And while the situation is less cut and dry than some observers make it sound, one thing seems clear: there are two players apparently intent on accelarating a conflict that is likely to wind up as an actual civil war.
On the one hand, the Muslim Brotherhood (supported by Qatar, Turkey and some other foreign interests) who have nothing left to lose. Since being ousted from power, their very political existence is now threatened, and risk sliding back to their darkest years.
Still, the Brotherhood does have several important points in its favor: a good organization that reaches across the entire Egyptian territory, numerous determined activists who enrolled years ago and notable financial power that allows them to count on sufficient resources over the next few months.
On the other hand, the army of general Abdel Fattah el-Sisi and the "secular" segments of the population, along with the religious minorities (Copts, Shia, etc), can no longer backtrack if they want to avoid an "Iranian scenario" – the installation of a theocracy, this time dominated by the Muslim Brotherhood.
The generals in power know that from now on, their salvation — and possibly their life — hangs only on their "victory." The Egyptian army is being quietly supported by Saudi Arabia and the Gulf Emirates who, apart from the fact that they are both delighted to outdo Qatar — considered to be too active in the Middle East — fear mostly for their own internal governing stability.
But their support could end at any moment depending on how the situation evolves. It should be noted that several state and religious officials have moved away from the army, as they did not want their reputation to be sullied by the bloodshed: among them are former Vice President Mohamed ElBaradei and the Grand Imam of Al-Azhar Sheikh Ahmed el-Tayeb.
The Salafists (partly represented by the al-Nour party) also come into the mix. From a religious perspective, they are more extreme than the Muslim Brotherhood. They first backed the army because the Brotherhood were their main rivals in the generally pious Egyptian population. But now, they are biding their time, waiting to see how events unfold before deciding which position to take.
Start with "Who Started?"
The jihadists, more or less linked to Al Qaeda and very important in the Sinai, are another component to consider. Opposed to both Israel and the Egyptian army, they could take advantage of the present unrest to reinforce their positions in the region and recruit new activists. To some extent, they have already started. Some of their members' statements leave no room for doubt: they called for jihad, and asked for fighters from abroad to "defend" the Sunnis. And the enemy is clearly nominated: "Christians and secularists, the army, the police and soldiers of the Pharaoh and, behind them, the Jewish forces and the crusaders."
It is no surprise that the international community "condemns" the violence, and most countries have openly asked for it to end. But they should first start with a proper analysis of the situation. Who started it? The Muslim Brotherhood, who illegally demonstrated, who were warned by the authorities three days before the operation and who killed about 40 members of the armed forces? Or those same armed forces who went in heavy-handed in the face of provocations, including heavy gunfire?
It is always difficult to know who opened fire first, but one thing is certain: some of the "pacifist" demonstrators were carrying fire arms. Some intellectuals in the Arab-Muslim world, although they're a minority, reckon that when facing radical Islam, the people are in a state of "self-defense".
Of course, all this is regularly captured on video and broadcast on Al Jazeera — the well-known news channel from Qatar — destined to be shown over and over by other television channels across the region. The propaganda war will now rage like it did at the beginning of the tragic events in Syria.
All of this means that an "Algerian scenario" is perfectly conceivable: in 1992, the elections that were supposed to bring the Islamic Salvation Front to power were cancelled by the army, plunging the country into a civil war, the embers of which are still lurking today.
The Muslim Brotherhood has already triggered turmoil in the whole of Egypt and the security forces do not have the necessary means to face it. Everything will depend on the support they get from abroad.
As for the Muslim Brotherhood, will they join forces with the Salafist Jihadists? For now, it is a possibility that may happen for tactical purposes, if nothing else. At any rate, the consequences of these events, though immeasurable, risk affecting the whole of the Middle East.
*Alain Rodier is research director of the French Center for Intelligence Research
Once meant to protect the royal family, the century-old law has become a tool for the military-led government in Bangkok to stamp out all dissent. A new report outlines the abuses.
"We need to reform the institution of the monarchy in Thailand. It is the root of the problem." Those words, from Thai student activist Juthatip Sirikan, are a clear expression of the growing youth-led movement that is challenging the legitimacy of the government and demanding deep political changes in the Southeast Asian nation. Yet those very same words could also send Sirikan to jail.
Thailand's Criminal Code 'Lèse-Majesté' Article 112 imposes jail terms for defaming, insulting, or threatening the monarchy, with sentences of three to 15 years. This law has been present in Thai politics since 1908, though applied sparingly, only when direct verbal or written attacks against members of the royal family.
But after the May 2014 military coup d'état, Thailand experienced the first wave of lèse-majesté arrests, prosecutions, and detentions of at least 127 individuals arrested in a much wider interpretation of the law.
The recent report 'Second Wave: The Return of Lèse-Majesté in Thailand', documents how the Thai government has "used and abused Article 112 of the Criminal Code to target pro-democracy activists and protesters in relation to their online political expression and participation in peaceful pro-democracy demonstrations."
Criticism of any 'royal project'
The investigation shows 124 individuals, including at least eight minors, have been charged with lèse-majesté between November 2020 and August 2021. Nineteen of them served jail time. The new wave of charges is cited as a response to the rising pro-democracy protests across Thailand over the past year.
Juthatip Sirikan explains that the law is now being applied in such a broad way that people are not allowed to question government budgets and expenditure if they have any relationship with the royal family, which stifles criticism of the most basic government decision-making since there are an estimated 5,000 ongoing "royal" projects. "Article 112 of lèse-majesté could be the key (factor) in Thailand's political problems" the young activist argues.
In 2020 the Move Forward opposition party questioned royal spending paid by government departments, including nearly 3 billion baht (89,874,174 USD) from the Defense Ministry and Thai police for royal security, and 7 billion baht budgeted for royal development projects, as well as 38 planes and helicopters for the monarchy. Previously, on June 16, 2018, it was revealed that Thailand's Crown Property Bureau transferred its entire portfolio to the new King Maha Vajiralongkorn.
Protestors In Bangkok Call For Political Prisoner Release
Freedom of speech at stake
"Article 112 shuts down all freedom of speech in this country", says Sirikan. "Even the political parties fear to touch the subject, so it blocks most things. This country cannot move anywhere if we still have this law."
The student activist herself was charged with lèse-majesté in September 2020, after simply citing a list of public documents that refer to royal family expenditure. Sirikan comes from a family that has faced the consequences of decades of political repression. Her grandfather, Tiang Sirikhan was a journalist and politician who openly protested against Thailand's involvement in World War II. He was accused of being a Communist and abducted in 1952. According to Sirikhan's family, he was killed by the state.
The new report was conducted by The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), Thai Lawyer for Human Rights (TLHR), and Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw). It accuses Thai authorities of an increasingly broad interpretation of Article 112, to the point of "absurdity," including charges against people for criticizing the government's COVID-19 vaccine management, wearing crop tops, insulting the previous monarch, or quoting a United Nations statement about Article 112.
Juthatip Sirikan speaks in front of democracy monument.
Shift to social media
While in the past the Article was only used against people who spoke about the royals, it's now being used as an alibi for more general political repression — which has also spurred more open campaigning to abolish it. Sirikan recounts recent cases of police charging people for spreading paint near the picture of the king during a protest, or even just for having a picture of the king as phone wallpaper.
The more than a century-old law is now largely playing out online, where much of today's protest takes place in Thailand. Sirikan says people are willing to go further on social media to expose information such as how the king intervenes in politics and the monarchy's accumulation of wealth, information the mainstream media rarely reports on them.
Not surprisingly, however, social media is heavily monitored and the military is involved in Intelligence operations and cyber attacks against human rights defenders and critics of any kind. In October 2020, Twitter took down 926 accounts, linked to the army and the government, which promoted themselves and attacked political opposition, and this June, Google removed two Maps with pictures, names, and addresses, of more than 400 people who were accused of insulting the Thai monarchy. "They are trying to control the internet as well," Sirikan says. "They are trying to censor every content that they find a threat".
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