WAR & PEACE

Dream of democracy dims in Egypt as military seizes control

Residents try to move their dead into the overwhelmed Zeinhoum mosque in Cairo in an effort to get them outside of the heat, Thursday, Aug. 15, 2013, a day after the military's crackdown on sit-in sites. Photo: Amina Ismail/MCT

CAIRO — It is only two years since the uprising that aimed to end the military’s grip in Egypt and give power to its civilians. But the military is firmly in charge of the country again.

The site where thousands of people once lived in support of ousted President Mohammed Morsi is gone. All that remain are ashes and military tanks stationed to control the area. Government bulldozers sit where kitchens once prepared thousands of meals to break the fast during the holy month of Ramadan. Charred hallways are all that are left where the injured from the sit-in camp once clung to life on dirty hospital floors.

Few people talk now about democracy, civil rights or creating a modern state. Few speak of elections or civilian leadership or reforming the justice system or ending police brutality. The military is back in control, and many Egyptians support that.

Morsi was thrown out of power on July 3. Then there was a violent crackdown on two sites where protesters had been holding sit-ins. At least 638 people were killed and another 3,000 were injured in the crackdowns.

Military Shaping Egypt's Future

Many once hoped the military would lead the nation toward civilian power. But the wave of events this summer made clear that it's the military instead that is shaping Egypt’s political future. There are two major forces in the nation: the military and the the Muslim Brotherhood, the secretive organization through which Morsi came to power.

Many Egyptians prefer the military, however undemocratic it may be.

Signs of the military’s control can be seen in the streets. Being linked to the Muslim Brotherhood now is considered all but an act of terrorism. Much of the country is under a state of emergency and curfew.

“Where are you going?” the seventh soldier of the day asked a reporter on Thursday who was there to survey the military’s bloodshed and cleanup of the sit-in site at Rabaa a day earlier.

“Why?” the reporter asked.

“We have orders to detain anyone from Al-Jazeera,” the soldier replied. The network is thought to be pro-Morsi.

Some who led the 2011 revolution embrace the military action.

Crackdown On Muslim Brotherhood

“Nobody is talking about Egypt’s democratic process. They are asking, ‘Is this headed toward civil war?’” said Eric Trager of the Washington Institute for Near East Policy.  What the violence on Wednesday shows is that the government appointed after Morsi was just for show. "The military is in charge.”

The crackdown and other recent moves by the military are an effort to get rid of the Brotherhood so the military can "shape the political environment," Trager said.

In the weeks between July 3 and Wednesday, there were growing signs of a country increasingly under military control. More than 200 people, mostly Morsi supporters, had died in clashes with security forces before Wednesday. Earlier this week, the government announced that it had named 25 local governors. Nineteen were generals.

Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi was the man who announced Morsi's ouster. Then he named Adly Mansour as the president. Mansour went on to appoint a government mostly of military generals left over from ex-dictator Hosni Mubarak's government.

Among those who accepted a post was Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei. Mansour named him vice president. ElBaradei resigned Wednesday. In his resignation letter, he wrote that the new government was divided. He suggested that the civilians weren’t in control.

"We Are In A State Of Paralysis"

Last month, weeks after Morsi supporters had built their sit-in sites. el-Sissi, who is in charge of the military as the minister of defense, urged Egyptians to take to the streets. He asked them to show their support so that he could challenge the protesters. Millions did, then were frustrated when the sit-ins continued.

Negotiations between the Muslim Brotherhood and the military to end the standoff began earlier this month. Nadar Bakkar, a spokesman for the Nour Party who participated in the discussion, said the talks had failed in part because it was unclear who was in charge.

The temporary government "is not thinking as a whole,” Bakkar said. “Sissi is leading.”

More talks had been scheduled for Wednesday. Several chief negotiators said they hadn’t been informed that the military would clear the sit-in sites instead. Several government officials told McClatchy that they, too, had learned about it only when it began.

The power of the civilian leaders keeps getting reduced,  said Zaid Akl, a political analyst in Cairo who favors the revolution.

But Akl said that it wasn’t over yet for Egypt. The country still is set to have a new constitution, which might limit military power. And Egypt is supposed to hold elections early next year, which might lead to a new democratically elected civilian leader.

“I believe we should declare democracy dead in Egypt the day the constitution is ratified and is not democratically fulfilling,” Akl said. “We are not going backward yet. We are in a state of paralysis.”

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