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Issue Guide: Egypt's Escalating Crisis

Author: Zachary Laub, Senior Copy Editor/Writer
Updated: August 27, 2013


The standoff between Egypt's military and Muslim Brotherhood supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi came to a head in mid-August as security forces dispersed Cairo sit-ins, leaving hundreds dead and thousands injured. Many analysts questioned the fate of Egypt's democratic transition as General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, commander of the armed forces, declared a state of emergency and returned the military to a position of seemingly unfettered power. The following articles provide background and analysis on Egypt's political crisis.

Military police stand outside the burnt Rabaa Adawiya mosque the morning after the clearing of a protest camp in Cairo (Mohamed Abd El Ghany/Courtesy Reuters).
Revolution Redux

Economist: The Battle for Egypt
Egypt's army has disregarded the primary lesson of the Arab Spring: "that ordinary people yearn for dignity." The generals cannot clamp down on Islamists without denying millions of other Egyptians their personal freedoms, says the Economist.

International Crisis Group: Egypt's Dangerous Second Transition
Egypt is at risk of experiencing levels of political violence not seen since the early 1990s, and global powers should move swiftly to support a national reconciliation process, the International Crisis Group writes.

Egyptian Initiative for Personal Rights: Mubarak's Trials and Legal Status
As Hosni Mubarak was transferred to house arrest after more than two years in detention, an Egyptian NGO offers a Q&A explaining the deposed strongman's legal status.

New Republic: The Islamic Insurgency That Could Soon Hit Egypt
The Egyptian military learned from its previous stint in power to apprehend the Muslim Brotherhood's top leaders. But, Eric Trager writes, "by disorganizing Egypt's most cohesive Islamist group, the generals have turned hundreds of thousands of deeply ideological Muslim Brothers into free radicals," with the potential of spawning an Islamist insurgency.

CFR Book: The Struggle for Egypt
CFR's Steven Cook argues that contemporary tensions about Egyptian national identity have their roots in the late nineteenth century. While there is "great hope that the Egyptians can construct a new political system and rebuild their society peacefully," Cook writes, "that is unlikely as long as the underlying and antecedent debates about Egypt and what it stands for remain unresolved."

The Political Outlook

Foreign Policy: Mubarak Still Rules
CFR's Steven Cook writes that the democratic promise of Tahrir Square—"the 'revolution' that really never was"—remains as distant as ever as the ancien régime is poised to restore Mubarak's security state.

Economist: Pyramids of Power
Egyptian politics is best described as an ongoing tussle between the "deep state," Islamists, and "civic Egypt," the Economist argues.

New Republic: Civil State or Civil War?
The events in Egypt will likely provoke a cycle of low-level insurgency and military reprisal, but the Muslim Brotherhood is unlikely to turn to violence en masse, writes the Atlantic Council's Michelle Dunne.

Foreign Affairs: Evolve or Expire
In the coming weeks and years, the Muslim Brotherhood will likely undergo an internal struggle between those who want to give in to victimhood and respond with violence and those who invest in making the Freedom and Justice Party a modern and effective political party, writes Tarek Osman.

CFR Interview: How to Influence a Polarized Egypt
Growing splits between Islamists and secularists in Egypt augur a sustained period of confrontation and unrest, says expert Jon B. Alterman. He argues that the United States must reassess its policy toward Egypt with an eye toward the long view.

The Egypt Monocle: Egypt's False Dichotomies
Rania al-Malky critiques the pro-military and anti–Muslim Brotherhood tropes that have become ubiquitous in Egyptian public discourse. "Sisi's coup and the so-called liberals who cheered it on have set in motion an ugly scenario that has sounded the death knell for civilian politics in Egypt," she writes.

The Arabist: It Only Gets Worse From Here
The military's heavy-handed tactics may be a ploy to breed radicalism in the Muslim Brotherhood and "push as much of the Islamist camp as possible into being outlaws," writes Issandr El Amrani.

The Economic Context

CFR Interview: Gulf Cash Stabilizes Egypt, for Now
Egypt's interim government lacks the mandate to make the structural reforms necessary to cut back unsustainable subsidies, and its only option is to borrow and spend its way back to stability, says economist Farouk Soussa.

Foreign Affairs: Who Will Save Egypt?
An influx of cash and loans from Gulf states, Turkey, and Libya have allowed Cairo to avoid politically unpalatable structural reforms, writes Marina Ottaway.

Regional Security

Al-Monitor: The Jihadist Threat in Egypt's Sinai
Jihadi insurgents have escalated violence in the Sinai since Morsi's ouster, targeting Christians and military and police camps, reports Mohamed Fadel Fahmy. The peninsula "will no doubt remain in the spotlight of the transitional period [in] Egypt," he writes.

Foreign Affairs: Why Israel Will Miss Morsi
As instability in the Sinai, which threatens to spill over into Israel, has escalated since the military takeover, analyst Zack Gold notes that "security and intelligence cooperation between Israel and Egypt actually thrived during Morsi's presidency."

Sada: A Falling-Out Among Brothers?
Offshoots of the Egyptian Muslim Brotherhood, including Tunisia's embattled Ennahda, have distanced themselves from the "mother organization" despite common structural defects. How members respond to the Egyptian crisis, Raphael Lefèvre writes, could be a decisive wedge issue within their ranks.

Al-Monitor: Egypt's Coup Breathes New Life Into Al-Qaeda
The Egyptian military's toppling of a democratically elected Islamist government will breathe new life into al-Qaeda's narrative, which had been undermined by the initial promise of the Arab Spring, explains intelligence veteran Bruce Riedel.

U.S. Policy

TIME: Egypt No Longer Matters
American policymakers and media tend to view Egypt as "the fulcrum of the Arab world," a view that is obsolete, Bobby Ghosh argues. As Cairo is no longer the capital of Middle Eastern politics, culture, or labor, U.S. foreign policy should shift its focus elsewhere.

International Herald Tribune: Waffle, Vacillate, Fail
The Obama administration's vacillation on Mubarak, Morsi, and now the Egyptian military has engendered anti-Americanism from all sides, writes Foreign Affairs' Jonathan Tepperman.

Op-Ed: Democracy in Egypt Can Wait
CFR's Charles Kupchan says Washington should temper its push for democracy in Egypt and the wider Mideast, focusing instead on incremental steps toward good governance. "The penchant for rushing transitional states to the ballot box often does more harm than good," he observes.

New York Times: Cairo Military Firmly Hooked to U.S. Lifeline
Eric Schmitt reports, "the United States [has] more leverage over the Egyptian military than it may seem, although still not as much as it wants."

The National: Arabs Can't Blame America for All the World's Problems
Anti-Americanism has been rampant in the weeks since Morsi's ouster, with both sides accusing the United States of supporting their opponents. Husein Ibish attributes this persistent feature of Arab political culture to false perceptions of American omnipotence.

Hope Abridged for the Arab Spring?

New York Times Room for Debate: Is This the End of the Arab Spring?
A dozen experts, including CFR's Ed Husain, weigh in the on the prospects of Arab democracy after the clashes in Egypt, unrest in Bahrain, instability in Turkey, and civil war in Syria.

Democracy: The Seven Pillars of the Arab Future
Egypt expert Michael Wahid Hanna examines seven critical areas in which Arab democracy must be assessed in the coming decades. Meanwhile, he writes, the United States has a bit part to play supporting these transitions, but should start by rolling back its entanglement with Middle Eastern militaries.

Project Syndicate: The Problem Is Authoritarianism, Not Islam
Authoritarianism, not Islamism per se, is the greatest threat to democracy, argues Dani Rodrik. Viewing the crises in Egypt and beyond as Islamist versus secular is reductive and plays into the hands of authoritarians, no matter from which side they hail.

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