Turmoil In Egypt: Getting 'Back From The Brink'

Amid violence in Egypt, there are reportedly calls for dismantling the Muslim Brotherhood, the party of ousted President Mohammed Morsi. Guest host Don Gonyea speaks with Shadi Hamid, the director of research for the Brookings Doha Center, about political and security issues in the country.

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For more on the ongoing crisis in Egypt, I'm joined by Shadi Hamid. He's the director of research for the Brookings Doha Center. Thanks for being with us.

SHADI HAMID: Hi. Thanks for having me.

GONYEA: So would you say this week - what we've seen this week demonstrates that Egypt is now ruled by a military dictatorship?

HAMID: There's no doubt about that. There is a civilian fa├žade - the prime minister and the interim president. But it's clear that the ones calling the shots are the army, the intelligence services and the police. And that's become clear, in part, because the government has really moved aggressively against the Brotherhood. And they don't see this as a political problem. They see this as a security problem. And armies are good at using brute force.

GONYEA: And some of the reports that we're hearing say that the government might try to actually dissolve the Brotherhood. How real do you think that is?

HAMID: There is more talk about dismantling the Brotherhood's organization. We'll still have to wait and see if they make that decision. It wouldn't be the first time. The Brotherhood has been dissolved several times in the 1940s and 1950s. So in that sense, it would be a return, not just to the Mubarak era, but it would be a return to something worse. And that would be the days of the '50s and '60s where the Egyptian government really tried to destroy the Muslim Brotherhood and erase it from the political scene altogether.

GONYEA: So the government describes what it's doing this week as fighting terrorism, that it amounts to actually fighting a war. Is there any way that the Muslim Brotherhood and the military government could reach any sort of reconciliation at this point?

HAMID: I think there was a slight glimmer of hope before Wednesday's events. But Wednesday changed everything in my view. You had the single highest death toll in Egypt's modern history, so that makes it very difficult to negotiate. There's such bad blood on both sides. And when a Muslim Brotherhood members see their relatives and friends killed right before their very eyes, it's very difficult to convince them to give up the fight and to talk with their enemies on the army or government side.

So I think the more blood that's spilled, it's very difficult to get back from the brink. That's why Wednesday's events were so decisive and could really be remembered as one of the days that changed the course of Egypt's history.

GONYEA: On Thursday of this past week, President Obama called off the biannual military exercises that the U.S. had scheduled with the Egyptian military. These exercises are a tradition going back to the Camp David Accords. I'm wondering, does the U.S. have other leverage it can use to influence the Egyptian government at this point?

HAMID: The U.S. has a very clear lever, and that is the $1.3 billion of military aid annually. And up until now, the Obama administration has really shown no interest in taking that step. And I think that sends a very clear message to the Egyptian military that really, no matter what they do, Obama is not going to suspend aid. And that allows them, to some extent, to act with impunity because they know they can get away with it.

There's already been at least three massacres over the past month and a half. If there are more massacres in the coming days and weeks, that's going to put more and more pressure on the Obama administration to do something more. You know, it doesn't look good to have one of your closest allies killing people on the street on a daily basis. And I think there's a limit to how much the U.S. can tolerate if this goes on for weeks and months.

GONYEA: Shadi Hamid is the director of research for the Brookings Doha Center. Thanks so much for being with us.

HAMID: Thanks for having me.

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