Egypt’s Descent into Despotism

Egypt’s brief experiment with democracy was crushed by internal and external forces alarmed by a populist Islamic government. With the backing of Israel, Saudi Arabia and others, a brutal military despotism took over and consolidated power, but it shouldn’t be called a government, says Lawrence Davidson.

By Lawrence Davidson

Military officers often take over countries, but only a fool would call the result a government. Governments do not have to be democratic, but they do have to be rule-based. The rules can come in the form of generic laws or customs, but in all cases they have to be promulgated, that is, be publicly set forth.

In addition, obedience to the rules has to rest on something more than fear. If whatever system is running the show is subject to the whim of an individual or group of individuals, or operates through rules known only to the police, or relies mostly on terror, it is not a true government. It is despotism of some sort. Most instances of military rule fit the description of despotism. Speaking of such regimes as governments is just so much nonsense.

Egyptian General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi as shown on official Egyptian TV around the time of the coup.

Egyptian General Abdul-Fattah el-Sisi as shown on official Egyptian TV around the time of the coup in 2013.

By the way, dictionary definitions of government are usually inadequate, restricting themselves to vague statements like “a particular system used to control a country.“ If the mafia took over Italy, would you understand their form of control as government? There has been progress over the years as to what really constitutes a government, and the rule of the condottieri no longer fits.

Historically the United States and the politicians who create its foreign policy do not bother with such distinctions. Often they seem to prefer despotisms. Be it for ideological or economic reasons, the U.S. has indulged in regime change for almost 200 years, and a good number of times the beneficiaries of such change are the local military bosses.

This history has had a cumulative effect on U.S. credibility: today, when Washington proclaims its mission is to bring democratic government to an otherwise benighted world, almost no one outside of the USA believes it. This is a fact never mentioned by the mainstream American media.

The Case of Egypt

An example of a current military despotism that has been, and is now again, the recipient of U.S. military largesse is the one in Egypt. The military has run things in Egypt since 1952, when a group of officers overthrew King Farouk and emasculated the Egyptian parliament. That situation lasted until 2011, when a popular revolt forced the resignation of Hosni Mubarak, an air force officer who had, for over 30 years, masqueraded as Egypt’s “fourth president.”

Mubarak’s fall was followed by a brief hiatus of democracy. During this time the Egyptian people actually engaged in a relatively free and fair election in which they selected a legitimate president in the person of Mohamed Morsi. The fact that Morsi was a religious Muslim did not make his election any less legitimate, though it did present those who did not vote for him with a choice:

Would they accept an elected government led by a devout Muslim, with the implied possibility of altering its orientation though future elections, or would they reject the electoral results and revert back to military despotism, with the explicit awareness that changing that form of rule would require another popular revolution? We now know that a good number of those who did not vote for Morsi chose to return to military control.

That sizable minority certainly has gotten what they wished for. Egypt is now back under the control of a military dictatorship, this time led by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a “field marshal” who became the “sixth president” of Egypt by pulling off a coup in 2013, followed by a rigged national election.

What have “President” el-Sisi and his lieutenants been busy doing since putting aside their uniforms for tailored suits? Here is a list of items based on recent news reports as well as anonymously released recordings, which (shades of Richard Nixon) the Egyptian strongmen were at once arrogant and stupid enough to make.

–They have been busy manipulating the Egyptian news media so as to construct a cult of personality in which el-Sisi is promoted as a heroic figure “carrying the responsibility of the country in an existential crisis.” The media have been instructed to describe el-Sisi as a “brave, special, free and patriotic Egyptian.” To criticize him is to “slander this beautiful thing we have found in our lives.” One can’t help wonder who dreamt up this terminology.

–They have been busy funneling money into special accounts controlled by the military. It is of particular interest that one of these accounts is named the “Tamarrod” account. Tamarrod was the name of a supposedly independent secular and “democratic” youth movement that was very active in calling for the removal of Mohamed Morsi. This raises the question of whether significant elements of Egypt’s so-called democratic movement opposing Morsi were no more than fronts funded and manipulated by the military.

–They have been busy manipulating the courts and legal system. This should come as no surprise, because at least since Mubarak’s time the Egyptian courts have been stacked with supporters of military rule. The elected Morsi government ran headlong into a so-called legal barrier when almost everything it attempted was overruled by a court system loyal to the deposed Mubarak dictatorship. Subsequently one of the charges being brought against Morsi by the restored military despotism is “insulting the judiciary.

–They have been busy destroying any person or group who would oppose them, including the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been declared “a terrorist organization.” For the Egyptian military to call the Muslim Brothers terrorists is like Israel calling the Palestinians terrorists. At the very least it is an example of projecting onto your foes tactics that you yourself practice.

The el-Sisi cabal has also imprisoned and tried Mr. Morsi on a long list of manufactured charges, some of which may result in his execution. Last but not least, members of the truly independent secular democratic movement have been harassed and imprisoned.

–And, of course, el-Sisi, this “beautiful thing” that has come into the lives of all Egyptians, has allied with Israel to oppose Palestinian resistance to occupation. As a result he and his cabal are now actively complicit in the ruination of every Palestinian trapped in Gaza.

There are many names you can give the present nature of rule in Egypt. You can call it a dictatorship, a despotism, a tyranny, a garrison state, unlimited rule, or even a reign of terror carried on by thugs in suits. All of these would be relatively accurate.

What you can’t call it is a government. To do so would slander the centuries-long struggle against all forms of despotism that have taken place both in the West and in the East. And, even more to the point, it would slander all those Egyptians who have, at great personal risk, stayed loyal to the goal of democracy for their country.

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.

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20 comments for “Egypt’s Descent into Despotism

  1. Deschutes
    May 31, 2015 at 8:52 am

    Thank you, thank you Lawrence Davidson for this most excellent article on Egypt that exposes how vile and revolting is the Israel/USA backed al-Sisi death squad dictatorship. Like the author says, regardless of your opinion of his being a Muslim, he was the winner in a free and fair election. To argue that ‘Morsi is a Muslim and from the Muslim Brotherhood therefore he can’t be president’ is belies a western, arrogant attitude that implies you’re OK with the al-Sisi coup because, erm….you want another US/Israel puppet to rule Egypt. As always, the US government was involved in the al-Sisi coup for sure: al-Sisi got all of his military training for many years in the United States military academy! He has been groomed for his new position by his American masters, this is the truth and it is disgusting. Notice how very quiet the Obama administration was during the coup. This is the US government’s main man in Egypt now: do you hear Obama or Kerry publicly denouncing the kangaroo courts, death sentences, disappearances of Egyptians under al-Sisi? Nope. They’re perfectly fine with it. What a bunch of fucking scumbags, too bad. I feel sorry for everyday Egyptians who’ve been really fucked over by Washington.

    • dahoit
      May 31, 2015 at 6:00 pm

      Yes,the Israelis were against any expression of real democracy in Egypt,and through there whores the US govt. and the MSM they’ve made the juntas atrocities non existent or at best muted,and have continually derided the Islamic religion as a basis for democracy.Evil scum.

  2. Bad Owen
    May 31, 2015 at 7:43 am

    This article strikes me as too much of a “Black-and-White” simplicity. I’ve read elsewhere that Muslim Brotherhood is far from wearing a “White hat”, and of course we all know it’s not the best of situations when Martial Law prevails…but the Egyptian Army perhaps does not deserve entirely, the “Black hat” either. I’ve read that the M.B. was a creation of British Intelligence back in the 1920’s, to be steered into a position of blocking any move towards sovereignty and development of Egypt that would perhaps influence the “Sykes-Picot”(ie. Anglo-French) Middle East in the same direction. Morsi was getting all worked up about “Holy War” against Assad’s Syria (former partner with Egypt in their “United Arab REPUBLIC” days), and ignoring the general welfare of his own people (perhaps falling in line with IMF/World Bank dictates for austerities). In other words, HE may be the stooge for the City-of-London/Wall Street Imperium. The Army intervened, re-aligned with BRICS, and is working to improve the general welfare of the people via development. The entire Middle East needs to get very serious about desalination to turn the Sahara into a Grassland and Forest area. That alone would defuse most of the warlike tendencies. So, to continue, is the Egyptian Army following the path of Hitler in pre-war Germany, or the path of Gen. MacArthur in post-war Japan? I’m not certain who gets the black hat and who gets the white hat. I’m not following Mr. Davidson to his final analysis…not yet anyway.

    • Deschutes
      May 31, 2015 at 8:38 am

      Your posting seems disingenuous and willfully ignorant of the thousands of peaceful demonstrators that al-Sisi had his military mow down–immediately after his orchestrated coup of Morsi. Have you read the news over the last year or so about Egypt? That there are kangaroo courts sentencing demonstrators to death, and following through and killing them? The killing and torturing of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood/anybody speaking against al-Sisi’s government via coup? Ridiculous for you to equate the absolutely murderous al-Sisi with Morsi: Morsi was democratically elected and did no harm to any citizens by comparison. Your comment is most ignorant.

      • Brad Owen
        May 31, 2015 at 8:49 am

        My statement is genuine. There are no lilly-white hats to be handed out here. I stand by what I’ve said. I have not the advantage of seeing how Morsi would have played out, but I don’t want a catastrophy to occur, just to prove my talking point.

        • Deschutes
          May 31, 2015 at 9:03 am

          ‘There are no lilly white hats’ to be handed out? What sheer stupidity: if you can’t tell the difference between government by Morsi vs. al-Sisi then it is obvious politics is not your calling as you don’t have a clue. Your imaginary fear of what Morsi might have done is given more weight than what Al-Sisi IS doing. But yes, you’re entitled to your ignorant position by all means :-D

          • Brad Owen
            May 31, 2015 at 9:56 am

            Well then, Mr. Deschutes, by all means draw your gun and start firing away at the “bad guys”. It must feel good to know that you have never been wrong, even once, in your life. Would that we all could have been blessed with such a high degree of innate wisdom. I however, have lived in a country (USA) that has continuously lied and misrepresented the World to me, and “reading the news” does more to mislead, than lead, to a truthful opinion; that’s the whole point of Mr. Parry’s work here. And there are other websites, too, digging out the truth (hopefully). And no, politics is not my calling. I’m just a private citizen of a (nominally, at least) Republic, trying to grope my way thru a deceitful, lying World, and I’ve had enough of “hot-heads” with urgently necessary opinions trying to push a particular point of view on me. So, please continue with the Last Word.

      • Brad Owen
        May 31, 2015 at 8:58 am

        Of course, there’s the problem of long familiarity with being in power, leading to corruption and “losing one’s way”, in the end just working to keep one”s self & partners in power. THAT could be the fate to befall the Army. I’m not so quick to hurl gigantic curses upon either party though. Sorry if you despise this frame-of-mind.

        • Joe Tedesky
          May 31, 2015 at 10:59 am

          Brad, you have a point as to knowing the players. I too fine it difficult to get a good grasp on the ever spinning groups in the Middle East. Your also right about being lied too so often. Plus, your opinion can only be based upon what you are to believe at the time.

        • Deschutes
          June 3, 2015 at 1:09 pm

          Reviewing your last two posts I notice your affinity for putting words in my mouth and totally mischaracterising my position. Simply put our differences are: you dislike the democratically elected Morsi of Muslim Brotherhood because of what you fear he might have done bad in the imagined future; I say he never really got a chance to do anything because he was forcibly removed by al-Sisi (with generous help from Israel, USA, and the Egyptian Mubarak legislature that sabotaged his every move). I call bullshit on that, you don’t. Another difference between us: I don’t like putches where a USA groomed despot, al-Sisi, forcibly removes the democratically elected Morsi, jails him–and when thousands of Egyptians take to the streets to demonstrate against this coup al-Sisi guns them down with snipers from the Egyptian military (who I might add you make fond remarks about: “working to improve the general welfare of the people”–would that be by killing hundreds of peaceful Egyptian demonstrators!?). Evidently for you, you don’t see any problem with that fact. I do. Dude I don’t despise you, I just think your analysis is wrongheaded and misguided. We agree to disagree.

  3. Vesuvius
    May 31, 2015 at 7:04 am

    Thank you, Professor Davidson, for another important article! Wonderful when somebody calls a spade a spade.

    Egyptian mafia’s betrayal of Palestinians: Could it be because Gaza years back was Egyptian territory?

    • Mark
      May 31, 2015 at 1:10 pm

      Previous events would point to the Egyptian betrayal of Palestinians as being required for Egypt to continue receiving the American bribe (or largesse if you prefer), on Israel’s behalf and in payment for Egyptian abandonment of the Palestinians and their legitimate grievances against Israel as well as Israel’s American enablers. Egypt likely ruled over all of Israel prior to the 70 year duration of Jewish reign that existed roughly 2000 years ago — so going by the Zionist rule of prior and ancient ownership, the Egyptians should have precedence over Israel to all the land Israel now claims…

  4. mark
    May 31, 2015 at 1:34 am

    What would you call a country such as the US where laws are publicly set forth and then ignored or selectively enforced by those who are supposed to uphold them – like in the case of Wall Street bankers who, after orchestrating the biggest global fraud in history, skate freely – continuing to make election campaign contributions as well as recently having one of the banks hire the attorney general (who’s without experience) for a $77 million a year job, plus bonuses, after he neglected to prosecute the guilty bankers?

    What would you call a country like the US where a small group made up their own rules as they went along, flagrantly violating the existing domestic and international laws to wage the 2003 Iraq war – which was a lopsided slaughter and not a true war, that violated laws further with the torturing of many innocent people as well as torturing some who were guilty of resisting the illegal invasion and ensuing occupation? And while many innocents were killed outright and some were tortured to death during all of this, the US ultimately takes no responsibility for these misdeeds with no prosecutions of anyone involved in the decision making process to mislead the country and the world into backing the illegal 2003 invasion and the torture; and in fact it seems like no meaningful opposition or threat to their power exists domestically or internationally as they’ve already gotten away with so much and the US continues to pile up domestic and international violations with similar actions concerning other countries.

    How is the Egyptian media promoting el-Sisi’s dictatorship and dictates, any different than the US media promoting the Bush-Cheney administration’s dictatorship through propaganda? To be sure, tactics including deceitful fear mongering to manipulatively dictate that the ignorant and uninformed US public would go along with the illegal invasions, tortures, extrajudicial killings and all ordered and committed by those guilty – with violations still ongoing and taking place in the Mideast and elsewhere today – as the Obama administration did effectively take over right where Bush and company left off.

    What is the difference between the way the US and Egypt are being run? The US uses more domestic propaganda which convinces the citizens to go along with things that work against their own best interests but both countries are run by a relatively small group of intellectually corrupted people in collusion with others (including some foreign interests). The major difference is the amount of geography they want to rule – the US group wants to rule the world, including having the choice to back and allow el-Sisi to remain in power in Egypt, I presume as long as he doesn’t make trouble for Israel by recognizing and aiding the Palestinian struggle for basic human and property rights as being legitimate. In the case of el-Sisi and those running Egypt – as he can’t run it alone – it seems they’ll be happy if left to run Egypt to their own liking (for now) with little or no concern for anything that goes on outside of Egypt.

    Nice and tidy, each content with the other for now. But what happens (as many Israelis believe it will) if Israel decides to grab that part of Egypt required to make Greater Israel a reality?

    • Joe Tedesky
      May 31, 2015 at 1:55 am

      Mark, think of this. The US Attorney General has a 24 year investigation against members of FIFA. Why now? It’s so bad, I think who did Denny Hastert upset? You right about how laws are in forced. You could be David Petraeus or Jeffery Alexander Sterling, comes to mine.

      • Mark
        May 31, 2015 at 9:26 am

        Out of all the Americans with firsthand knowledge of criminal government conspiracies, collusions and actions, the relatively few who’ve had the courage to come forward and stand up for equality towards liberty and justice for all as written and intended in US law, many have been persecuted and prosecuted for being true patriots to the laws and those principles derived therefrom. Government despots, through those prosecutions, have terrorized other would-be patriots effectively causing them to muzzle themselves with the selfish fear of losing what limited freedoms they still possess.

        We maybe should have a second Memorial Day in the US for all those true patriots dead and living, imprisoned and self-exiled, who courageously stood up for the inalienable rights of all humankind and have fallen as victims to those corrupt and unpatriotic US politicians (read traitors). The ceremonies could include Taps being bugled in symbolic lamentation for all the American courage now buried as a result of corporate fascism enabled by opportunistic neocon and neoliberal despotic tyranny as it presides over the American landscape and the world’s horizon after generations of Orwellian propaganda confused and beguiled the American people.

      • Joe Tedesky
        May 31, 2015 at 11:03 am

        “Enforced”

        It was late & I could use a class in spelling.

  5. Zachary Smith
    May 31, 2015 at 12:52 am

    Egypt is in bad shape, and the situation is going from bad to worse. Yes, Morsi was ‘elected’, but that didn’t make him any less a disaster for Egypt.

    Experts say population control, which was relatively successful during the 80s and 90s, started to fall off the agenda during the last years of Hosni Mubarak’s government – and was largely ignored in the chaos that followed his removal in 2011. And after Mohamed Morsi, a religious conservative, was elected in 2012, that negligence became official policy. His administration publicly declared that population control was not a government concern.

    Egyptian population explosion worsens social unrest

    Now to be fair, I doubt if the coup government is doing any better, for increasingly they don’t have the means, and the fundamentalists in Egypt might not stand for it in any event.

    A rising population combined with rising sea levels is a recipe for a disaster. And that won’t be very long coming.

    “In Egypt, an increase of 50cm, or almost 20 inches, in the sea level would cause millions of people to flee the Nile Delta, with security consequences for the entire region,” he explained.

    A 20 inch sea level rise will push the extra-salty Mediterranean water into the Delta and Nile valley where so many Egyptians live and where much of the food Egypt produces is grown – which already isn’t nearly enough.

    This is going to to be a near-term rather than a long-term event, and IMO it won’t much matter what kind of a government is in power.

    • Joe Tedesky
      May 31, 2015 at 1:26 am

      Zachary, what you reported proves once more, “all politics are local”. Besides what better way to address the crowd, than with Chaos. A good case of Chaos will thin the herd. Thanks for the population info, because I didn’t know that.

    • Peter Loeb
      June 1, 2015 at 6:58 am

      To Zachary Smith:

      WHOSE “DISASTER”?

      I don’t believe that Muhammed Morsi was perfect. However in
      any election, somebody loses and somebody wins. The viable
      democracy will survive when one’s own side does not win.

      In the case of Morsi, those who disagreed with him ran back
      to the military for the status quo. And that in itself was a
      disaster.

      It was a disaster for Israel and the US: Imagine having an “arab”
      running a state along its borders, especially an arab with
      some sympathy for Palestinians.

      Instead you favor rebuilding Egypt with US dollars in order to
      persecute Palestinians and other allegedly “subhuman” types, at
      least according to the Zionists who thank God are “democratic”
      and not at all ?”religious” or “conservative”.. And giving l.9
      BILLION dollars to Israel for its…”security” aka oppression and
      aggression and international lawlessness.

      —-Peter Loeb, Boston, MA USA

  6. Joe Tedesky
    May 31, 2015 at 12:21 am

    Mr. Davidson, your article here really is definitive. You provide a great panoramic view of Egypt’s situation. Here are a couple of things which applied to your break down I came up with…
    > US News – our corporate MSM
    > Special Money Interest – MIC, Wall Street Banks, US Aid, etc. (add your own)
    > US Supreme Court – 2000 Bush Election, Citizens United, etc. (again add what I didn’t )
    > Relating to Opposition- see MSM, IRS, Homeland Security, Local Police, (I’m tired, you finish)
    > Jail – Don Segelman, Jeffrey Alexander Sterling, Chelsea Manning, (you know the drill)
    > Allied to Israel – More like owned.
    Again I know that Egypt is in trouble, but it all makes sense when you think of it. I mean, our poor country has been hijacked by money interest. There is nothing wrong with money, as long as it contributes to the commons. Instead, we are all sacrificed for the very small few who don’t wish to share in order to build a quality society. No the emphasis is on how much more to draw down on the average wage earners worth. So Egypt’s 1% can now join the ranks of the very elite. The question Sissi should ask himself is what to do with Russia, China, India, & then what?

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