Bloodshed in Egypt: how will it end? Your questions answered - Live coverage - The Independent

Bloodshed in Egypt: how will it end? Your questions answered

  • Good morning everyone. As we await Alastair's arrival, a brief update on developments in Cairo:

    US senators John McCain and Lindsey Graham are joining top diplomats in Cairo in an effort to find a peaceful solution to Egypt's political stalemate. Meanwhile, supporters of the deposed President Mohammad Morsi are showing no signs of halting their protests, and say they will accept nothing short of his reinstatement. 

    Alastair will be touching upon the role of the US in Egypt's current crisis during his Q&A, so stay tuned.  

  • Patrick, London: What effect would a cutting of US military aid have on the army and security apparatus? 
    Alastair, Cairo: The short and simple answer is that it would be a huge blow - in a practical sense, but also a political one. The $1.3 billion in military aid which the US government lavishes on Egypt each year constitutes a significant chunk of the country's overall army budget - around a third according to some reports. The vast majority of weapons and gear bought for the military is also purchased using the aid. So any decision from Washington to slash the aid would clearly have a big impact.

    In reality however, it is extremely unlikely that such a move would ever happen. Despite the tumultuous events of the past two years, Egypt - due to its proximity and tangled history with Israel - remains a key ally of America. The aid is bound up in this understanding.

    The billions which have come Egypt's way over the past three decades were of course a result of the peace deal President Sadat signed with Israel back in 1979. Although there have been several threats over the years to cut the cash, nothing has ever happened.

    For evidence of the lengths to which the Americans will go to keep the money flowing - and the Egyptians in their pocket - just look to how desperate the administration was to avoid describing the events of 4 July as a coup. Acknowledging this fact would have meant having to slash the aid in line with American legislation.

    The only thing which would threaten American aid would be if the Egyptians decided to tear up the peace treaty with Israel. At the moment, such an eventuality remains unforeseeable.
  • Supporters of Egypt's deposed president Mohamed Morsi march in Alexandria (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

  • Q Reza: Is there any credence to the reports that diesel shortages magically fixed themselves after the coup?   
    Alastair, Cairo: There is no doubt that in some areas of the country, the fuel shortages and power cuts which had appeared so widespread prior to Morsi's fall seemed to rapidly disappear. It should be said that this wasn't the case everywhere. There were still reports of huge petrol queues in various parts of the country long after Morsi had been whisked off into detention.

    However that didn't stop the conspiracy theorists whispering that the problems had all been part of a plot designed to turn the masses against the Brotherhood.

    And like all the best conspiracy theories, the various pieces of the puzzle appeared to fit together rather well - at the very least from the perspective of Mohamed Morsi and his followers.

    In the minds of the Brotherhood, Egypt's judiciary, police and the so-called "deep state" have been conspiring against Morsi ever since he came to power last year. Some of the toppled President's most divisive decisions over the past 12 months need to be understood in this context - and certainly there is a case to be made for suggesting that elements of the Mubarak-era judiciary and bureaucracy have actively attempted to stifle Brotherhood rule.

    So the pre-revolt fuel shortages, and subsequent disappearance of the problem in some areas, were blamed by some in the Brotherhood on elements of the old regime.

    It wouldn't be beyond the realms of reason, although no conclusive proof has emerged to my mind of anything lending credence to a "grand conspiracy".

  • A young Egyptian street vendor sells national flags and masks of deposed president Mohamed Morsi outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

  • Alastair, Cairo: If there is any chance of the roadmap's timeline being fulfilled, the process will have to overcome some serious obstacles - not least the fact that the Muslim Brotherhood, still a significant political force in Egypt, is currently camped out on the streets of Cairo and condemning the entire process.

    There are other concerns of course. One of the most pressing right now is the issue of Egypt's constitution.

    Following the election of Mohamed Morsi last year, a new national charter was created by an Islamist-dominated committee under highly controversial circumstances. In fact, it was the circumstances surrounding the whole ugly circus which led many of the Brotherhood's opponents to turn their backs on Morsi for good. 

    The liberal and secular forces which spearheaded last month's popular coup want to see significant changes to the document. Many of them want it ripped up entirely given its decidedly Islamist flavour, restrictions of certain freedoms and conservative depictions of the role of women.

    Some analysts have raised question marks over the time period allotted for the constitutional changes - around three months in total, which is less than the period enjoyed last year when the drafting process dissolved so chaotically.

    But there are other problems. The ultra-conservative Al Nour Party - an opponent of the Brotherhood - is currently signed up to the transition process. Yet its leaders are unlikely to countenance any changes which would either weaken the current constitution's Islamist-tinged articles or undermine the party's power base. 

    Expect numerous squabbles to emerge over the coming weeks and months which may throw the whole process off course.

  • A young Egyptian supporter of deposed President Mohamed Morsi at an open sit-in outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

  • Thank you for all your great questions. Alastair is in the process of answering them, so keep watching this space. 

  • Eric, London: As well as a religious divide, is there also a class one behind the fighting?
    Alastair, Cairo: I suppose there is often a belief that many of those who backed the toppling of Mohamed Morsi were the well-heeled beneficiaries of previous regimes, whereas those camped out among the Muslim Brotherhood hail from the poorer sections of society.

    The evidence that has emerged in recent weeks to suggest that the anti-Morsi 'Rebellion' campaign may have had the backing of certain elements within the military and old regime has added fuel to such claims. And of course, the Brotherhood has always had a strong base of support from among the poor through its charity and educational funding networks.

    But essentially there is no obvious class divide in the conflict. Many of those who took the streets against Morsi were the poorest of the poor - people whose lives have become even harder during the past year of Brotherhood rule. 

    Just as many of those who died on the barricades fighting Egypt's police over the past two and a half years were impoverished working class youngsters, those who have had the greatest reason to oppose Mohamed Morsi have been those with the smallest wellsprings of hope. In Egypt, where about a quarter of the population live in poverty, according to government estimates - that amounts to a lot of people.
  • Nobel Peace Prize winner Tawakkol Karman gestures on arrival at Sanaa International Airport after she was banned from entering Egypt on 4 August 2013. She was held at Cairo airport on arrival and ordered to return on the flight back to Yemen, the officials said without providing further details (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

  • Q. YavUz: If the pro-Morsi sit-in will be dispersed forcibly, what do you think the international reaction will be?

    Alastair, Cairo: If the sit-in is dispersed forcibly, there will probably be a bloodbath. One would think that the international condemnation would be swift. The intensive shuttle diplomacy taking place right now involving the US and EU is a sign of how nervous the West is.

    Yet what could they ultimately do? Over the past month, there have already been two massacres of pro-Morsi supporters which have led to the deaths of nearly 150 civilians. Egypt's world is still turning. Aid is still flowing. Relationships are still standing.

    It may well be the case that an attack on the Rabaa al-Adawiya sit-in would be a final straw. Not only would the death toll be potentially very high, but the domestic political implications could also be very ominous. Yet given Egypt's importance as a regional ally, short of more severe condemnations, it is difficult to see what the West could actually do in practice. 
  • An Egyptian supporter of deposed president Mohamed Morsi holds a poster addressing army troops against targeting the opposition during a continiuing sit-in outside Rabaa al-Adawiya mosque (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

  • Alastair, Cairo: Many, many leaders from the various liberal, secular and leftist parties would dearly love to see the end of the Muslim Brotherhood as a political force.

    Some politicians are currently suggesting certain amendments to the constitution which would make it difficult for the Brotherhood to operate a political wing based on an largely Islamic constituency.

    Many liberals and secularists blame their dismal election showings over the past two and a half years on the manner in which Islamists have exploited religious rhetoric for electoral gains.

    As they see it, it is impossible to operate on a level playing field when the potent forces of Islamism is used to curry favour at the ballot box.

    The irony is that if the Brotherhood ended its sit in and joined the political transition process, it could well find itself in a position to do quite well at the coming parliamentary elections. The group has suffered a grievous blow to its power and reputation over the past year, yet it still commands a sizeable following.

    It may not perform as well as it did in the 2011 elections, but would still be able to organise an effective campaign.

  • A fully-veiled Egyptian supporter of the deposed president Mohamed Morsi performs the evening prayer at Rabaa al-Adawiya square in Cairo (Photo: AFP/Getty Images)

  • Kevin McLaven  How does El Baradai reconcile his liberal views with the actions of the Eqyptian army? Is he aware of the possibility that Al Sisi could be the next president of Egypt?
    Alastair, Cairo: The elation which many liberals and secularists felt following last month's military coup appears to have confused many observers in the West. "How could self-professed liberals welcome change at the point of a bayonet?", they ask!

    The confusion is mirrored only by the exasperation many Egyptians feel at the criticism from some British and American quarters.
    For people like El Baradei and his allies, the 4 July coup was nothing more than a triumph of liberal intervention to thwart the machinations of a quasi-theocratic Islamist regime.

    Some of the initial post-coup stardust has dissipated under the shadow of two successive massacres and the macho posturing from Egypt's army chief, General Abdel Fattah al-Sissi.

    Yet the essential position remains the same. In their minds, this wasn't a military intervention by an army hell bent on political authoritarianism. It was a popularly-led move to safeguard the liberal values which politicians like El Baradei and others felt were being threatened by the Brotherhood.
  • Members of Ultras, hardcore supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, shout slogans and wave flags around Cairo University and Nahdet Misr Square where they are camping in Giza, south of Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

  • Alastair, Cairo: When is the prospect of journalistic bias ever not a problem or an issue! The Western press has its own faults. British papers are routinely, often fairly, accused of misrepresenting the situation here in Egypt. CNN has come in for quite a kicking among many Egyptians who have accused it of showing pro-Morsi bias during the exhausting "was-it-a-coup" debate.

    But the Egyptian press needs to take its share of the blame too. Over the past month the level of hostility, half-truths and hearsay directed at the Brotherhood has been astonishing. 

    Clashes with the police, which two years ago may have been conceived as revolutionary act, are now depicted as the work of "terrorists". Genuine problems of Islamic militancy in the north Sinai have been linked directly to the Brotherhood without any serious evidence.

    Perhaps the most worrying thing is the tangible effect it has on the street. Within the course of a month, the Brotherhood - in the minds of many, it seems - has gone from simply being a reviled party of power to a little short of a terrorist organisation. 
    The two massacres of Morsi supporters have been greeted largely with indifference, while appeals for clemency and reason are increasingly falling on deaf ears.

    The group itself shares part of the blame - threatening speeches by leaders coupled with its own apparent willingness to exploit bloody crackdowns for political gain have not helped.

    But to see the very real effect of the "terrorist" propaganda beast being played out is quite worrying. 

  • Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi gather at the field hospital around Cairo University and Nahdet Misr Square in Giza, south of Cairo (Photo: Reuters)

  • Q. Alice, Cairo: What are the chances of the US having any success in negotiation between the two sides, given the rampant anti-foreign feeling in Egypt? 
    Alastair, Cairo: I think the greatest threat to the success of the negotiations is the deep level of mutual antipathy which currently exists between Morsi's supporters and his opponents.

    The current impasse essentially boils down to what is actually quite a fascinating argument about democratic legitimacy.

    On the one hand we have the toppled President's followers and allies. They voted for Morsi last year expecting a full term. In the end he was shunted out after just one year. In their minds, the fact their man was democratically elected is all the legitimacy they need.

    On the other hand are Morsi's opponents - many of whom, it must be remembered, gave him the benefit of the doubt when they voted for him last year.

    Given the unique revolutionary circumstances of Morsi's arrival in power, it could be argued that he had a duty to act as a unifier in a deeply divided country. His legitimacy, in the minds of his opponents, was significantly dependent on this.

    By shattering any hopes of consensus - through his mishandling of the constitutional process, lack of police reforms, autocratic decrees and at least one shockingly bad governor appointment - he forfeited his right to rule, they would argue.

    It is these starkly divergent views on the nature of democratic legitimacy which form the outlines of the current impasse. They have yet to be resolved, which is why Morsi's supporters are still camped out on the streets.

    Unless a solution is found, then the next few months will be extremely rocky indeed.
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