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Keeping the Muslim Brothers alive.

ySTANBUL (CyHAN)- For days now, Egypt's military-appointed government has threatened to forcibly disperse two sit-ins in Cairo where tens of thousands of supporters of ousted president Mohammed Morsi have been protesting the military coup. Till now, these moves have been postponed, but at the moment of writing this column nobody is sure what will happen next. It seems the new government is split between hard-liners who want to crush the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) once and for all, and people like Mohamed ElBaradei, interim vice president and Nobel Prize laureate, who are afraid that a violent repression of the peaceful protests will damage the perception of Egypt abroad and might trigger strong reactions from the US, the EU and the International Monetary Fund (IMF). It is not clear whether the ongoing efforts by American, European and other diplomats to broker a deal between the government and the MB may also play a role in keeping hopes alive that this confrontation does not end in bloodshed.

In my last column, I called on the Turkish government to be more active in trying to convince the MB to accept a compromise in line with, for instance, the suggestions made by President Abdullah GE-l last week. Key elements of such an agreement would be the release of Mr. Morsi, held in detention at an undisclosed location for weeks now, and other MB leaders; the acceptance of all political groups, including the MB, in the forthcoming elections; and the commitment by both the MB and the government to exercise restraint to avoid further casualties.

That sounds reasonable to most outsiders, but several seasoned reporters and observers who visited the sit-ins have indicated that many of the participants are not willing to accept a deal that would exclude the reinstatement of Mr. Morsi as president, at least temporarily. Any settlement might be a hard sell for MB negotiators who lack the authority of the old MB leadership now in prison. Probably only a direct intervention by Morsi himself, stimulated and facilitated by outside sympathizers like the Turkish government, can convince combative MB militants to give up their resistance and concentrate on less confrontational methods to challenge the consequences of the coup.

In a recent report, the International Crisis Group also came to the conclusion that only countries like Qatar and Turkey could act as channels to the Islamists, moving them away from their maximalist demands.

In an interesting article on the website of Foreign Affairs, based on the results of studies of nonviolent campaigns worldwide, Erica Chenoweth, associate professor at the University of Denver, warned that such a de-escalation might be necessary because the current sit-ins will, in all likelihood, not bring the systemic change the MB supporters are hoping for. As Chenoweth puts it, "History shows that civil resistance campaigns tend to succeed when they build the quantity and quality of participants, select tactics that provoke loyalty shifts among ruling elites, prepare enough to maintain nonviolent discipline, and skillfully change course under fire to minimize the damage to participants. All of this takes time, organization, preparation, and a good deal of strategic imagination."

Reading the reports on the sit-ins, it seems clear that some of these elements are definitely missing, and the time for some outside help in changing strategy has arrived.

Again, let's hope Ankara can live up to the expectations and help show the MB a way out of the present crisis. That would be extremely significant, not only to repair some of Turkey's damaged image in the region, but of course mainly to save Egyptian lives and keep the MB alive as a crucial player in Egyptian politics.

Why is that so important after all the mistakes the Islamists made since winning the elections one year ago? The answer to that question was given by Marc Lynch, one of the most knowledgeable American specialists on the Middle East, in a Foreign Policy article on the return of al-Qaeda on the scene: "The Egyptian military's crushing of the MB, which was al-Qaeda's strongest competitor in the arena of Islamist politics, is also a boon to the jihadist movement. A weaker Brotherhood -- which has lost confidence in its own ideas and leaders -- will be a much weaker firewall against the more extreme groups."

JOOST LAGENDIJK (Cihan/Today's Zaman) CyHAN

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Publication:Cihan News Agency (CNA)
Geographic Code:7EGYP
Date:Aug 14, 2013
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