A good metaphor to describe the current political scene in Egypt is that of two trains -the Muslim Brotherhood and the Military Junta (or SCAF)- moving in opposite directions at full speed in the same railroad. So the million dollar question is: will any of them press the brakes? or can anyone force them to do it?
While some newspapers have been adding fuel to fire publishing incredible reports about a supposed plan by the Brotherhood to spread chaos and carry out dozen assassinations if Shafiq is declared the winner, the leadership have reassured people that there struggle will remain peacecul. Saad Katatny, the former Speaker of the Parliament, rejected any comparison with the “Algerian scenario” (coup d’Etat followed by a civil war). And Khairat al-Shater has given the same message.
From my point of view a bloodbath is highly unlikely. It’s long time since the Muslim Brotherhood has renounced to use violence, and they have a long history of accomodation with the army. Moreover, it would be an act of suicide to fight the army in their own terrain. The Brotherhood can only compete with the army for the hearts and minds of the Egyptians, but not in the battlefield.
However, if the Islamists and the SCAF are unable to make some concessions and reach an agreement, it is possible that the country experiences some violent clashes like the ones in last November and December, which ended up with dozens of civilian victims. This situation may lead again to the imprisonment of the whole leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the suspension of the transition to democracy.
This scenario would be a disaster for Egypt in all fronts. The economy is in a very delicate situation, and it desperately needs stability to attract foreign funds, especially investments. In the field of security, although I don’t expect the Brotherhood to turn to violence, some offshoots of the organization might do it. In fact, this already happened in the 80’s and 90’s with organizations such as Gama’a Islamiya, and Islamic Jihad. A full-scale repression would only benefit jihadist-minded organizations like Al Qaeda.
Not only the Muslim Brotherhood is interested in avoiding it, but also is the SCAF. Therefore, this is not the most likely scenario. Nonetheless, often political actors are unable to stop the escalation of conflict and, in what seems a set of irrational decisions, they end up locked in stupid wars. For instance, there is no better example these days than both Sudans.
In addition to the Egyptian people, one of the losers in this scenario would be the US, since the last thing the White House won is another Middle Eastern country engulfed in instability and political violence. So one wonders if the US may be working now to push both the SCAF and the Muslim Brothers to an accomodation instead of a full-blown confrontation. Probably, the US is the only actor that has the leverage to influence both sides.
Someone needs to press the brakes in Egypt. Hopefully the ones in charge of the train machines will be able to do it by themselves. Otherwise, let’s hope that someone else will help them to do it.