So begins the cycle of violence in Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood has thrown down and called for rebellion against the army; some will heed that call. But Egypt is no Syria. Should there be something like a civil war, it will be far faster and decisive in Egypt than Syria. Here’s why.
Egypt’s population density means every battle is an urban one
Every rebellion in Egyptian history has come from the cities. There’s no big, rural countryside to hide in. Syria is still a largely rural society, and it was from these farmers and workers that their uprising began. It was in those wide open spaces that they coalesced into a fighting force. Egypt has no such option; the Muslim Brotherhood is stuck in alleys and safehouses and can’t organize into effective military units.
Plus, the army is still united
The army has obsessively purged Islamists since some of them killed Anwar Sadat in 1981. You can expect them to move and fight as one. In Syria, crucial early defections gave the rebels access to heavy weapons and tanks that turned the uprising from an insurgency like Iraq to a full blown civil war. Egypt’s military won’t splinter that way.
And the Muslim Brotherhood’s just not cool these days
We don’t know exactly how much support the Brotherhood still commands, but we know they’re outnumbered. Society has turned on them and their kind. Even the Salafists, their one-time allies, don’t see much point in fighting the army. Only hardened Brothers will carry on the fight.
Finally, that “deep state” is still very much around
Mubarak’s torture apparatus, security services, and intelligence forces have gathered some dust, true, but they haven’t been purged or dismantled. They’ll no doubt be called back into the fray and do what they’ve always done best – torture and suppress Muslim Brothers.
The Brotherhood probably knows all this, but sees little choice but to pick a fight
On the line is the credibility of Islamism as a political movement. Accepting this coup without a fight will make them look weak, and to an Islamist looking weak is a near sin. They have to react, even if they also have to lose.
This is round one
The killings outside the Republican Guard palace are just the opening shots. In the 1990s, Islamists carried out executions and attacks, but were smashed by Mubarak’s security forces. Egypt may well return to that fray. But unlike Algeria in 1990, where the army cancelled elections Islamists were meant to win, the Brotherhood has already lost its moral authority and community support. This will be a fight between one political party with its narrow base and everyone else.
So bleed Egypt will
And bleed it will continue until the Brotherhood as a force is broken. They’d already earned the enmity of the military years ago; now Egypt at large hates them. They’ve lost their prized martyr status and become the bad guys. But that hardly means they still won’t go down fighting.