Egypt Riots: The Islamists Chance To Sink The SCAF Once And For All?

By Daniel N.

Poised to dominate the next parliament, Egypt’s Islamists have been provided with an opportunity to rid the SCAF of its remaining political clout.

Egyptian youth riot in Downtown Cairo. (AP)

What began last Friday as another provocation by the usual revolutionary trouble makers has quickly evolved into a stark display of the SCAF’s brutality, to which all Egyptians can identify with.  Friday’s unrest spiraled out of control in nearly the same fashion as the November 18 protests, which nearly compromised the first round of parliamentary elections. The unrest began when the military attempted to attack a distinct group of anti-regime holdouts, this time in front of the Cabinet building. Like the last round which erupted at Tahrir Square, activists flooded images of police brutality on social media through their camera phones, enraging and rallying area youth to join the ensuing riots.

Like the previous round of unrest, the Muslim Brotherhood and other influential factions have stood silent, refraining from sending their supporters into the streets, only issuing generalized condemnations and calling for a halt to violence. Despite the fact that the November unrest began after a mass Brotherhood-led anti-SCAF rally, the ensuing riots by revolutionary youth groups threatened to derail the much anticipated parliamentary elections.

The results of the first two rounds proved that the Brotherhood’s patience paid off, with their Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) sweeping polled governorates, emerging with nearly 50 percent of the vote.  Throughout the entire process, the SCAF’s soldiers and security forces were on guard to ensure stability, preventing much anticipated widespread unrest.

This ironic quandary shows that, despite their ongoing rivalry for influence over future governance in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood and the SCAF still very much need each other, at least until the end of the volatile election period. While the Brotherhood requires the SCAF ensure the legitimacy of elections by maintaining stability, the SCAF counts on the Brotherhood to keep its large constituency from rising up against the country’s dire economic situation.

When the last round of anti-SCAF unrest gave way to election fervor, the SCAF attempted to capitalize on the Brotherhoods incapacity to protest, hinting that it would retain its influence on the drafting of a future constitution. Instead of directly imposing its will through the recently reshuffled cabinet, the SCAF created a so-called “Advisory Council”, consisting of influential politicians and mandated to oversee the drafting of the nation’s future constitution. Indeed, the SCAF’s performance in providing security during parliamentary elections did seem to restore much needed faith amongst the average Egyptian, after months of instability.

The recent outbreak of violence in Downtown Cairo has threatened to compromise the remaining political clout left with Egypt’s once popular military leadership. Without this support, the SCAF would have an especially difficult time securing its influence in the future governance of Egypt, especially in the face of an Islamist-dominated parliament.

Unfortunately for the SCAF, the viral images of security forces attacking unarmed female activists have rallied the rest of the country when they otherwise wouldn’t have. While the protesters in Qasr Al Aini Street belong to a fringe group of activists who demand a complete transfer of power, the majority of Egypt much still supports the SCAF for its crucial role in providing security.

Despite that support, the issue of unchecked police brutality was a hallmark of the Mubarak regime, with one January 2011 murder in Alexandria acting as the spark for the revolution which led to his ousting.  As images of soldiers as well as much hated policemen attacking protesters disseminate, the distinction between the SCAF and the old regime becomes less and less clear for many Egyptians.

With just one round of elections standing in the way of victory, the Muslim Brotherhood has been provided with an opportunity to prevent the SCAF from becoming a nuisance to its future rule.  Should the Brotherhood leadership decide to give backing to the current protests, it would significantly increase pressure on the SCAF to concede nearly any reforms demanded by protesters. In addition to their ability to mass thousands of supporters for demonstrations, the Brotherhood also controls professional syndicates and unions across Egypt, having swept internal elections held since the revolution.  It was this multi-faceted protest movement which led to the ousting of the old regime, as the country’s military leadership disposed of Mubarak in order to stave off a collapse of the country.

Only now, Egypt is far more divided, meaning a Brotherhood-led attempt to strip the SCAF from power may lead to even further unrest.  The small but influential liberal section of Egyptian society very much fears the advent of an Islamist takeover along with the SCAF as the most powerful force, which has an interest in preserving a secular future for the state.

As was the case in November, the Brotherhood’s refraining from supporting protests may well deem them ineffective. Allowing the protests to die is to gamble on the notion that the SCAF will not challenge an Islamist-led parliament by encroaching on the constitution. With the Brotherhood’s painstaking 80-year push for power geared to end in just one more round of parliamentary elections, it seems as though this tempting opportunity may just have to be passed up.

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