Sunday, 18 August 2013

The battle for Egypt's soul

          If history teaches us anything, it is that a revolution is never an event, but a process – a battle won, a battle lost;  one leader emerging only to be superseded by another; one group in the ascendant, then its downfall to be succeeded by another.  Only after the passage of time – up to 20 years in the case of the English, the American, the French, and the Russian Revolutions, to quote them in sequence do the flames die down and a new order is established (or, in the case of England, the monarchy restored). 
            Taking those precedents, the revolutionary process in Egypt is only in its opening phases.  The popular uprising that resulted in the ousting of ex-president Mubarak, the elections that handed power to the Muslim Brotherhood, the blatant misuse of those powers over the course of a year, a second popular uprising demanding the removal of an administration that had fulfilled none of its promises, the intervention of the military in support of the people’s will, the consequent backlash engineered by the leaders of the régime rejected by popular outcry all this fits very well into the historic pattern of popular revolutions.
            The current phase in Egypt is a particularly ugly one, with blood on the streets and a death toll pushing a thousand. 
"I think with these number of deaths and this amount of violence, they got what they wanted" was the verdict of Ashraf el-Kholy, the Egyptian ambassador to the UK, at a televised press conference on 15 August 2013.  He was referring to the truly shocking number of mostly, though not exclusively, civilian casualties that followed the government’s effort to clear from the streets of Cairo and Alexandria the large encamped groups of Muslim Brotherhood supporters. 
            His comments referred to the leadership of the Muslim Brotherhood, six of whom, led by Mahmud Izzat Ibrahim, were reported to have fled to Gaza immediately after the coup that toppled ex-president Morsi.  There they were reported to have set up a command post to plan and execute operations aimed at overthrowing the interim Egyptian government.  It seems clear that the Brotherhood leadership have been encouraging their supporters to take to the streets and inciting them to clash with the police and security forces.
            The ambassador made several other remarks during his press conference which have not been so widely reported.  He pointed out that the Muslim Brotherhood, although an important element within Egyptian society, is not confined to Egypt.  It is an extreme Islamist movement with ambitions that extend not only to the wider Middle East, but to the world as a whole.  The Brotherhood’s leaders see the events in Egypt within the context of their global ambitions, which quite simply are to impose Sharia rule as widely as possible.
            Many commentators in the Western media are regarding the events in Egypt simply as the overthrow of a democratically elected government by a brutal military establishment eager to regain power.  The result, several commentators opine, will be to dispel any hope that Brotherhood leaders or followers will be inclined in the future to follow the democratic path.
            What is overlooked in this type of analysis is the fact that, handed the reins of power via democratic electoral process, the Muslim Brotherhood very quickly showed their true anti-democratic nature. Ex-president Morsi’s government, by common consent, was a disaster – a crude grab for autocratic powers on his part, and an equally blatant attempt to impose an Islamist regime on a reluctant population, matched by economic incompetence and failure to deal with the very issues that brought them to power – calls for human rights and social justice.  It must be remembered that the trigger for the current debacle in Egypt was a massive upsurge of popular feeling against Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood.  In blunt terms, the Brotherhood had their chance, and they blew it.
            The Muslim Brotherhood was born in Egypt, founded in 1928 by Hassan al-Banna. In setting out the purpose and function of his new organisation, al-Banna declared quite simply: “It is the nature of Islam to dominate, not to be dominated, to impose its law on all nations and to extend its power to the entire planet.”     Seeking to bring about this Islamic aspiration through political means, the Muslim Brotherhood’s motto is: “Allah is our objective. The Prophet is our leader. The Koran is our law. Jihad is our way. And death for the sake of Allah is the highest of our ambitions.”
It is doubtless this last unappetising item on the Brotherhood’s menu that Egypt’s ambassador to the UK must have had in mind during his press conference.  He was also clearly aware of the extraordinary lack of concern shown by many leaders and much of the media in the West about the Muslim Brotherhood’s global intentions, for their activities extend well into Europe and the USA. The Western world seems to be sleep-walking towards, if not positively embracing, the elimination of its own cherished freedoms and way of life.  Egypt had a year’s taste of Muslim Brotherhood rule, and rejected it.  The only power able to redress the balance was the military, and it did so.
The result the revolutionary phase we are passing through has left popular opinion in a strange impasse.  Speaking for many, perhaps the majority, in the current turmoil, is Gamal Edin Mahmoud of the “Free People’s Movement”, his befuddled comments reported in the London Daily Telegraph:
“I am against the Brotherhood and the army,  But for today, after this violence, everyone should just be against the army.  For us the return of Morsi is not a priority.  Our goal is to topple the military’s rule.  They have controlled Egypt since 1952.  We didn’t finish our revolution, so the army stepped in. We will stay on the streets until the army leave.”
In short, in Shakepeare’s telling phrase: “A plague on both your houses.”
If the military live up to their promises, the restoration of civil order will be followed not only by new elections, but by the drafting of a new constitution for Egypt – a process which was hi-jacked by the Muslim Brotherhood regime, and was one of the major causes of popular discontent leading to its overthrow.  It seems pretty clear that the popular majority in Egypt  seek a genuine democratic future for their country.  Their first venture in that direction failed.  They have given themselves a second chance, and the hope must be that the military’s unjustifiable means can lead to the desirable end.

Published in the Jerusalem Post on-line, 18 August 2013:
 Published in the Eurasia Review, 19 August 2013:

Published in the Albany Tribune, 19 August 2013:


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