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Introduction

Religious and political turmoil continue to jeopardise human life in Egypt with supporters and opponents of ex-president Mohammed Morsi surging protests nationwide. With a heightened unrest in Egypt’s political history, this essay aims to figure out the root causes of conflict. It starts by focussing on the present scenario; it then moves on to scrutinise its history and causes.  It applies theory of Realism to understand the causes, and justifies the rationale behind choosing the same. It then analyses the crises based on political and religious stigmas and makes comparisons to several other countries that shares similar or different ideologies with that of Egypt. It finally tries to jot in few suggestions that might be useful in resolving the situation.

Background                              

Makari (2007) pointed that dynamics between the Christians and Muslims in Egypt is a determinant factor for how communal relations, tolerance and civil society exists in the country. “Politicisation of religion” is now a “powerful mobilising force” and has always been a dominant factor in Egypt’s list of national concern. This political inequation existed since the days of Presidential rule by Gamal Abdel Nasser (1954-70). Though he never vouched for religion to obstruct or hinder in the nation’s progress, but he did acknowledge the significance of Islam as a persuasive force. It was during this time that Muslim Brotherhood began challenging his secular norms. Mass trials of the leaders of Muslim Brotherhood and police repression did no good in easing the political mess (Mansfield, 1969:239). As tension surmounted through the 1960’s; it continued until Sadat succeeded Nasser in 1970 and altered the official government’s course at par with religion. During his reign, religious programmes dominated television screens and he came into direct confrontation with Coptic Orthodox Church. The pope was barred from performing his duties, thus paving way for religious strife’s (Kepel, 1986:173).

Religious unrest leading to political discord is not new in world politics or its influential impact on international relations. But, what goes in Egypt is not a direct mortification of Christian-Muslim animosity. The October 20th (this year) onslaught on a Coptic wedding ceremony that killed four people has triggered questions whether these hostilities are against the Christians solely or state institution as a whole. Father Hani Bakhous Kiroulos was quoted in Catholic World News saying, such attacks targeting the government vehemently claim the Islamic extremists’ inclination towards a civil war (Catholic World News, 2013). Islamic atrocities have caused discontent in several countries and Egypt’s strategic role in the Arab and Muslim world makes it even more vulnerable to interest groups trying to manipulate the state by endangering peace. Egypt is now struggling with identity crisis. The revolution of January 25th (this year), calling for ‘Bread, Freedom and Social Justice’ by Islamists, leftists, nationalists, and liberals, saw these politically divided groups pursuit the same objective but with diverse policies (Saleh, 2013). Issues of religious tolerance leading to conflict are as old as the uprising of Protestant aristocracy against Spanish authority in Bohemia way back in 1630s (Holsti, 1991:26-8). These conflicts continue to haunt nations in the present era with Egypt being a dominant example.

Conflict in Egypt shall now be analysed by applying theories of International Relations. Going by the trends in its tug-of-war, the situation can be explained by theory of Realism.

Realism is an approach to international relations with a distinctive but a diverse style or tradition of analysis. Representative clues of realism reflect the states interest behind any action, where power and interest vary. “Realism emphasises the constraints on politics imposed by human nature and the absence of international government. Together, they make international relations largely a realm of power and interest” (Donnelly, 2009:9). Niccolo Machiavelli was one of the best practitioner’s of realism. In his book The Prince, he suggested rulers to implement deception and violence to win against other states. As per him, a prince cannot always act morally. To serve ones best interest it is important for the person to oblige and act against promise, faith and religion. A prince should know when to reprobate depending upon the situation (Machiavelli 1984: 59-60).

Going by the above definition of realism, conflicts in Egypt have persistently acted out of anarchic condition, as in rejecting the presence of international authority. Realism focuses on power politics, shared interests and welfare of interests groups, in this case the Islamic extremists. The extremists favour the alternative view, which consider the state and state system to pose problem than resolve issues. The Muslims are now condemning the nationwide assaults by religious fanatics. Egypt is the central character of Seuz Canal and this makes it even more vulnerable to interest groups. Conflict in Egypt has manifested itself from imbalance of power that is now trying to makeshift towards religious indifferences. Power play in Egypt has been imminent ever since the British rule in 1950’s. The then President of Egypt, Nasser has always tried to prioritise his own standing than cater to social inequalities prevalent in the society. When he nationalised the Suez Canal is 1956, it was aimed more at advancing his own political career that finally saw Sir Anthony Eden packing bags. Nasser hankered at the assailable fact that the Egyptians were highly dissatisfied with the British presence, as it made them feel ‘second class citizens in their own country’. When 80,000 British troops stationed along the Suez Canal, the Egyptians required approval from the British to get close to the canal. Repression against dominant ruling took shape since then. Also, Nasser took advantage of the widespread corruption in senior positions in the country (History Learning Site, 2013). Through these it becomes apparent that Egypt has been jostling to preserve its own interest since Cold War surfaced. Nasser’s diplomatic stride ignored the existence of any global rule and almost ruled out any moral behaviour as it might be a hurdle in self-preservation. Thus, conflict in Egypt can be greatly explained through the realist stance.

Also, Egypt has been seen following Defensive Realism. Egypt’s endeavour in increasing its security led to superfluous relations with Israel. During the Egyptian revolution in 2011, Egypt-Israel relationship suffered massive setback even though the Egyptian government tried convincing Israel Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu that it was closely following the peace treaty. Egyptian protestors took to the streets of Cairo against Israel and the border witnessed regular hostility with sudden rise in terrorist threats in the Sinai Peninsula.

The 2011 attack on Israel Embassy is one such example of Defensive Realism when Egyptians stormed into the Israel Embassy and demolished walls and replaced the Israel flag with Egyptian and Palestinian flags. The mass rally at Tahrir Square where protestors demanded for a legitimate military and rejected the one that has been ruling Egypt since the Presidential rule by Hosni Mubarak (a revolution toppled his government), (Al Jazeera, 2011), demonstrate weakness among the Egyptians that is persistent since the days of British rule.   Egypt has been smothered throughout the history of its political development with little attention paid to the dispute that was impeding cordial ties across the nation. The innermost tensions and unprotected interest is basically the cause of conflicts in Egypt. From Nasser, Sadat to Hosni Mubarak, all of them tried ruling the country based on their own profit motifs. The Egyptians voices have hardly been heard and there are always a group of extremists who prefer creating chaos than diplomatically handle the situation. When Egyptian policemen were killed along the Egypt-Israel border during Israel hunt for attackers, the US Secretary of State urged Egypt’s foreign minister to oblige by the Vienna Convention of safeguarding diplomatic property (Al Jazeera, 2011); it hints towards Egypt’s inapt contribution to international relation. Insecurity and threats of foul power play has shattered the basic institutional instincts of the Egyptians.

So, even when U.S. President Barack Obama tried flaunting a compassionate approach in handling the Egypt crises, it hardly did any good to put off the fire. In his optimistic philosophical viewpoint, Obama figured out that the ultimate problem in Egypt is following either foreign policy realism or foreign policy idealism which does nothing substantial than cause unnecessary strain in international relations. According to him, Egypt is in need of democracy with due respect to human rights; where citizens are not denied the right to speak freely or choose their own leaders without any apprehension. Leaders in Egypt always suppressed uninhibited practice of religion that added fuel to the fire. Though President Obama always worked towards liberalising Egypt, he never executed what he said.  In fact, his Administration cut down ‘U.S. aide to democracy groups in Egypt by 50 percent’. Though his speech at the State of Union promoted democracy, but he declined to comment anything specific in regard to Egypt. Mr Obama was himself choosing a realist stance and was more concerned towards continuing to cater to the U.S. interests in the region. Though he apparently wanted Mubarak’s exit, his actions proved that he actually supported Mubarak’s deputy Omar Suleiman’s principles in the country. Even more shocking, the Secretary of State referred to the Egyptian government “stable” and Vice President Joe Biden never accepted President Hosni Mubarak as a dictator! (Scherer, 2011).  He was quoted in Murphy (2011) saying that Mubarak has been their ally and has shown his dedicated attempt towards U.S. interest in Egypt’s troubled regions.

Hoover (2011) argued how President Barack Obama has mastered the ‘dark art of evasive support’ and that the turn of events in Egypt reveals how policies of realism failed in that country. In this regard, Sanger & Cooper (2011) commented that Mr Mubarak best served the interest of the US strategic interests and it is almost a nightmare for the Obama Administration to pursue its foreign policies amidst democratic norms.

Even after strained relationships between Israel and Egypt, Israel Prime Minister has always upheld diplomacy and stuck to the peace treaty rather than direct, blunt protests. Black (2011) pointed out that Binyamin Netanyahu repeatedly asked his cabinet ministers to avoid making irrelevant comments against what goes on in Egypt. Even when U.S. wanted to see through a ‘orderly transition’ in Egypt, Israel suggested the U.S. and European Union to refrain from criticising Mubarak so as to pursue their vested interest as long as possible.

It is impossible to offer suggestions from a researcher’s point of view if the whole scenario is not analysed and specific problems identified. Hence, it is essential to critically analyse the causes of conflict in Egypt and the Arab world.

Analysis

As McGreal (2011) pointed out what Tony Blair said that the problem with Egypt is not just restricted to demands for a democratic revolution. Once granted the power of democracy, the Islamist parties would then gain power and misuse it regardless of any limit. What the Egyptians want would remain a mirage forever with the Islamist groups taking the charge. He assured that Egypt would definitely be given the kind of government they want, but what comes out due to that change must be fair enough. It is not an easy game to just democratise Egypt and the war is over! There is an inherent collision amongst the population themselves. The realist stance that each group are taking differs in the way they are implemented. The Egyptians feel insecure in their own homeland and they are irrationally venting their anger on the Christians. A united voice which could have yielded prosperous results is going haywire with needless attack on religious groups. There have always been loyal groups to Mubarak who have shown their full devotion towards a man who cared about nothing than safeguarding his own interests. Such political imbalance is widespread in the Middle East. For example, it is the similar case in Libya where battles take off with armed ethnic group’s indifference over influence, land and resources. As in the case of Egypt, Libya also struggled with dictatorship under Muammar Gaddafi, who aggravated the already troubled situation by favouring specific villages and tribes to serve his own interests (Deutsche Welle, 2013). Racial demarcation also plays a prominent role as Egyptians always felt threatened by immigrants.

Suggestions for minimising mass protests

What is needed in this country is gaining peace and order and utilising the mammoth potential that Egypt possesses and putting into good use. Education, health, employment, women upliftment- all requires immediate attention. Egypt has a crucial role to play in the Middle- East and globally. It needs a leader who would bring about a radical transformation. The Egyptians voices need to be heard without any intimidation. In a recent incident, an Egyptian Kung Fu champion Mohammed Youssef was stripped off his gold medal owing to his abutment for the ousted President Mohammed Morsi. He was deported from Russia and banned from representing Egypt. In another bizarre development, the state prosecutor of Egypt has now ordered an investigation against television presenter Bassem Youssef over his phony comments on army chief Gen Abdul Fattah al-Sisi. He was slammed and arrested over allegations of blasphemy towards Islam and Morsi (BBC, 2013). These two contradictory incidences is a startling reminder of dire peril towards freedom of speech that overrules Egypt. While Morsi can be recalled owing to his cacophonous contribution of inciting lethal clashes in December 2012, there was one President Ho Chi-minh, whose 1945 declaration of independence of the Republic of Vietnam won hearts as he prioritised equality, liberty and happiness. Vietnam’s call for independence and equality of status is a stark contrast between Vietnam and Egypt.

Conclusion

After an elaborate discussion above, it can be stated that the root cause of conflict in Egypt is abstention of order and decorum all through its political history. Neither the Obama Administration nor Egypt’s own men ever tried to cater to the needs of the masses.  What have now evolved are interest groups with their own urge to establish domination in the country. The Egyptian government has shown enough leniencies while dealing with Muslim Brotherhood. Only if the government sticks to its decision of withdrawing the licence of the Muslim Brotherhood as a political party, can minimal changes can be expected (Miles, 2013). Even then terrorist threats remain. It is now upon the stronger states to lend a helping hand to a politically crippled country that has been jabbing in vexation. It’s time to put back narcissistic motifs behind for a while and prioritise reform movement in Egypt as soon as possible. Hazem Al Beblawi (the incumbent Prime Minister) has a lot to contribute. Egyptian men would like to idiolise someone who can pave way for freedom for them. Now that the military officers are backing army chief Abdel Fattah al-Sisi as the next President (Saleh, 2013), it once again raises question, is he the man who can put an end to the daily protests and clashes? Given that Sisi declared to bring in elections by next year, has inspired many Egyptians to consider him as the ultimate Godman. No wonder one can see his image moulded in chocolate bars and jewelleries! Several liberal activists are now supporting him and collecting signatures for petitions. It is now a wait and watch saga to see how deep the water runs.

 References

Al Jazeera. (September 10, 2011). Crowds attack Israel embassy in Cairo. [Online]. Available at: http://www.aljazeera.com/news/middleeast/2011/09/201199225334494935.html. (Accessed: 28/10/2013).

BBC News, Middle East. (October 28, 2013). Egypt athlete 'stripped of gold medal' for Morsi support.  [Online]. Available at: http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-middle-east-24722174. (Accessed: 29/10/2013).

Black, I. (January 31, 2011). Egypt protests: Israel fears unrest may threaten peace treaty. The Guardian. [Online]. Available at: http://www.theguardian.com/world/2011/jan/31/israel-egypt-mubarak-peace-treaty-fears. (Accessed 29/10/2013).

Catholic World News. (October 25, 2013). Egyptian extremists aim at civil war, not just at Christians, priest say. [Online].  Available at: http://www.catholicculture.org/news/headlines/index.cfm?storyid=19482. (Accessed: 26/10/2013).

Deutsche Welle. (October 12, 2013). Tribal feuds, local conflicts engulf Libya. [Online]. Available at: http://www.dw.de/tribal-feuds-local-conflicts-engulf-libya/a-17154021. (Accessed: 28/10/2013).

Donnelly, J. (2000). Realism and International Relations.  Cambridge University Press. [Online].  Available at: http://assets.cambridge.org/97805215/92291/sample/9780521592291wsc00.pdf. (Accessed: 27/10/2013).

History Learning Site. (2013). The causes of the Suez Canal War of 1956. [Online]. Available at: http://www.historylearningsite.co.uk/causes_suez-crisis-1956.htm. (Accessed: 27/10/2013).

Hoover, J. (2011). Egypt and the failure of realism. Journal of Critical Globalisation Studies. Issue 4. Pp.127-134. [Online]. Available at: 

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