Thursday, 22 August 2013

Egypt's siren voices

           In Greek mythology the Sirens were dangerous females who lured sailors with their enchanting singing to shipwreck on their island’s rocky coast.  Their voices literally bewitched hapless mariners into forgetting the dangers they were facing until it was too late to save themselves.

Something of the sort seems to be taking place in Egypt at present.  The siren voices now are those of the Tamarod (or “Rebellion”) movement which, almost incredibly, has launched a mass campaign aimed at rejecting all future military aid from the United States and less incredibly, perhaps at abrogating the 1973 Camp David peace treaty with Israel.

The rationale behind this operation seems to be a macho assertion that Egypt must be allowed direct its own affairs.  Tamarod leaders took exception to the way that President Obama, reacting to the rising toll of civilian casualties as the army cracked down on pro-Morsi protesters, recently cancelled the long-standing Bright Star joint training exercise with the Egyptian military scheduled for this September.  They saw it as an affront to their national dignity. They also assert that the terms of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty inhibit Egypt’s military and security forces from dealing effectively with terrorist activity in the Sinai Peninsular.  Which assumes that, left to their own devices, they would be capable of doing so.

If ever there were an example of cutting off one’s nose to spite one’s face, it is this campaign by the Tamarod. 

US military aid to Egypt amounts to $1.3 billion each year, covering “as much as 80% of the Defense Ministry’s weapons procurement costs,” according to a June congressional assessment.  What Tamarod objects to is the influence this largesse provides the US over those responsible for Egypt’s domestic and foreign policy.  In particular, perhaps, they oppose Egypt’s persistent maintenance, through thick and thin, of the terms of the Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty, which they ascribe to US pressure applied consecutively to the régimes of ex-president Mubarack, ex-president Morsi, and now the interim government put in place by the coup engineered by army chief Abdel Fattah el-Sisi.

What Tamarod seem to discount is that cooperation between Egypt and Israel in defeating the gangs of ruthless terrorists running riot in the Sinai peninsular was never more necessary than at present.  There are ample grounds for believing that the Egyptian military and the Israel Defense Forces have indeed worked together from time to time, and are doing so now.  The Egyptian interim government and Israel are facing a common enemy – jihadist supporters of the Muslim Brotherhood, including al-Qaeda and the Gaza-based Hamas leadership, intent on overthrowing the Egyptian administration and restoring ex-president Morsi to power, as well as attacking Israel.

This tacit interdependence was clearly demonstrated in two recent incidents. The first was the two-hour closure on Thursday, August 8, of Eilat airport at Israel’s southernmost tip, following an Egyptian intelligence tip-off over a missile threat from Sinai.  Then on Friday, August 9, came reports of two missiles fired by an Israeli drone in North Sinai that destroyed a missile launcher and killed four or five terrorists at Ajarah.  Israel never confirmed the attack, but Egyptian officials initially attributed the Israeli drone attack to intelligence cooperation between the two armies, later changing their story.

The massacre on August 19 of 25 Egyptian policemen by armed extremists in the Sinai, close to the Israeli border, further cements the connection between the upheaval in Egypt and Israel’s security. Following this incident, and another when a police officer was killed in the north Sinai town of el-Arish, the Egyptian military closed the Rafah border crossing between Egypt and Gaza and increased security at checkpoints throughout Sinai. In short, this is a peculiarly inappropriate moment for Tamarod to be pressing for Egypt and Israel to break off their mutually beneficial cooperation in dealing with a major security problem affecting both states.

As for their goal of robbing the Egyptian economy of its annual injection of 1.3 billion American dollars, latest reports indicate that, even without pursuing their objective of a nation-wide petition followed by a referendum, Tamarod may achieve their purpose.  Coming on top of the horrendous total of civilian deaths, which have now exceeded a thousand, the detention by the Egyptian government on August 20 of Mohammed Badie, the Islamist group’s spiritual leader, was roundly condemned by the White House, and President Obama was reported to have assembled members of his cabinet to discuss cutting aid to Egypt. The next tranche of around $585million is due to be sent at the end of September.

The US is not alone in considering how best to react, as Egypt’s interim government struggles to reestablish law and order on the streets of its major cities.  The European Union (EU), which also provides Egypt with substantial financial aid, is sending its foreign affairs supremo, Lady Ashton, to Cairo to try to broker an accommodation between the Muslim Brotherhood and the interim government.  Tamarod have not yet turned their attention to the EU’s interference in Egypt’s affairs, but it may be next on their list. 

Tamarod was founded as recently as April 28, 2013 by five activists, including its official spokesman Mahmoud Badr. Its original purpose was to register opposition to President Mohammed Morsi and force him to call early presidential elections.  As its first objective it announced it would collect 15 million signatures by June 30.  By June 29 the movement had collected more than 22 million.  Tamarod played a major role in harnessing the popular movement that demanded an end to the Morsi regime, and led to the military coup d’état that overthrew it. 

            Its leaders remain vehemently anti-Muslim Brotherhood as well as anti-USA. Addressing President Obama by way of a journalist, Tamarod leader Mahmoud Badr is reported as saying: "Don't lecture us on how to deal with the Brotherhood's terrorism," adding "I tell you President Obama, why don't you and your small, meaningless aid go to hell?"

            He was perhaps bolstered by the knowledge that Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait had already provided Egypt’s military administration with a financial transfusion of some $14 billion – far outstripping the US’s meagre $1.3 billion. 

            "What Egypt is passing through now is the price, a high price, of getting rid of the Brotherhood's fascist group before it takes over everything and ousts us all," said Badr. "I did not see anything bad from the army…I think they are right and getting us where we want."

            The dream of Mahmoud Badr, who is only 28, seems to be a democratic Egypt but somehow shorn of its Muslim Brotherhood component, which makes up at least 20 per cent of the population.  He wants Egypt beholden to no other power, financially or in any other way, even when such alliances are clearly in Egypt’s own best interests.  He seems to have taken as his inspiration Joe Darion’s lyrics from “Man of La Mancha”:
            Dream the impossible dream.  Fight the unbeatable foe.  Strive with your last ounce of courage to reach the unreachable star.”

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 22 August 2013:

Published in the Eurasia Review, 23 August 2013: 

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