approaching and the signs already manifesting themselves are too ominous to ignore.

The ideal political system that is relevant and sustainable for institutionalisation of democratic development, values and enduring strengths is the one that puts the national interests and welfare of the electorate far and above religious and ethnic considerations. The diversities that characterised our socio-cultural and political life are not supposed to be hindrances to democratic development. Rather they are supposed to enhance and strengthening it.

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