Egypt is heading for a two month period that will be particularly messy. Al Jabha Al Salafiah (The Salafi Front-SF)—a radical Jihadist organization—has declared the 28th of November as the “first day” of the Islamic revolution in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood (MB) is showing again its ability to use other Islamists in a planned division of labor to achieve specific political goals, all the while preserving its margin of deniability.
The SF is part of the “Coalition to Support Legitimacy” which is the main umbrella organization calling for the return of the rule by the MB. But the dilemma for the MB is that the SF is calling for confronting security forces with violence. It is calling the 28th of November, “the Second Kandahar,” referring to the Taliban offensive on the Afghani town in May 2011. The group announced that the era of “peaceful revolutions” is over. In return, the Ministry of Interior responded by promising to use live ammunition if violence erupts.
No one in Egypt is naïve enough now to assume that the confrontation, which is planned to continue until January 25th, 2015 will be peaceful. The MB chose to preserve its “political options” through a complex maneuver in which it remains publicly in the background—and even possibly will condemn violence when it erupts—while effectively pushing others to claim the leadership. It may even suggest at a later point to intermediate between the government and the Islamists.
The Salafi Front (SF) is a loose coalition of radical Islamists, such as members of the extremely violent Jama’a Islamiah that spread havoc in Upper Egypt in the 1990’s, the followers of Hazem Abu Isma’el who are called the Hazemoun, and members of some seven other groups. During the period from 28th of January 2011 until the overthrow of the MB President Muhammad Morsi last year in 2013, the SF and other Islamist organizations were always the violent “militias” of the MBs.
However, the MBs chose this time to shroud their role with a particularly thin veil. The “Coalition to Support Legitimacy” issued a communique saying that the call for the start of the Islamic revolution in Egypt “does not represent the official position of the Coalition.” However, almost everyone in Egypt is watching the relentless escalation of the MBs during the countdown to the event. The “Egyptian Revolutionary Council,” a group that is based in Turkey and claims to represent the MBs and other Islamists in Egypt, declared its full support for Kandahar-II.
What degree of success will the Islamists achieve this time? Well, to say the least, they will be better off with this expected revolt than they were before it.
The new regime of President Abdel Fattah Al Sissi was faced with a mission almost-impossible. Some in the military recognized, quite surprisingly in fact, the destructive role played by the police forces and the crudely controlled media. The Mubarak coalition, as it is called, was powerful and had many common interests with the new regime. While the military understood the damage caused by this coalition of businesses, bureaucracy, media and police, there was no way to be able to run the country in a moment of persistent economic and security challenges without using this coalition. There was no other force in the field.
One of the military leaders explained the challenge by pointing to the need to create a chain of consecutive steps and the necessity of avoiding multiple fronts at the same time: “We know that police brutality is a liability and is provoking segments of the population. But the economy was on the verge of total collapse, and the police force is helping preserve order. It needs to be reformed. But this is not the moment to do it.”
But the mistakes were larger than this de facto acquiescence to police brutality. The decision to go after the liberal youth, putting in jail large numbers of their leaders, tightening the noose of censorship in the media, and declaring war on anything that belonged to the January 25th revolution was a sign that the new regime is harboring ambitions to return the conditions of the pre-revolution situation.
These ambitions defy any basic commonsense. The pre-revolution situation was calm only in appearance. During the final 10 years of Mubarak rule, there were active, cumulative reasons that made the uprising possible. It is not a period of time that any regime would consciously hope to restore. When water boils it is not because of the last degree of the input of heat.
What we will see in Egypt now will be graphic. The regime left itself a narrow margin to maneuver. Violence will be abundant in the next few weeks. But that will not yet be sufficient to topple Abdel Fatah Al Sissi.