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What the Leadership Change Means for Egypt’s Future and the Region

July 4, 2013 at 12:00 AM EST
What promises and pitfalls lie ahead for Egypt in the wake of the army's removal of Morsi and crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood? Judy Woodruff talks to the University of Maryland's Shibley Telhami and commentator and blogger Hussein Ibish about the significance of Egypt's leadership change for that nation and the Arab world.
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JUDY WOODRUFF: And for more on what Egypt’s leadership change means for the country and for the region, I’m joined by Shibley Telhami, the Anwar Sadat professor of peace and development at the University of Maryland. His latest book is “The World Through Arab Eyes: Arab Public Opinion and the Reshaping of the Middle East.”

And Hussein Ibish, a commentator and blogger who writes a weekly column on the Middle East for “Foreign Policy” and for The Daily Beast.

Welcome to you both to the program.

Hussein Ibish, first of all, what do you make of this new leadership arrangement imposed by the military?

HUSSEIN IBISH, Middle East commentator: Well, what is most striking about it is the degree of consensus behind it.

I mean, I think you could see a military action, a coup, in effect, coming, but I think this is a unique kind of coup, because almost all of the other social and political forces in Egypt other than the Muslim Brotherhood gave their assent to it.

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And that’s very unusual, so it is sort of a coup by acclamation. And there is a consensual quality to it that is extremely unusual in a coup d’etat.

JUDY WOODRUFF: What do you think of this arrangement?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI, University of Maryland: Well, I think it has really got certainly an element of consensus and a corrective revolution, but it’s also got an element of counterrevolution and an element of a military coup.

It has got all of these things and that’s part of the problem. There is a consensus among the opponents of Morsi that he had to go in many ways, but there is no consensus on what they want, because you had a liberal faction that wants to see real, genuine inclusive democratic reform.

You have people who want to go back to something close to what the Mubarak regime was like. You have the military among whose offices there are still many who want to assert themselves, so you have got all these contradictions. And those are likely to come into play very quickly.

We saw it even on the first day, when the liberals couldn’t possibly have been happy when the security forces sent their forces to the media outlets, especially the religious ones, but also Al-Jazeera.

And Sheik Al-Azhar, who has provided legitimacy to this, the head of the Al-Azhar, who is a legitimate religious figure in Egypt, was there at the decree, and he said — he said, well, I am doing this because this is the lesser of two evils.

That tells you something about the quality of this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So you did have — Hussein Ibish, you did have the liberals, you had the ultra-conservatives there standing with the military when they made the announcement.

HUSSEIN IBISH: You did.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Does that give it more legitimacy or not?

HUSSEIN IBISH: Well, undoubtedly. It gives it much more legitimacy.

However, I think Shibley makes a good point, which is you can see the fissures already. And we needn’t wonder if the liberals are upset.

They say they are upset. I was having a conversation with one of them earlier today, a senior member of the National Salvation Front, and he was upset at some of the repressive steps that have been taken.

So I agree that there is consensus only on a very few things, a need to revise the constitution, a need for new elections, and a need to get rid of the old government, but what after that, I think there is no consensus.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So do you believe, should one believe, Shibley Telhami, the military when they say this is a temporary arrangement, our goal is to have elections as quickly as possible?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Well, whether you believe them or not, they understand they have limits to their power. They learned a lesson. You could see it already from the first transition, because they are not governing directly. They are appointing a civilian president. They want a technocratic government.

They’re distancing themselves. They see the masses, they see the humanity on the streets, and they can’t possibly be aspiring to be another tyrant, because they know they are going to face the same kind of reaction on the streets.

JUDY WOODRUFF: It is a very different situation from what you had …

HUSSEIN IBISH: Well, they had that experience of a year-and-a-half in direct governance between Mubarak and Morsi, and they didn’t like it.

It created institutional problems for them. It damaged their reputation. They don’t want to go back to it.

They have certain spheres of influence that they need to protect or they want to protect, control over defense and the national security, their secret budget and their uncatalogued share in the national economy, maybe 20 percent or so of the GDP.

Everything else, they would like to leave to somebody else to govern. They wanted a partner in the Muslim Brothers. They thought maybe they had one, but they found out they were ineffective.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Well, speaking of that, was it necessary for them to arrest, what, a couple of hundred credit of the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: And that is really one of the major problems up front, because you have this message coming from the appointed president, Adly Mansour, who says, we are inclusive, we invite them the Muslim Brotherhood to participate.

And here you have the security forces raiding all these major leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is a mixed message, which is why the Obama administration is trying to use that as a kind of a way to influence events, given that they have to decide on whether this was a military coup or not to abide by the American law.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Urging them not to do it but they went ahead and did it anyway. They went ahead and made these arrests.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: And it will be interesting to watch what the new president does. Who has the authority to do it? Who is giving the orders?

Obviously, the Interior Ministry, but does the new president have the authority to say to them, stop, or is this coming from the military? There is no constitution in place today.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Is there really a question though about whether the military is running things? Isn’t it clear that they are?

HUSSEIN IBISH: Well, that they are the power behind the arrangement, there is no doubt.

But what decisions they are making is certainly open to question. I think these decisions are rash and irresponsible. There is no need for preemptive repression. There is nothing that the Brotherhood leadership has done so far or their cadres on the street that warrant this.

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, why are they doing it?

HUSSEIN IBISH: Well, I suppose in order to preempt any notion that you could find the Islamists reacting in a violent way or a subversive way.

Or there may be some parts of this coalition that secretly want to try to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood as an institution. This would be a terrible mistake. Both sides in this equation have to restrain themselves.

The Muslim Brotherhood cannot resort to violence or it will create a civil war. But if the president, ruling faction cracks down on them too much, that will have the same effect. So, they have to restrain themselves.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Excuse me.

Can any new arrangement work, though, Shibley Telhami, if the Muslim Brotherhood continues to — if they say, we are not going to participate, we are not going to anything to do with it?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: And, of course, that is really the — immediately, that is the major question, is how will the Muslim Brotherhood react? And here are their options.

On the first, they certainly can try to stay peaceful. They have been largely peaceful. They can stay peaceful, put masses into the streets, play the same game that the opposition did, paralyze the country, put pressure, have them, you know, acknowledge that they are part of the situation.

But, on the other hand, if nothing happens and they are being arrested, we know that there have been offshoots of the Muslim Brotherhood who became militant in the past. This could happen again. So, this is really a dangerous game that is being played. And obviously how the Muslim Brotherhood reacts is going to be central.

But one thing I say in terms of the hope, some people think that they can — they really have an interesting in coming back to play, because they could win a parliamentary election again, given the disarray in the opposition. So, they may have an interest. They wouldn’t do it now, because they’re going to see it as illegitimate.

JUDY WOODRUFF: In other words, it is not clear where the balance is?

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: It is not clear where the balance is, but it is not going to happen immediately.

JUDY WOODRUFF: Just very quickly, less than a minute, Hussein Ibish, we described the reaction of some of the other leaders in the region, split. How do you see that? What effect at this point do you see this having on the region?

HUSSEIN IBISH: Well, I think it is a wakeup call to the Islamists throughout the region that they are not the natural representatives of the Arabs and the Muslims.

The fact that most of the Arabs are devout Muslims doesn’t make them Islamists. And they’re not going to gravitate to them just because they grab the Koran and say, follow me to salvation. This is — it is an illusion that they need to break themselves from. And I think people in the West …

JUDY WOODRUFF: So, which countries are we talking about?

HUSSEIN IBISH: Well, I am talking about Islamists throughout the Middle East. I think the most …

JUDY WOODRUFF: Turkey?

HUSSEIN IBISH: Certainly, the Turkish AKP and their followers are nervous about this. All of the Muslim Brotherhood groups in the area must be shocked at the extent of unanimity of the rest of Egyptian society rejection of Mohammed Morsi.

So they are going to have to consider whether, you know, that learning — learning the skills of conciliation and compromise and consensus-building, which they haven’t done as in all of these years in opposition, and it came to haunt them.

In Egypt, it brought down their government, the fact that they couldn’t do it.

JUDY WOODRUFF: The story moves on.

We thank you both, Hussein Ibish, Shibley Telhami.

SHIBLEY TELHAMI: Pleasure.