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Egypt: Optimism, with strings attached

Despite the current instability and insecurity in Egypt, two experts in Germany believe there is good reason to hope for a brighter future. However, the country still has many political and societal issues to confront.

First, in 2011, the Arab uprising toppled Egypt's former dictator Hosni Mubarak; then, two years on, a military coup ousted the country's democratically-elected president, Mohammed Morsi. Egypt's future remains uncertain, yet at present the situation appears relatively stable. Islamists called for a 'day of determination' on Friday (30.08.13), but this drew much less support from the public than previous protests.

"Everything is pointing toward a stabilization of the situation with the help of the military and security forces," says the Berlin-based political scientist Hamadi El-Aouni.

Muslim Brotherhood is losing support

"The Muslim Brotherhood is no longer in a position to mobilize as many people," he told DW, pointing to the low turnout on Friday. "Many of its leaders are in prison, and the grassroots are gradually losing influence." He added that some mosques had already started to shift away from the Brotherhood.

Supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood and Egypt's ousted president Mohamed Morsi clash with security forces, in Cairo, on August 30, 2013. Several thousand Egyptians protested in Cairo in support of ousted president Mohamed Morsi, their turnout far lower than hoped for by the harried Islamists who called for mass rallies. AFP PHOTO/MOHAMED EL-SHAHED (Photo: MOHAMED EL-SHAHED/AFP/Getty Images)

Egyptians want to put violence and conflict behind them

After months of brutal violence, stability is what many Egyptians have been longing for, according to Cilja Harders, a professor at the Center for Middle Eastern and North African Politics at Berlin's Free University. She says the military cannot maintain its harsh line against the Muslim Brotherhood indefinitely.

"If the other political forces get the impression that such repression could also be used against them, they won't support a hardline military for long," she told DW. Harders estimates that the military has about three months to make good on its promise to deliver security and stability.

She commented that the military repression and public campaigns against the Muslim Brotherhood had rattled many of its supporters, who just a year ago believed they had elected a legitimate and virtuous party.

Possible scenarios

Harders believes that there are several possible scenarios for the Brotherhood. They could go back underground, as they did while officially outlawed by Mubarak. However, she added, "It's also possible that the Muslim Brotherhood will attempt to mobilize again after laying low for a while. If that happens, they will use violence, and they will be prepared for violence, because the military would certainly respond very harshly indeed."

Harders' third scenario would be even worse. She suggested that parts of the Muslim Brotherhood could break away from the movement and radicalize. Such a situation would be more dangerous for Egypt than a Muslim Brotherhood government.

The majority of people of Egypt desperately want things to calm down, Harders told DW, adding that Egyptians are currently adopting a "wait and see" attitude until something else happens.

Many do trust the military to write a viable constitution, she said, and to act as a counterweight to the Islamists. "There are people, many of them, who think that if the Muslim Brotherhood is hobbled as a political power the political process in Egypt will be able to move forward."

Roads leading to Tahir Square Photo: picture alliance/AP

Which direction will Egypt choose?

Model of 'the new Arab reality'

Hamadi El-Aouni says he believes that many factors point toward a peaceful future for Egypt. "The situation will gradually stabilize," he told DW. "Over the medium-term, Egypt will be able to get the democratization process moving."

He added that the tenuous security situation in the country is keeping the government from what it should be doing, and that the economy and social order are in desperate need of a government's attention. Then, El-Aouni believes, Egypt could actually be reborn as a model of democracy and of "the new Arab reality."

Cilja Harders warns Egyptians must also resolve another important question: the role of religion in politics and public life.

"Until that happens, the situation will be unstable," she said. "They can use violence to contain the situation, but violence begets more violence." She added that the question of reconciliation also needed to be addressed.

"The main question is still what people believe the military is capable of doing," she said. "Whether they think that, after a certain point, they will bring the Muslim Brotherhood back into the equation. And I think they must. They can't just put them all behind bars; it won't work in the long term."

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