Conflict & Justice

Why Egypt isn't the next Syria

An eruption of gunfire Monday morning outside of the Egyptian Republican Guard building claimed at least 42 lives and fueled an already seething divide between pro- and anti-Morsi protestors.

The overthrown president’s supporters and opponents were quick to blame one another, with no clear marker of whether the violence was started by the military or the demonstrators.

Islamists are now calling for all-out rebellion against the army, with the Muslim Brotherhood holding military General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi responsible and saying that the chief of the armed forces wanted to “drive Egypt to the same fate as Syria.”

This sentiment was echoed internationally by Russian president Valdimir Putin, who is a supporter of Syrian president Bashar al-Assad—the leader of a regime that has been internationally condemned for human rights abuses in its own conflict.

"Syria is already in the grips of the civil war ... and Egypt is moving in the same direction," Putin told Russian state news agency RIA Novosti.

While escalating chaos further obfuscates Egypt’s political and civil future, rights groups condemn the violence and call out for authorities to take responsibility for and respond to reports of rape and rising death tolls.

“All sides need to tell their followers to refrain from actions likely to lead to violence and loss of life,” said Joe Stork, deputy Middle East director and Human Rights Watch, in a statement released yesterday.

Despite mounting intensity, experts say it is unlikely that the country will deteriorate into civil war similar to the ongoing Syrian disunity—the issues at hand and the demographic make-up of the unrest are disparate.

Egypt’s issues are entirely domestic, having less to do with political oppression than with the economy and what some believed was increasing autocracy in Morsi’s government. The point of contention here is primarily political, even with the Muslim Brotherhood on one side and the national military on the other, explained Nathan Brown, Professor of Political Science and International Affairs at George Washington University.

“The language used in Egypt and the bitterness of the political divide are both extremely worrying and they are severe enough to raise the specter of civil war,” Brown said. “But state institutions remain strong and functional and the political divisions do not overlap with sect, region, or ethnicity. Nor are they militarized. For that reason, I do not expect full civil war. But a period of civil strife seems quite possible.”

Charles Dunne, director of Middle East and North Africa programs at Freedom House, an independent watchdog organization agreed—saying that Egypt does not have the components necessary to make up a catastrophic sectarian civil war.

“You hear a lot of talk like that in Egypt right now, especially from Islamists, especially after the violence we saw this morning,” he said. “What we are more likely to is an ongoing conflict and possibly a return of terrorism. But nothing like Syria.”

Where Syria is multiethnic, multireligious and has a significant Sunni/Shia Muslim divide, Egypt is far more homogeneous—a large majority of the population being Sunni Muslim. Instead, of an all-out war between the state institution and the people, Egypt may continue to see instances of violence like last months lynching of Shia Muslims by a mob in the village of Abu Musallim in Greater Cairo, sexual and physical attacks on women, and violence within the crowd.

“The situation is just so different from Syria,” Dunne said. “No real experts of the region, that I know of, are believing that Egypt will be the new Syria.”

Syria's civil war began in March of 2011. The death toll, though difficult to calculate officially, has since been estimated to be between 75,000 to just over 100,000, with thousands Syrians being displaced.

The international community and rights groups have condemned Syrian President Assad's violence against his people, specifically regarding the use of chemical weapons. Most recently, Egypt's Morsi withdrew the countries support of Assad's regime. According to a New York Times article from this weekend, Assad declared Morsi's ouster the signifier of the "fall of 'political Islam' and vindication" of his government's fight against the uprising.