Egypt Heads from Bad to Worse

The Obama administration has grown more tolerant of the Egyptian military coup that ousted elected President Morsi and is now cracking down on his Muslim Brotherhood, repression favored by the Saudi-Israeli alliance, as Lawrence Davidson explains.

By Lawrence Davidson

This past week the confrontation between Egypt’s ruling regime and the country’s Muslim Brotherhood intensified. In an act that should make people familiar with this ongoing struggle shake their heads, the “military-backed government” in Cairo declared Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood a “terrorist organization.”

In case anyone is inclined to get the sides mixed up, it is the Muslim Brotherhood that is defending democracy in this confrontation, and the media’s use of the euphemism “military-backed government” is to be understood as whitewash for military dictatorship.

Egypt’s ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

Egypt’s ousted President Mohamed Morsi.

The truth is that the Muslim Brothers have behaved in a civil fashion. Indeed, they have shown great restraint in the face of the violent, sometimes terrorist-style provocations of the Egyptian military and police. Always advocating nonviolent demonstrations against the military coup that brought down Egypt’s first honestly elected government in modern times, the Brothers and their supporters have been met with murderous official violence that has killed, wounded and jailed thousands.

Thus, when the generals calls the Muslim Brotherhood “terrorist,” they are using an Orwellian propaganda ploy. As is so often the case, it is the dictatorship that practices terrorism and many of those who resist are destined to be its victims.

This doesn’t mean that there has not been violent resistance to the dictatorship. There have been steadily increasing instances of this, such as car-bombings of government buildings and attacks on police and military posts. The violent resistance started in the Sinai region of Egypt and has now spread across the Nile into the country’s heartland.

For instance, on Dec. 25, the police headquarters at Mansoura, a city northeast of Cairo, was destroyed and 15 people died. But it was not the Brotherhood that launched this or other attacks like it. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis (roughly translated as “Defenders of Holy Jerusalem”), a group unaffiliated with the Muslim Brothers, has taken responsibility. Still, the dictatorship in Cairo has taken advantage of the violence to attempt to destroy the Brotherhood. This is probably an impossible goal and its pursuit risks civil war.

It is interesting that Ansar Beit al-Maqdis’s violence has been described in the Western media as “extremist.” Violence can be considered extreme by definition and this group’s violence is spreading. Ansar Beit al-Maqdis has warned that police, soldiers and anyone else associated with the dictatorship is now a target.

On the other hand, rarely have the actions of what now passes for a government in Egypt been labeled “extremist” in the media, although the generals have repeatedly killed and maimed nonviolent protesters. In truth, it is the dictatorship itself which has set down the options for those who resist it: either give up entirely or pick up the gun.

This stands as a lesson in ends and means – the means employed by dictatorial regimes usually don’t allow for peaceful protest and thus in the end, the resistance is steered toward violence.

Abandoning the Democratic Road

There will be many who rationalize Egypt’s military dictatorship by pointing to the flaws in the deposed government of President Mohamed Morsi. Some will point out that, even though freely and fairly elected, the Morsi government was soon rejected by growing numbers of Egyptians. Thus, before the coup, there were large demonstrations against the elected government.

This is true, though the assertion that the protests represented a majority of the population is a politically motivated exaggeration. The problem with this rationale is that, unlike conditions under a dictatorship, there were democratic options open to those who disliked the elected government, such as the political protests.

Morsi opponents could have kept up the demand for broader input into government policy until the government compromised. Just before the coup, there were signs that this point was being reached. Or the opponents could have waited until the next election cycle to attempt to turn the Morsi government out. There is no evidence that Morsi would have prevented future free and fair elections. It is to be noted that one thing the elected government did not do was shoot down protesters in the streets.

It might be that, except for a relatively small youth movement, most of the anti-Morsi coalition was never seriously interested in democracy. From the start of the demonstrations against the elected government, there was little or no hesitation by this coalition to abandon democratic practices.

The regulations and procedures put in place by the prior dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak were repeatedly used to stymie Morsi’s administration. Prominent in the use of this tactic were the courts and judges appointed by Mubarak. It soon became apparent that the anti-Morsi coalition did not have the patience to follow a democratic/electoral route to settling the question of Egypt’s ultimate character. Theirs was an all-or-nothing attitude which quickly led them to call on the military to “save the nation.”

What was salvation to look like? One thing that is certain is that the Egyptian military lacks the skill to save, and indeed any interest in saving, Egyptian democracy.

What did this strategy get the anti-Morsi coalition? Did it get them a secular government that respects civil and human rights? Did it get them a government that can be trusted to hold free and fair elections? Certainly not, for the means they employed could not lead to such ends. It got them relief from the maybe of Sharia law in exchange for the certainty of a military coup and the violence through which all military dictators rule.

What do the military dictators of Egypt think their arbitrary and violent use of power will accomplish? Do they think that the country will return to the situation under Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak when authoritarian intimidation kept religious organizations under control and civil society quiet? Do they think that anyone will really be fooled by the rigged elections they are planning for 2014?

If so, they have failed to consider the possibility that the democratic election of Mohamed Morsi may well have changed the historical equation. In terms of history, what they should be referencing is not their own dictatorial past but the events of Algeria in the 1990s, where another military regime shut down the pro-Islamic results of a democratic election and triggered a decade of savage civil war. This is an end that is quite consistent with the means used by the Egyptian generals in 2013.

Evolving U.S. Response

The U.S. government had been a consistent backer of Egyptian dictatorships ever since Anwar Sadat made his historic peace with Israel in March 1979. From that time on the U.S. Treasury has been paying out at least $1.55 billion (the publicly used low figure) in mostly military aid to Egypt. That aid has helped sustain a corrupt Egyptian officer corps that now controls a good part of the Egyptian economy and has no one to fight except its own people.

In February 2011, a genuinely popular and mostly nonviolent revolt forced the collapse of the Mubarak dictatorship. This led to Egypt’s first internationally monitored, free and fair election. For a while it looked like the Egyptian military would be forced out of politics, and U.S. President Barack Obama seemed to accept this turn of events.

Even when the Egyptian generals returned to form and pulled off their coup in July 2013, the Obama administration reacted with displeasure and cut off some of the annual aid payments. The only ones in the Middle East who found this objectionable were other U.S.-supported dictatorships such as those in Saudi Arabia and the Gulf emirates.

However, now the U.S. government might be considering to once more support an Egyptian dictatorship. Suggestions that this might be the case came recently from Secretary of State John Kerry in a Nov. 20 speech to the State Department’s Overseas Security Advisory Council where Kerry showed an embarrassing lack of knowledge about the events that brought down the Mubarak dictatorship and a remarkably naive notion of what it takes to make and sustain a revolution.

Thus, Kerry said: “Those kids in Tahrir Square, they were not motivated by any religion or ideology. They were motivated by what they saw through this interconnected world, and they wanted a piece of the opportunity and a chance to get an education and have a job and have a future, and not have a corrupt government that deprived them of all of that and more. And they tweeted their ways and Facetimed [sic] their ways and talked to each other and that’s what drove that revolution. And then it got stolen by the one single most organized entity in the state, which was the Brotherhood.”

The fact that Kerry could make such a diagnosis to a group of allegedly knowledgeable security advisers is chilling.  Kerry is way off the mark and here is why:

— The very brave youths of Cairo and Alexandria who began the 2010-2011 protests against the Mubarak dictatorship laid the basis for the conditions that eventually brought down that regime. But they alone could not and did not achieve that goal.

— These youth were not devoid of either religion or ideology. Most were Muslims of varying degree of practice and almost all of them believed in a democratic ideology.

— Despite their use of social networking and other technologies, the youth groups were too small to make a revolution.

— The revolution became possible only when much greater numbers were introduced into the streets to transform the demonstrations from large to massive. The decision to bring out those numbers was taken by the Muslim Brotherhood, a group that is religious but was also willing to follow a democratic path.

— The Brotherhood could manage to bring out the large numbers not just because it was “the most organized entity in the state” but because for decades it has also been the most effective and popular social service organization in Egypt.

The truth then is that the Brotherhood did not “steal” the revolution, it made the revolution possible.

Today’s Egypt is a mess. It is an economic mess thanks to decades of military dictatorship, corruption and greed. It is a political mess for the same reason. Whatever faults might be laid at the feet of the elected Morsi government, none of them warranted a return to thuggish military rule — an action which, for all practical purposes, brought the ideals of the Arab Spring to a tragic end.

One can only hope that the U.S. government, rising above the historical ignorance of John Kerry and his speech writers, will hold to principle and have as little as possible to do with the regime in Cairo. It is a nasty regime, brutal to its own people, barbaric in its policy toward the imprisoned population of Gaza and, not surprisingly, in bed with the Zionists and autocratic Gulf monarchs.

As for Egypt’s democratic revolution that almost was, one can hope that it survives as a precedent for the future.

Lawrence Davidson is a history professor at West Chester University in Pennsylvania. He is the author of Foreign Policy Inc.: Privatizing America’s National Interest; America’s Palestine: Popular and Official Perceptions from Balfour to Israeli Statehood; and Islamic Fundamentalism.

5 comments for “Egypt Heads from Bad to Worse

  1. F. G. Sanford
    January 3, 2014 at 15:43

    Let’s pug it into a historical equation, and see how it solves out:

    Thus, Kerry might have said: “Those kids at Kent State, they were not motivated by any religion or ideology. They were motivated by what they saw through this interconnected world, and they wanted a piece of the opportunity and a chance to get an education and have a job and have a future, and not have a corrupt government that deprived them of an elected President, then took the country into an unnecessary and disastrous war that cost 58,000 American lives. And they sang songs, recited poetry, made speeches and gathered in demonstrations and talked to each other and that’s what drove the movement that ended the war. And then it got stolen by the one single most organized entity in the United States, which was the corrupt aristocracy and crony capitalism of the deep state.”

    The fact that Kerry could make such a diagnosis but doesn’t goes beyond hypocrisy. He, of all people, should know better. And we shouldn’t be so quick to forget where leaders such as Kerry, Clinton and others stood on the issues when they campaigned on one program, but delivered another. It should be painfully obvious that self-interest and not expedient rhetoric is the better indicator of political motivation and quality of character. Kerry certainly knows better. Where he goes belies the answers he gives, and those are…”blowin’ in the wind”.

  2. caracal
    January 3, 2014 at 15:06

    I have lived in Egypt and observed events for the last 20 years. I started to read the article with interest. However, when I reached the sentence that read “the MB has behaved in a “civil fashion” sorry, I wanted to throw up. With respect, I wonder from where you are getting you information.
    Have you any idea about the “peaceful” sit in at Rabaa – which housed large caches of weapons and armed militants and snipers (videos available on your tube). Are you aware of the massive campaign of church burning, kidnapping, rape and slaughter of Christians in Upper Egypt, all documented. Ongoing shooting and bombing of military and police targets? Morsi’s short lived regime had nothing whatsoever to do with democracy and everything to do with promoting the Brotherhood agenda of religious exclusive extremism and incitement of hatred against so called “unbeleivers” (i.e.anyone not Belonging to MB). Morsi “played the democratic card” (according to the plan) only to seize power, nothing more. Under Morsi Northern Sinai became a jihadi militant training ground and lawless region for weapons , drug and human traffiking between Libya, Gaza, Syria. I am not a particular supporter of the military, nor of Mubarak, but the Muslim Brotherhood were systematically dismantling the Egyptian state. They have no allegiance to Egypt but to an Islamic Ummah in the making, serving the agenda of those who wish to redraw the map of the Middle East. Enough said….anyone still curious should be able to join the dots, or research the origins of the MB in Western Intelligence.

    • Jennifer
      January 4, 2014 at 13:13

      Well said.

      After beginning to read this article, my first impulse was to laugh… then I got angry. I’m living here in Giza… have been for more than 4 years. The Muslim Brotherhood are peaceful, daytime, media whore protestors. But as soon as the sun goes down, immediately the gunfire begins as they set about attacking police stations, inciting riots with civilians and burning. Burning, burning, burning, it’s their signature.

      These people are VIOLENT…. where in the world did you get your stupid information????? I’m sick of the media portraying the Muslim Brotherhood as victims, they are just a disgusting gang of murderers and rapists.

      If the police were incapacitated in New York can you image what would happen with the gangs? OMG, they would run rampant… and the same is here at this moment. Exactly that, envision it.

      • Jennifer
        January 4, 2014 at 13:17

        The Muslim Brotherhood brought the ideals of the Arab Spring to a tragic end.

        They are users and manipulators.

        Just wondering… does the person that wrote this also work for Al Jazeera? Lol.

  3. uuta
    January 3, 2014 at 14:16

    You are right when you say that Egypt is a mess today (and today 3 Jan in particular).

    You are right that Kerry is an idiot who knows very little about the ME or the Muslim world. And he is just the fingernail of the idiot as it seems that every single blunder that the US has made with regard to the ME has its basis in one particular thing — The US forgets that there are other cultures on this planet and expects other countries to run like the US — and the US isn’t been run properly now.

    But you are so outrageously WRONG when you say that the MB behaves ‘a civil fashion.’

    What planet did you come from?

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