Secularists and Muslim Brotherhood fuel cycle of Egyptian violence

Bloodshed is driving a deeper wedge between Egypt’s pitched factions

A man holds up a bloodied shirt at a pro-Morsi rally in Cairo yesterday near where more than 50 people were purported to have been killed by members of the Egyptian military and police in early-morning clashes. Photograph: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

Just as the situation in Egypt appeared to be settling into a bloodless standoff between the contenders for power and the divided opposition front was getting its act together, the killing of 51 rival Muslim Brotherhood supporters created a new tense and dangerous situation and disrupted the appointment of an interim cabinet to guide the transition to democracy.

In response to the killings, dubbed a “massacre” by the Brotherhood, armed fundamentalists mounted an assault on a police facility in the Suez Canal city of Port Said. More revenge attacks can be expected, testing the resolve of the army to crack down on perpetrators and militant groups to which they belong, setting in motion a cycle of violence that could deepen the rift between the Brotherhood which is determined to transform Egypt into an “Islamic state” and the majority of Egyptians who are committed to “civil” society and secular governance.

Salafi Nour's defection
The killings took place three hours after the withdrawal of support by the ultraconservative Salafi Nour party – the sole religious party in the opposition front – for the candidacy for the post of interim prime minister of Ziad Bahaeddin, a former secular deputy who defended Salafi interests.

Nour’s mysterious defection has transformed the confrontation into a straight power struggle between secularists and fundamentalists, a development which the opposition did its utmost to avoid, including proposing Bahaeddin rather than preferred candidate Nobel laureate Mohamed ElBaradei, regarded as hostile by fundamentalists.


The division between members of the two rival camps is defined by where people live, social background, education,employment and faith.

'Brainwashed' loyalists
Brotherhood rank and file consists of farmers and manual labourers from the conservative and devout countryside and urban slums filled with migrant peasants having limited education and poor employment. The movement's detractors claim Brotherhood loyalists are "brainwashed and cannot think for themselves".

Brotherhood backers say while the West is hostile to the movement, its adherents are doing the will of God by fighting the jihad for Morsi’s reinstatement.

The movement’s opponents are, generally, more educated urban people who may nor may not have good jobs. They believe they have history and democracy on their side and argue the West should be on their side.

While the worldly wise and sophisticated senior figures in the opposition are also senior citizens, the prime movers of the Tamarod (rebel) campaign to oust Morsi and the June 30th revolutionary movement are young, educated and as devoted to democracy as Brotherhood members are to an Islamic state.

This means that alienation is geographic, social, cultural, economic and political, making Egypt’s widening polarisation all the more potentially dangerous and destructive.