Events have been moving very fast in Egypt– and they continue to do so. Right about now, longtime ‘liberal’ icon Mohamed ElBaradei is being sworn in as PM of the new, coup-birthed order in Cairo. (Update: Or not… )
My instincts from the beginning were to be very wary of the ‘popular’ movement that started gathering in large numbers on Cairo’s streets last weekend. Yes, I knew that the youthful-idealist movement Tamarrod had gathered large numbers of signatures on their ‘Recall the president’ petition (though the real number of genuine, unique signatories will never be known.) Yes, I knew that the elected Muslim Brotherhood president, Mohamed Morsi, and his government had made many, very serious mis-steps throughout their 12 months in office. Several of my friends have expressed great public enthusiasm about the popular, anti-Morsi movement.
Still, there were always many indications that this ‘popular movement’ was not all it was pretending to be. There was evidence of it being connected to a deliberate, lengthy, and well-funded campaign of defamation against Morsi, as Issandr Amrani has well documented. There was evidence of significant funding for the ‘popular’ movement, whose bilingual laser lightshows, fireworks displays, etc.,took a page right out of the theatrics of the (also Saudi- and U.S.-backed) March 14 movement in Lebanon… And when, after the coup, the supply of gasoline and fuel oil suddenly resumed, it seemed very clear that the military-industrial complex in Egypt had previously been hoarding supplies to sow nationwide eco-social mayhem, in a page right out of the anti-Mossadegh coup of 1953.
I recall the discussion that Bill the spouse and I had with longtime MB spokesman Dr. Esam El-Erian in Cairo in June 2011, when he warned: “Without a change in the policies of Saudi Arabia, these current revolutions won’t succeed… In Egypt, Saudi Arabia is the main force of counter-revolution.”
Now, Borzou Daragahi and Heba Saleh have done a great job reconstructing some of the lead-up to the coup, in this article in the Financial Times.
One thing Daragahi and Saleh write is that as recently as May 11, army head General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi was denying that he or the rest of the army had any plans to topple Morsi. But D&S add that,
By many accounts, the military – long inclined to oppose the Brotherhood’s ideology and foreign agenda – hardened against Mr Morsi after he endorsed the dispatch of pious young Egyptians to Syria to join the jihad against Bashar al-Assad.
That happened at a rally on June 15– and is an explanation of the army’s action that was earlier published by Reuters (and was even picked up from Reuters on July 3 by Al-Ahram.) If this explanation has any truth to it, it is a fascinating turn of events; and I wonder what it may tell us about the attitudes of Prince Bandar, who is running most of Saudi Arabia’s regional policy these days, toward the various strands of the Syrian opposition… Of course, exporting one’s own takfiri hotheads to war-zones– as a way of getting them away from causing trouble at home– is something the Saudis have done a lot of over the past 30 years. But as they have also learned to their peril, it’s a policy that can frequently lead to dangerous blowback.
So if Sisi (who earlier in his career was Egypt’s military attache to Saudi Arabia) and his Saudi friends seem less inclined than Morsi was to throw Egypt’s weight behind the Syrian opposition and its hardest-line, takfiri components, that strikes me as good news, in general. However, his policies towards Gaza already look very harsh: closing Rafah, bulldozing tunnels– and even, according to Laila El-Haddad, closing Cairo airport to any transit by Palestinians seeking to travel in or out of Gaza.
The politics of most of the Mashreq is currently in a state of already damaging and potentially even more perilous turmoil. Old alliances and coalitions are shifting very swiftly. New cracks are evident even within long-established movements like the (regionwide) Muslim Brotherhood. That significant portion of Egyptian civil society that supports the MB faces the real prospect of a very harsh crackdown from the military, which has already started to make numerous politically inspired arrests. (I’ve been happy to see, though, that influential WaPo commentator Jackson Diehl, who used to assume that Islamists shouldn’t enjoy as many human rights as secular people, has now adopted a principled position of opposing the latest military coup in Egypt and its excesses.)
One strand of the story of what’s happening in today’s Middle East that still needs to be explored and described in much more detail is the influence of the often-clashing politics of Saudi Arabia and Qatar. That has clearly been evident in Egypt over the past few weeks, given that Qatar strongly supported the Morsi government while saudi Arabia has been opposing it. It has also been a factor (one among many) exacerbating the chronic and chaotic disarray in the Syrian opposition movement… And it was almost certainly a factor in the abrupt late-June turnover of rule in Qatar from the previous (U.S.-installed) ruler, Sheikh Hamad, to his 33-year-old son Sheikh Tamim, described in several places as pro-Saudi.
But while the princes of the Gulf fight their battles, the peoples of Palestine, Syria, and Egypt pay the price. It is a crazy and deeply bothersome situation that the princelings of the Gulf– propped up by their western bankrollers, armorers, and actually defenders– are so easily able to sow such havoc among the peoples of the ancient, substantial countries of Egypt, Syria, and Palestine.
And of course, meantime, the Israeli expansionists are sitting pretty, continuing their colonial takings of Jerusalem and the rest of the West Bank and their harsh, endless collective punishment of the entire population of Gaza, without ever being called to account…
I find the whole situation very tragic. But one of the most tragic aspects, for me, has been the naivete of so many otherwise smart people in Egypt who seem to have thought that by using the army there to oust the elected MB government, they could somehow end up with a better, more democratic and accountable political system. How could they have been so naive?