Syrian refugees in Brazil

Syrian refugees in Brazil. (Foto AFP)

Syrian refugees in Brazil. (Foto AFP)

This is my column that was published in Arab News on Oct. 18, 2015:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

IT isn’t a very well-known fact but Brazil has been taking in Syrian refugees since 2013 when the Brazilian government decided to issue them special visas that gave them refugee status in the country. In September, Brazilian President Dilma Rousseff announced that her country was extending special visas for Syrian refugees for another two years. There are now roughly 2,000 Syrian refugees living in Brazil.
Many Syrian refugees have said in interviews that they chose going to Brazil legally with visas and on airline flights over risking their lives being smuggled to Europe via the Mediterranean. Even so, immigrating to Brazil is not that much cheaper than going to Europe. Ali, a new Syrian immigrant in Brazil, told BBC Brasil that he paid $10,000 to get to Brazil.
The two main problems that Syrian refugees face upon arriving in Brazil are the language barrier and the fact that the Brazilian government has no official program to help refugees settle once they arrive. I’ve read accounts of individual young male Syrians arriving at the airport in São Paulo and being overwhelmed by the different language here and not having any local contacts yet that can help them.
With a lack of Arabic-speaking staff at the airport, some new arrivals have spent days in the terminal until someone told them how to take the bus to the center of the city and where to find cheap hotel accommodation.
The language barrier is especially harmful to these Syrian immigrants as it stops them from finding good jobs. Some local charity groups, such as Caritas, as well as mosques in São Paulo have been providing language lessons to the refugees and helping them find at least temporary jobs. Some enterprising Syrians have set up their own small stalls on the streets to sell homemade Arabic pastries and sweets to make a little money.
Brazil is going through an economic crisis, with many Brazilians being laid-off of work, so this has not helped the work prospects of the new immigrants. I’ve read several reports in the Brazilian press that immigrants from Haiti, which were once flooding into the country at the rate of several hundred a month, are now leaving Brazil for greener pastures such as the United States.
To help cope with this situation the Brazilian government has allowed needy Syrian immigrants to be enrolled in their income transfer program called Bolsa Familia, which pays very poor Brazilians a small sum of money every month to stop them from starving. According to BBC Brasil, there are now 163 Syrian families receiving monthly payments of around $41 each. This may seem like peanuts, but this welfare program was designed to keep the poorest of the poor Brazilians from absolute poverty, and not for helping refugees. Sonia Rocha of the Institute of Work and Society Studies told BBC Brasil that she did not think the Syrian refugees should be included in the Bolsa Familia program because they need specific help from the Brazilian government.
“This just masks the problem,” she said. “We need proper mechanisms for refugees in our institutions.”
To help state governments and municipal officials deal with the influx of refugees from various countries, the Brazilian Ministry of Justice’s National Committee for Refugees last week released R$15 million in credit (around $4 million) for the assistance of refugees and immigrants.
Despite all of the problems, the positive side of this story is that Brazilians are very friendly and welcoming, and this helps immensely in the adaptation of Syrian immigrants to their new home. The children of these immigrants, once they are enrolled in Brazilian schools, quickly pick-up the Portuguese language and often end up being their parents’ interpreters when they deal with Brazilians.
Brazil is a continent-sized nation with a population of 203 million, rich in minerals, agriculture and rivers. This country could easily absorb up to 50,000 refugees, according to a paper written this month by Cecilia Baeza, a political science professor at the Getúlio Vargas Foundation in São Paulo, who specializes in the Arab world. One problem they face that Baeza points out in her paper is the lack of support from the local population of Arab descent who are of Syrian and Lebanese origin, who because most of them are Christian therefore do not feel compelled to help the new immigrants who are mostly Muslim. “Some fear that the arrival of Muslim refugees would change the image of the diaspora, which is mainly Christian. Adolfo Numi, director of the Syrian Charitable Society in Chile, recently said in an interview: “We want to bring Syrian refugees to Chile, but even if we do discriminate by religion, we want the Syrian community in Chile to remain Christian in its majority…,’” writes Baeza.
Facing such discrimination, it is imperative that the Brazilian government and the local Muslim community in Brazil help these Syrian refugees much more. Most of these immigrants are educated and can contribute a lot to Brazil. There are many opportunities here despite the economic downturn, and what these refugees need is help with cheaper accommodation, since high rents are one of their main complaints; intensive Portuguese-language and Brazilian culture training and monthly cash payments for at least two years to help them buy food and other necessities.
Most of the Syrian and Lebanese immigrants to Brazil in the 20th century arrived here penniless but soon adapted to their new home and built successful businesses. Today, there are Brazilians of Arab origins in the highest echelons of the government and business community. There is no reason that this new wave of immigrants from the Syria cannot achieve the same heights. They just need a little helping hand to begin with, and the many opportunities offered by such a rich nation as Brazil will surely take care of the rest.

http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/822041

Russia extends agony of Syrian civil war

Russian SU 25 SM ground attack aircraft (ground) and MIG 29 jet fighters (taking off). (AFP photo)

Russian SU 25 SM ground attack aircraft (ground) and MIG 29 jet fighters (taking off). (AFP photo)

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

The formal entry of Russia into the Syrian civil war last week, with its bombing of rebel targets in Homs and Hama, places which by the way have no Daesh forces, is a bad omen for the region.  A visibly weakened Bashar al-Assad regime was having difficulty holding on to the smaller Syria that it still controlled and if not for Russian intervention in its favor, it may have been forced sooner rather than later to the bargaining table.

The United States, Saudi Arabia, Turkey and Qatar have been supporting various Syrian rebel groups that are fighting for a new Syria without Assad and all of his thuggish allies. Forty-four years of Assad family rule has been far too much for the Syrian people, who emboldened by the Arab Spring revolts in the Arab world in 2011, decided to peacefully protest against their government. The regime’s answer was violence, arrests, torture and “disappearances”. It is no wonder then that the opposition soon took up weapons to defend itself from the merciless attacks of government forces.

But if you listen to the Assad regime, you hear another story which sounds like a fairytale it is so ridiculous. On Friday, the regime’s favorite cheerleader Buthaina Shaaban appeared on the BBC’s Newsnight program to stupidly claim yet again that there was no civil war in Syria, and that in fact the Syrian government was fighting “terrorists” hell-bent on blowing up schools and hospitals, not fed-up civilians who have formed rebel militias to topple a regime that has held Syria in its blood-stained hands for far too long.

The Saudi Foreign Minister Adel al-Jubeir stressed the struggle to get rid of Assad in a speech to the United Nations on Oct. 1, lamenting that “the international community continues to be unable to save the Syrian people from the killing machine that is being operated by Bashar al-Assad. …Those whose hands are stained with the blood of the Syrian people have no place in a new Syria.”

The U.S. under the administration of President Barack Obama has been extremely reluctant to get too involved in the Syrian conflict, limiting itself to bombing Daesh targets in Syria and Iraq from the air, action that has yet to seriously affect Daesh’s capability to rule and hold on to its territory. Russian President Vladimir Putin has sensed this American hesitation as weakness and decided to step in by expanding an air base in Syria and stationing Russian bomber jets there. After their first bombing runs, in which they hit a rebel group that is funded by the Americans and killed 33 persons, the US government issued barely a peep in protest.

For sure the Russians are not rushing ground troops into Syria, having learned a hard lesson in the 1970s during their bloody occupation of Afghanistan. Unfortunately, Iran is rushing more soldiers and commanders into Syria to bolster the Lebanese Hezbollah forces already there. This only adds to the sectarian dimension that the Syrian civil war has taken on.

With approximately 300,000 Syrians already dead in a civil war half-way into its fifth year, the beginning of an active Russian military intervention and more Iranian troops arriving, the prospects of a peace settlement seem remoter than ever. European Union members should be at the forefront of trying to resolve the Syrian civil war as soon as possible, given the huge numbers of refugees that is has been forced to deal with this summer coming from Syria.

While the U.S. and its allies took pains not to target Syrian government forces in their bombing raids of Daesh targets in Syria, the Russians have had no such compulsions. The long talked about no-fly zones over northern areas of Syria near the border with Turkey to provide safe-havens for rebel groups and civilians, were never undertaken by the US because of Obama’s hesitation and hand-wringing over how far to get involved in Syria.  For sure the many losses that Americans were subjected to in their 10-year occupation of Iraq are one of the main reasons that Obama and many other Americans were reluctant to okay no-fly zones in Syria. But if they had been implemented two years ago, the war would have taken a different turn for sure. Now, the rebels without any protection are going to be much more vulnerable to Syrian regime attacks thanks to the powerful Russian air cover and attacks that are bolstering the Assad regime.

It’s a shame really given that the US maintained no-fly zones over parts of Iraq for years before Saddam Hussein was overthrown in order to protect the Kurdish population. The Kingdom footed the bill then, and perhaps could have contributed to help maintain no-fly zones over Syria, but Obama did not have the guts to do so. His administration will be remembered for that, and not kindly.

A tough task ahead in Yemen

A Houthi militiaman sits at a tank near the presidential palace in Sanaa, Yemen.

A Houthi militiaman sits at a tank near the presidential palace in Sanaa, Yemen.

This is my column that was printed in Arab News on January 25, 2015:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

After days of bloody clashes this week between the militias of the Houthi rebels and government forces in Sanaa, Yemen’s capital — which included bombing the presidential palace and laying siege to it, leaving President Abdu Rabbuh Mansour Hadi stuck inside for days — Hadi was forced to accede to the demands of Houthis. He granted greater participation to the rebel movement in all military and civilian agencies, and in return the group promised to withdraw from strategic areas of the capital and to release the presidential chief of staff who they had kidnapped on Saturday.

The president also promised to review a draft Constitution that would divide the country into six new administrative regions. The Houthis claimed that they felt aggrieved and disadvantaged in the new plan. Then on Thursday night, with no withdrawal of Houthi forces from key installations in the capital as had been promised, Hadi and his entire Cabinet resigned, saying they were too frustrated to continue.

But we have seen all of this before in September 2014 when the Houthis brutally swept into the capital, killing 300 people and demanding that the Hadi government share power with them. Cornered and scared, and after weeks of clashes, the president agreed and signed an agreement with the Houthis. The rebels took control of various ministries and financial institutions, but continued to remain excluded from other centers of power. In his reluctance in sharing power, Hadi has the support of other Sunni political parties in the country, which do not want to share their power with the Houthis, which as Shiites make up only 30 percent of the population.

The Houthis insist that there was no coup, but when you use heavy weapons against the president’s palace; attack the president’s guards; keep him prisoner in his palace for days, and take control of state TV and radio stations, what should one call it then?
The only person I heard in Yemen have the courage to say it was a coup was the now ex-Minister of Information Nadia Al-Sakkaf in an interview by phone with a CNN correspondent in Sanaa on Tuesday night.

US naval forces intercepted ships with Iranian weapons off of the Yemeni coast in 2012, proving that Iranian military support was being given to the Houthis.
On Wednesday, the foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC) accused the Houthis of a coup against the legitimate authority in Yemen, and warned that the Gulf countries would “take all necessary measures to protect their security and stability, and their vital interests in Yemen.” They even offered to send a mediator to Sanaa to help in negotiations between Hadi and the Houthis.

Saudi Arabia has been the main source of foreign aid to Yemen for the last few decades, providing generous amounts of oil and other aid. This financial assistance has been almost completely stopped since September 2014 when the Houthis took control of Sanaa.
Hadi has also been a major ally of Washington, an enthusiast of the US drone program that kills targets of the Al-Qaeda. With $1.4 billion in American aid already spent in Yemen since 2009 in economic and military aid, and an additional $232 million scheduled to be disbursed this year, the administration of President Barack Obama is very reluctant to call what is happening in Yemen now a coup because under US law any aid from Washington has to be suspended if there is a military coup in a country. So get ready for verbal acrobatics from American officials in the coming weeks in order to not call a coup “a coup.”

Beyond the threat of Houthis, Yemen also faces a secessionist movement in the south, and the brutality of Al-Qaeda. The audacity of the Houthis and their use of force show that there is not much room to negotiate with them. They want more power, period. Certainly Iran is behind this sudden show of action and courage and it is buying an ugly fight with the Gulf countries and the US.

http://www.arabnews.com/columns/news/694431

Libya on the brink

Image courtesy of suwatpo/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Image courtesy of suwatpo/ FreeDigitalPhotos.net

This is my column that appeared in Arab News on March 23, 2014:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

It looked like a scene from a Hollywood blockbuster: The oil tanker Morning Glory, operating under a North Korean flag, loaded with $33.2 million worth of Libyan oil, was intercepted near Cyprus on the night of March 16 by US Special Forces at the request of the governments of Libya and Cyprus. Three armed Libyan rebels had taken control of the ship and were wandering around the Mediterranean Sea looking for a buyer of the oil. The Americans arrested them and the ship was handed over to the Libyan forces on Saturday.

This was another embarrassing incident for the weak central government of Libya, which since the overthrow of Muammar Qaddafi in 2011 has had very little power. The heavily armed militias, who were essential in the civil war against Qaddafi, refused to lay down their weapons and integrate into the national army. They have also been demanding a fairer share of national income from oil exports, especially the eastern part of the country where Benghazi is, an area neglected for decades by Qaddafi.

The organizer of this unsuccessful attempt to sell the oil was the rebel leader Ibrahim Jathran, who seized control of the port of Es Sider, from which the Morning Glory sailed. In the week before the capture of the tanker, the then Libyan Prime Minister Ali Zeidan had threatened to bomb and intercept the freighter if it left Libya. When this happened on March 11, Libya sent a navy ship to intercept the tanker, but could not stop it. The General National Congress (GNC), dominated by Islamists, used this failure as a convenient reason to dismiss the liberal Zeidan, who had to flee to Germany in a private jet after receiving threats to his life.

The truth is that Libya has been in a swirl of political and economic instability since the overthrow of Qaddafi. The headquarters of the GNC in Tripoli has been invaded by protesters 250 times in the last two and a half years, and domestic oil production has dropped from 1.4 million barrels per day (bpd) in July last year to 230,000 bpd today because of various militias blocking the export of oil. Even so, I reiterate that the new Libya after Qaddafi has every chance to do well as a democratic and economically vibrant state.

To be successful, the Libyans should have put in place a program to purchase all weapons loose in the country in the hands of the rebels. They should have also initiated a work program that would give employment to young Libyans who now roam the streets without doing anything useful. The central government sees itself in the awkward position of paying every militia member a salary of $1,000 per month, even when those militias turn against the government. Finally, the central government should enter into agreements with various administrative regions of the country and agree to give a greater share of oil revenue to these regions.

After 42 years of Qaddafi dictatorship, Libyans were left without an adequate political and administrative structure for the country to function as a democracy. This has left a huge vacuum that has left openings for extremists to enter and cause havoc. A good example is the city of Benghazi, where a series of terrorist attacks and murders caused nearly all of the foreign consulates to close their doors. A French citizen was killed there earlier this month and seven Egyptian Christians were found dead on a beach near Benghazi, shot execution-style.

In a wide-ranging interview published in the Libya Herald, Zeidan said that the GNC had constantly opposed all of his proposals, and had used back channels to spy on the executive branch of the government and to pressure the executive into implementing its wishes. He added that the GNC obstructed the formation of a national army, and had refused his suggestion to form funds for cities to spend on their local needs.

Perhaps the Arab League should have formed a military stabilization force that could have been deployed across Libya to help disarm the militias and allow the central government to rule effectively. Unfortunately, this was never publicly discussed. What we know for sure is that there are many strategies that could work. The question is whether the Libyans have the willpower and patience to do this. I hope so, for the good of all Libyans.

http://www.arabnews.com/news/544426

Qatar shooting itself in the foot

llustration by Cruz/O Globo

llustration by Cruz/O Globo

This is my column which appeared in Arab News on March 09, 2014:

By Rasheed Abou-Alsamh

Tiny Qatar has always liked to be different. And its immense wealth, which comes from its deposits of natural gas, has given it the courage to continue being different and not depend on anyone economically. But now its strong and continued support of the Muslim Brotherhood caused a break with its neighbors in the Gulf Cooperation Council (GCC). Saudi Arabia, Bahrain and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) announced on March 5 that they were withdrawing their ambassadors from Doha in protest against the fact that Qatar has not implemented a security agreement signed on Nov. 23 last year.

In this agreement, that Qatar signed along with five other members of the GCC, all adhered to a commitment to the principles that guarantee non-interference in the internal affairs of any of the member countries, both directly or indirectly. The agreement also pledged all members not to support any activity that may threaten the safety and stability of any of the GCC countries, organizations or individuals, including support for hostile media.

Although such a commitment to non-interference in the internal affairs of other members of the GCC was made, Qatar has allowed Sheikh Yusuf Qaradawi — the spiritual leader of the Muslim Brotherhood who has lived in the country for years and is close to the royal family — to attack the UAE and Saudi Arabia for their support of the Egyptian military regime. The government of Qatar gave several billion dollars in economic aid to Egypt when Mursi, a leader of the Brotherhood, won elections and governed for a year.

The Emirati commentator Sultan Al-Qassemi told me in a phone interview that he does not think the Qataris will abandon the Brotherhood, but that several economic projects involving Qatar and Saudi Arabia and the Emirates would be delayed because of this diplomatic rupture.

“This reprimand was very public, unlike traditional Gulf reprimands, which are usually done in private, behind the scenes,” said Al-Qassemi.

A victim of the latest tensions will likely be the new airline company, owned by Qatar Airways, which was supposed to launch domestic flights in Saudi Arabia by the end of this year after the Saudi government decided to open the domestic travel market to foreign companies. And as these tensions have been felt for several years, the UAE were already decreasing its imports of natural gas from Qatar, Al-Qassemi said.

Despite these strategic differences, I do not think the GCC will have a dramatic break because of Qatar. The only land border that Qatar has is with Saudi Arabia and the UAE, and its location and huge deposits of natural gas are too important to be excluded from the union. But Al-Qassemi told me that a new union within the GCC would probably now exclude Qatar.

The government of Qatar in a statement said it was surprised and regretted that the three ambassadors of fraternal countries had been called back to their capitals, stressing that such measures had nothing to do with the interests, security or stability of the peoples of the GCC but was actually a difference in positions on issues outside the GCC.

It is unfortunate that Qatar allows Qaradawi to attack its neighbors. That does not help calm tensions in the Gulf and the Arab world in general, which is experiencing the aftershocks of the revolutions of the Arab Spring, which saw dictators being toppled from Libya to Tunisia to Egypt. Maybe Qatar believes it can survive solely with its billions in revenue from its sales of gas, but it would do well to remember that it is in an explosive region, and should try to calm tensions with its neighbors, instead of adding fuel to fire. One hopes fervently that Qatar is not ready to sacrifice its Gulf allies for its support to the Brotherhood.

http://www.arabnews.com/news/537036

Egyptian military wants end of Islamists

A boy runs through the burnt out Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on Aug. 15, 2013. (AP photo)

A boy runs through the burnt out Rabaah al-Adawiya mosque in Cairo on Aug. 15, 2013. (AP photo)

This is a translation from the Portuguese of my O Globo column, which was published on August 23, 2013:

With the crushing of the Brotherhood, a government made up of civilians will be elected, but with the military controlling everything from behind the curtains

RASHEED ABOU-ALSAMH

The massacre of at least 900 pro-Mursi protesters  and more than 4,000 injured on the 13th and 14th of August, when police forces and the Egyptian army attacked the Rabaa al- Adawiya mosque and Nahda Square in Cairo, the military coup leaders made it clear that they want to end the Muslim Brotherhood. The possibility of a political settlement to bring the country out of its grave impasse was shrinking with every machine gun shot in the head or heart of a protester, who mostly had only stones as weapons.

Several mosques were soon crowded with the bodies of state violence against protesters; all wrapped in white, blood-stained sheets, their relatives putting ice packs on top to try to slow the inevitable decay. These were perhaps the most violent and fatal two days in the modern history of Egypt. Surely a large part of the Egyptian population, tired of the protesters’ camps, celebrated the end of that daily hassle of having to get by the encampments. But at what cost? On August 16 the interim prime minister, Hazem el-Beblawi, proposed that the Brotherhood be banned again, and said the government was studying the possibility.

The interim vice president, Mohammed el-Baradei, who was seen as the most liberal of figures who supported the military coup of June 30, resigned his post on August 14 in protest against the excessive use of force by the military and high number of deaths. “I cannot take responsibility for a drop of blood,” he wrote in his resignation letter.

The military are now doing everything to demoralize the Brothers and their supporters, calling the pro-Mursi supporters “terrorists”, and forcing relatives of protesters killed in clashes with security forces to record their deaths as suicides. The supreme guide of the Brotherhood, Mohammed Badie, was arrested on August 20, and he, Mursi, Khairat Shater and two leaders of the Brotherhood will be tried on charges of murder, incitement to revolt and other equally ridiculous claims.

To further sharpen the polarization, Saudi Arabia announced financial support for the new regime Egyptian military regime to the tune of $ 12 billion, coming from it, the UAE and Kuwait. The U.S. has so far not called the coup a “coup”, U.S. President Barack Obama performing verbal gymnastics not to mention the dreaded word. The reason given is because Americans do not want to be forced to cancel military aid of $ 1.3 billion a year that the US gives to the Egyptians. For now, Americans say that military aid is suspended, although there is no transaction taking place at the moment with Egypt.

Why this billion dollar aid from the Gulf states? The answer is simple: none of the royal families in power in these countries like the discourse of the Brotherhood, which mixes politics with religion in a way – until recently – so successfully. The Saudi royal family, in particular, has ruled Saudi Arabia since its founding in 1932 by an agreement with its religious establishment, and so has seen the Brotherhood for decades with fear and awe. Gulf leaders do not want to have a model Islamic democracy to compete with their autocratic governments, much less in a country so close by, just across the Red Sea.

The errors of the Brotherhood were many. The Economist points as a fatal failure the fact that the Brotherhood only made efforts to reach out to the military during the year in which Mursi ruled as president, completely ignoring the non-Islamist political forces. The military took advantage of that, but never ceased to represent the political and economic forces in the years that Hosni Mubarak ruled as president. In fact, after 30 years of Mubarak in power, the revolution of 2011 that overthrew the dictator left in place thousands of employees in the courts and the Ministry of Interior, faithful to what he represents and deeply opposed to the Brotherhood.

With a court in Cairo authorizing the release of Mubarak, supposedly because there is no legal basis for him to continue in prison, we seem to be having a flashback. Certainly, Mubarak will never rule Egypt again, but it is clear that full democracy will also not be established. With the crushing of the Brotherhood, a government made up of civilians will be elected, but with the military controlling everything from behind the scenes.

Estimates suggest that 30% of Egyptians still support the Brotherhood. This is not a majority, but it is still a significant proportion. To try to be a new government that represents all Egyptians, the military will have to include representatives of the Brotherhood. It will be difficult after the killing, the imprisonment and the demonization of members of Brotherhood, and I do not think the military are willing to do this.

Link to original column:  http://glo.bo/13WroP3

Is this the end of political Islam in Egypt?

Pro-Mursi supporters protest in Cairo, calling for the deposed president to be reinstated. (AP photo)

Pro-Mursi supporters protest in Cairo, calling for the deposed president to be reinstated. (AP photo)

This is a translation of my column that appeared in O Globo of 12/07/2013 in Portuguese:

The danger is if the military, despite promising to hold elections, never leave power. If a Brotherhood candidate wins, will he be allowed to govern?

By RASHEED ABOU-ALSAMH

Last week I watched with alarm and sadness on television the events unfolding in Egypt’s military coup against the democratically elected government of Mohamed Mursi. And I was even more amazed at the scenes of liberal and leftist opposition Egyptians in Tahrir Square, celebrating with shouts of joy the return of the military, which they themselves had fought so energetically against in the same square only two years earlier.

Undoubtedly, Mursi proved unable to govern Egypt well, rejecting any accommodation with the opposition, intensifying the sectarian tone of his government, and appointing members of the Muslim Brotherhood to most ministries and provinces. The country’s economy has gone from bad to worse, with the ailing Egyptian pound suffering devaluations, the foreign currency deposits reaching very low levels and power outages becoming a normal thing. Politically, Mursi was also obstinate, derogating to himself constitutional powers and trying to push a new constitution onto the public that didn’t have the support of liberals and leftists.

Despite all these differences, we cannot forget that Mursi was elected with 52% of the popular vote, more than U.S. President Barack Obama got in his last election. With this popular mandate, how could he surrender to the military’s ultimatum? “Over my dead body,” Mursi allegedly told the military officers sent to demand his resignation. And the immediate result of the forced removal of Mursi power was violence, with 51 Brotherhood supporters being killed by soldiers in Cairo this week. This massacre led the group to urge a revolt against the military.

The military quickly appointed civilians to head an interim government with Adli Mansur as interim president, Hazem al-Beblawi as prime minister, and Mohamed el-Baradei as vice president. Mansur has issued a constitutional declaration calling for a constituent assembly in two weeks, a referendum on a new constitution in four months, parliamentary elections in February and presidential elections six months later. Al-Beblawi already said ministerial posts will be offered to members of the Freedom and Justice Party, the political arm of the Brotherhood, and the Islamist Nour party. But it is unlikely that members of the Brotherhood will accept positions in the interim government responsible for toppling Mursi.

Right now Egypt is a powder keg ready to explode at any provocation. The despair and anguish that millions of Egyptians are feeling upon seeing their leader deposed by the military is understandable, and that is why politicians on both sides will have to work hard to calm people down and try to find an acceptable solution for everyone. Former senator Egyptian Mona Makramebeid said this week to Christiane Amanpour of CNN that a political accommodation would take a while. “It will take time. We have to send out positive messages. The opposition has to stop with the demonization of the Muslim Brotherhood and strive to work together. After all, they worked together in the past to overthrow the Mubarak regime,” she said.

But will the overthrow of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt mark the end of political Islam? Many would say yes, but I doubt it. The French scholar Olivier Roy, who published the book “The failure of political Islam” in 1992, said in this week’s “Economist” that the Brotherhood government imploded because they did not know how to run a modern state. He said the government was trying to Islamize a society that was already very religious, and that Islam does not have the detailed prescriptions necessary to run a modern state. At this point I agree in part. Mursi was not able to build political alliances with other Islamist parties, and much less with the opposition parties, something that would be essential to the success of his government. In Turkey and Morocco, Islamist parties have had to share power with other political parties in order to stay in power.

The West has to realize that the Egyptian progressives and liberals are a minority in the country, and that most are religious and conservative. The U.S. ambassador in Cairo, Anne Patterson, knows this and built an American policy of trying to get closer to the Brotherhood after decades of neglect. “Anne has since her earliest days in Egypt noted that the liberal Egyptians are the favorite contacts of Washington think tanks, the U.S. Congress and the State Department. Maybe they are talented and creative, but they are not necessarily representative of the 80 million Egyptians,” said an American official to the Daily Beast website.

The danger now in Egypt is that the military, despite promising elections, may never leave power. They have not said whether they will allow Brotherhood candidates to participate in the parliamentary and presidential elections. And if a Brotherhood candidate is elected president, will the military allow him to take office? We’ve seen what happened in Algeria in 1992, when the military stopped the Islamists from coming to power despite winning democratic elections. We will have to wait at least another six months to see if the Egyptian military will honor their word or not. But I’m not betting a lot on them.

Link to original column in Portuguese: http://glo.bo/18RHmRf

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