The continuing crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood by the Egyptian military regime offers the country only short-term gains.
The arrest of the Brotherhood’s leaders, seizure of its property and other such actions will not make what is still Egypt’s largest Islamist organisation disappear. It will also mean that the religious political space in the largest Arab country will now be filled by much more violent and radical Islamicist groups.
The blatant nature of this repression, with only the thinnest of legal veils, can be seen in the decision to designate the Brotherhood a terrorist organisation after a bomb blast which an al Qaeda offshoot publicly took responsibility for.
The Muslim Brotherhood made many and ultimately fatal errors during the short-lived government of President Mohamed Morsi. The most important was to fail to understand that given the strength of its mass base, its future strategy should have been to focus on institution building and developing a constitutional consensus.
This would have helped consolidate the democracy moment that the overthrow of the dictator, Hosni Mubarak, had created. Mr Morsi’s attempts to impose a constitution eventually played into the hands of the other, mostly secular, opposition groups and the Brotherhood’s most implacable enemy, the military.
Now, it seems, it is the turn of the military and their secular allies to go overboard. The military should also realise that its regime will face a legitimacy crisis in time.
It cannot turn to the ballot box any more if the Brotherhood is under lock and key.
The economic problems that underlay the fall of the Mubarak regime not only continue, they have gotten worse. And the Islamist attacks in the Sinai and elsewhere are clear signs that radical terror groups are spreading their wings — even as the buffer that conservative Islamic parties like the Brotherhood provides against terror is gone.
While there are many who have applauded the return of a secular regime to Egypt, especially in India, the truth remains that secularism built on repression is secularism without legitimacy.
The strength of secular India lies in the concept’s widespread popular acceptance. Egypt, like Arab society in general, needed to provide a democratic milieu in which, over time, moderation and tolerance could come to be accepted.
This evolutionary process has been nipped in the bud, ensuring that Egypt, and the Arab world in general, will return to their tradition of politics by violence and repression.