Egypt PM: Security, not national reconciliation, priority of interim government
The state and the Prime Minister have made it a "priority" to fix Egypt's security situation, which means "controlling the Muslim Brotherhood and limiting their capacities," a source in PM Hazem El-Beblawi's cabinet told Ahram Online.
Speaking on condition of anonymity, the source added, this "does not mean the government wants to exclude anyone, but rather that security is a priority of the people."
The official's remarks highlight the bottom-line of El-Beblawi's cabinet, which has faced months of unease in the wake of former president Mohamed Morsi's ouster in July.
The current cabinet includes leftovers from former prime minister Hisham Qandil's administration, such as Interior Minister Mohamed Ibrahim, as well as new liberal faces such as Deputy Prime Minister Ziyad Baheddine.
Ibrahim, who is leading a “war” to marginalise all those calling for state dialogue with the Islamist camp, stands in stark contrast to Baheddine, who has faced "tough resistance," since his national reconciliation initiative in August, according to a cabinet member.
Government sources say that almost four months later, the “dialogue camp" has dwindled amid clear intimidation.
"There were about seven ministers in that camp, and the rest were supporting Mohamed Ibrahim, or at least not against him. Today, it is only Ziyad Baheddine and [finance minister] Ahmed Galal, with occasional indirect support from the Foreign Affairs Minister [Nabil Fahmy] on matters concerning international opinion," said one source.
Widespread dislike for the Muslim Brotherhood and their Islamist allies, still apparent four months after Morsi's ouster, has allowed the 'Mohamed Ibrahim camp' to gain strength, the source added.
An Interior Ministry official said, "The use of force by police against the terrorists is well supported by the public, who are desperate for a return to security and are not opposed to putting all Muslim Brotherhood members in jail."
The source credited "the vital role of the media" for this "overwhelming sentiment," insisting that the mistakes of the Brotherhood during their year in power have "made people see the reality of this group."
During several cabinet confrontations, especially following the resignation of interim vice president Mohamed ElBaradei over the violent dispersal of two Islamist camps, Ibrahim made direct attacks on those who urge restraint, emphasising that they are not facing the reality of police officers on the ground.
More recently, Beblawi sided openly with Ibrahim over a draft demonstrations law, whilst trying privately to accommodate Baheddine and Galal.
Sources close to Baheddine and Galal say that the two men feel truly isolated, but are still hopeful, as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Defense Abdel-Fattah El-Sisi have not vetoed opposition to the draft protest law and equally controversial anti-terrorism bill, which have been labelled catastrophic by human rights groups.
According to a source in Beblawi's office, the PM seems to be moving towards a suggestion by an advisory board to abandon the two drafts and leave them to the discretion of the parliament that is due to be elected next winter, a solution that official sources say interim President Adly Mansour also favours.
Politics expert at Al-Ahram Centre for Political and Strategic Studies, Amr Hashem, says that the tug of war within the Beblawi cabinet is ‘expected,’ given its transitional nature and the complicated tasks it is faced with.
“This is not a cohesive government. It has members with contradicting political alignments and priorities. It is a difficult time to attempt to align those defending human rights and those facing fire on the streets from a group receiving foreign support and working against national security,” Hashem argued.
“Priority should go to national security, even at the expense of human rights, which should be put on the backburner for now,” he added.
Hashem is joined by a number of commentators and political scientists in the Ibrahim camp who are not just opposed to reconciliation, but insist on maximum security.
Salafist political figure Ashraf Thabet, deputy speaker of the defunct parliament of 2012, argues that a middle ground is being overlooked, perhaps deliberately.
According to Thabet,“the call for dialogue is not about immediate reconciliation or the dropping of any unbiased legal charges against those in custody” since the 3 July ouster of Morsi.
A leading figure of the Salafist Nour Party, which sided openly with Morsi's deposition, Thabet worries that “the firm rejection of dialogue will prevent reconciliation and complicate the way forward, undermining the chances of political stability and economic prosperity.”
Thabet argued that the will of the people, as expressed in nation-wide demonstrations on 30 June, has to be considered in the political decisions of the state. However, he cautioned, this should not negate “the will of the people that was expressed on 25 January and demanded an end to all violations of human rights," adding that "a balance between the two is not impossible for the government.”
In comments to Ahram Online, government sources questioned public commitment to the demands of 25 January. According to one, “many are now in favour of turning a blind eye to strict security measures, to allow for stability and economic prosperity, without going back to the years of harsh security that prevailed under Hosni Mubarak,” adding, “this is the line the government is observing; short of this, the people would be angry.”
Beblawi has refuted accusations against his cabinet for being too hesitant in taking action against the Islamists. “Our hands are not shaken, but we are following the law strictly,” he clarified in a recent press conference.