Ask Michael Hanna Anything: Is Egypt Heading For A Civil War?

In our first video from Michael, he offers his thoughts on the troubling rise of polarization in Egypt, and whether civil strife could follow:

Some see no civil war any time soon. Laura Dean:

First, the Egyptian army is powerful, and though it might provoke here or deliberately refuse to act there, it nevertheless would not allow a full-blown civil war. This would defeat the military’s central objective of cementing its own authority. And it is not clear that the Brotherhood would be willing to call on its supporters to take up arms or could marshall enough support to take on a force as powerful and apparently united as the Egyptian Army. Egypt is unlikely to become another Algeria, where the army removed the Islamists from power before they had been allowed to try their hand at governing, resulting in civil war. In this case, by contrast, the army has widespread support in part because many people think that the Brotherhood sealed its own fate through a year of bumbling and incompetent governance.

Furthermore, while there are clear efforts to marginalize the Brotherhood, the army and interim government have gone to great lengths to include and accommodate the Salafi Nour Party, indicating that there is still room for Islamists to participate in politics. The Nour Party may absorb former Brotherhood members and others who might otherwise defect from the political process entirely. Finally, Egypt already had an armed Islamist insurgency in the 1990s. And it didn’t work.

Nour Youssef looks at how Egyptians of various political stripes are responding to recent events:

The word polarization fails to describe what is happening now. Public opinion is more of an aggregation of wishes for the defeat, suffering and death of certain members of the public, who are no longer considered members altogether, by other members of the public, whom they no longer consider members of the public.

Case in point, the sentence “We need to cleanse Egypt of (insert group of people you disagree with)” is one I hear everywhere. The refusal to accept that the country will not run out of islamists or secularists for many years, if ever, and that neither party can be effectively shunned from society, is making conversations simply exhausting.

Michael Wahid Hanna is a Senior Fellow at The Century Foundation, where he works on issues of international security, international law, and U.S. foreign policy in the broader Middle East and South Asia. He has published widely on U.S. foreign policy in newspapers and journals, including articles in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, the Boston Globe,  Christian Science Monitor, the New Republic, and World Policy Journal, among other publications, and is a frequent contributor to Foreign Policy. He appears regularly on NPR, BBC, and al-Jazeera. His Twitter feed is also a must read for anyone interested in Egyptian politics. Our full coverage of the current events in Egypt is here. Our Ask Anything archive is here.