By Dina Ezza
14 Jul 2014
"A year ago, I woke up to the news of the incidents of the Republican Guards – the beginning of the real confrontation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the state. Ever since, I have been seeing the leaders of this group trying to bring the country into a lose-lose situation – if only to avenge the political defeat for which they stand solely responsible," said novelist and commentator Youssef El-Qaeed.
Himself the author of a novel titled The Lose-Lose Situation – which portrays a small society where all partners feel that a victory is only possible if the others lose – El-Qaeed insists that "no matter the mistakes committed in the handling of the Republican Guard incidents or later in the dispersal of the Muslim Brotherhood sit-in, the price for having turned a blind eye to the open challenge that the group posed to the sovereignty of the state would have been much heavier".
Last July, some 50 Brotherhood members and supporters died in an open and direct confrontation with on-duty military personnel in the days after Mohamed Morsi's ouster.
The narrative of the military was that Brotherhood members and supporters were trying to forcefully enter a facility of the Republican Guard, supposedly to "liberate" Morsi, who had been held in an undisclosed location by the military since his popularly-backed removal after days of mass protests.
The Brotherhood narrative states otherwise – it is one of unprovoked military harassment that put in motion the eventual bloody dispersal of the Brotherhood sit-in at Rabaa Al-Adawiya – only a 15-minute walk from the Republican Guard scene – and another sit-in next to the campus of Cairo University.
"The Muslim Brotherhood leadership had no doubt what they were getting their followers into," El-Qaeed argues. "They knew it, it was their strategy for a lose-lose situation. It is typically the behaviour of bad losers who feel obliged that they cannot cut their losses and so they had to break down everything around them."
"The Muslim Brotherhood did have more than one chance to avert further loses after facing unprecedented public furor on 30 June . They were offered several political compromises but they effectively turned them all down," he adds.
According to El-Qaeed, who keeps a close eye on socio-political developments before using them in his literary texts, Brotherhood leaders insisted that any political negotiations couldn't take place unless the group's second-in-command, Khairat El-Shater, was released from jail.
"It would have simply been the end of state sovereignty had the authorities bowed to this demand. The leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood must have anticipated the rejection of the authorities and they knew they were bringing things towards a deadlock."
A year later, no clear and independent fact-finding mission has determined what really happened between the military police and Brotherhood followers by the gates of the Republican Guard facility in Heliopolis – or during the dispersal of the Rabaa sit-in at the entrance to Nasr City district. Still, though, El-Qaeed is willing to argue that "had the state bowed to the intimidation of the Muslim Brotherhood against the dispersal of the sit-ins, the authorities would have again been compromising the ability of the state to exercise its fully sovereignty".
As with the characters of many of his novels, who often find themselves choosing between bad and worse, El-Qaeed believes that the state had to choose between an operation that "could have allowed for some violations" and a decision to turn a blind eye to "a non-peaceful sit-in that itself saw incredible violations of the rights of residents of an entire neighbourhood to safely access their homes or other facilities including doctors' clinics and supermarkets".
"This is not to mention the violations that were committed at the sit-in by the orders of Muslim Brotherhood members who ordered the arrest and torture of some individuals just passing by and who actually forced their followers to remain at the sit-in even if they wished to leave – including the day of the dispersal," he says.
"There was no way that Morsi would have been allowed back into office. This would have set the country ablaze and therefore there was no way that the Muslim Brotherhood would have come to a compromise. At the same time, there was no way that the state would have earned the respect of the masses if it hesitated before the intimidation of any particular group. The choices were really limited," he says, adding that it was the Brotherhood "who prompted escalation on the day of the confrontation with the military police next to the building of the Republican Guard".
According to El-Qaeed, the "original mistake" that "drove the entire country to a situation of inevitable confrontation" was when the Brotherhood decided to contest the top executive job – despite them not being up for it.
"Indeed, of all the figures of the Muslim Brotherhood, Mohamed Morsi was perhaps one of the least apt candidates and it was a nightmare for El-Shater to see him making it to the presidential place" some two years ago, El-Qaeed insists.
El-Shater was first announced as the Brotherhood's candidate. However, due to legal complications related to the short interval between his nomination and his release from prison, where he was taken during the rule of Hosni Mubarak before the 25 January 2011 uprising, it was decided that El-Shater's replacement would be Morsi, in his capacity as head of the Brotherhood's political arm, the Freedom and Justice Party.
"This was a very messy situation to start with – because it was not just about having an inept president but a president who had to, according to many of his interlocutors, go back to El-Shater on everything," El-Qaeed argues. He adds that, according to his sources, the relationship between Morsi and El-Shater was not necessarily very straightforward or businesslike: while the president wanted to act and be treated as the head of state, "El-Shater would not give him that much", he says.
"There are many accounts in this respect. The situation was not at all sustainable and failure was inevitable."
But what made the failure really come round, he says, was the "shocking deterioration of living standards that hit the vast majority of Egyptians in the face".
"So, when the Tamarod movement started…to collect signatures to endorse Morsi's ouster, the nation was ready to move along. Tension had already been high, but [the Brotherhood] had either failed to see it or failed to appropriately assess its magnitude."