It takes a nation to protect the nation
by Mudar Zahran
February 9, 2011 at 4:45 am
The uniqueness of the current situation in Egypt is that no one saw it coming. For more than thirty years Mubarak's regime was portrayed by both friends and foes as stable and strong. The mercilessness with which the regime has been eliminating its opposition, the vast mineral and water resources, and the military might, have all contributed to Mubarak's image as an invincible dictator, yet a reliable ally for the US and the West.
While the West --particularly the US-- has always voiced concern over the regime's tactics and lack of democracy, it has always dealt with it as: "Better the devil you know," and has therefore had little interest in supporting any of Mubarak's opponents.
The current situation has proven this approach above to have been short-sighted. None of so-called experts on the Middle East was able to imagine the Egyptian regime would become so vulnerable to a public uprising. The same shock occurred earlier in Tunisia, where the deposed president, Ben Ali, although more liberal than Mubarak, was ruling his people with an iron fist, as well as "zero tolerance" to opposition.
Today, Obama's administration stands puzzled, reluctant, and much confused about the situation in Egypt. Obama and his advisors know very well that it is not a good idea to bet on a dictatorship once it starts falling; even the USSR could not afford to support the Romanian president, Nicolae Ceausescu, when his people took to the streets against him.
Tolerance of change in Egypt, however, raises serious risks, Carter's tolerance of change in Iran in 1978 brought into existence one of the most rogue states in modern history: a fundamentalist Shiite Islamic "Republic" that is a threat to the US, its allies in the Gulf states, particularly Saudi Arabia, as well as Israel and large swaths of Eastern Europe. As the Muslim Brotherhood is allegedly one of the strongest, most publicly accepted, and best organized forces of opposition; there are serious concerns that the same scenario as Iran might take place in Egypt.
The most vocal and active opposition factions over the last ten years, however, have been non-Islamists. The strongest and most vocal opposition group was Kifayah ["Enough!" in Arabic]. Kifayah is made up of secular and leftists political activists, and has both the Christian cross and the Muslim crescent on its logo. Kifayah's spokesperson in the field with protestors is an Egyptian Christian, George Ishak. The Muslim Brotherhood, outlawed in Egypt, has taken refuge in silence over the past five years especially when it was able to secure a substantial number of seats in the Egyptian parliament.
The Muslim Brotherhood's apparent co-existence with Arab regimes in exchange for some legislative or executive power is nothing new. In Jordan, the Brotherhood traded its support of the Jordanian regime for parliamentary seats and government positions, similarly to Hizballah in Lebanon. Such pragmatism by the Muslim Brotherhood proved more solid than ever when the King of Jordan met with the Brotherhood leaders recently, and even discussed "means of bringing reform through partnership." The King could not be bothered to meet with true non-Islamic opposition leaders: they are less tolerant of the state than the Brotherhood.
Over the last decade, the Muslim Brotherhood has been openly seeking power rather than putting up fights with Arab governments. How would they act if they take over Egypt? Read what they write.
The US has been tolerating dictatorships in the Middle East region for decades, all in the name of "It's the only game in town; there are no other ruling regimes to talk to," and, "If the dictators go away, Islamists will replace them."
We all know that US alliances with dictators have proven fragile, dangerous, and have led the citizens of those countries to hate the US for supporting their oppressors. In addition, the dictators who rule Arab countries spare no efforts in demonizing the US and its allies via their loud, well-financed media, in which they blame the ills of their rule on the US imperialism and "evil Zionists." While Mubarak's regime exhibited no tolerance of criticism made to him or his associates by the media, in 2001, he allowed a TV series entitled A Horseman without a Horse, based on a fraudulent book, The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which incorrectly claims that Jews are planning to dominate the world. Mubarak's Embassy officials in the US then told the press that the program was being aired in the name of "Freedom of speech." Freedom of speech, really? One-sided speech is not free speech.
Aside from Arab dictators' efforts to direct their people's hatred towards the US and others in the West, the Arab people -- through Facebook and Twitter -- now realize that probably their dictators would not exist were it not for US support and generous financing. In its most recent report, Human Rights Watch describes Jordanian atrocities against its citizens, including the deprivation of citizenship to thousands of its Palestinian majority. In the same report, Human Rights Watch notes that the United States had a five-year agreement with Jordan to provide it with up to $1 billion annually in aid, in addition to an EU commitment to an annual $310 million aid package. Mubarak's share of US aid money was almost triple that of Jordan's. Such generous aid to an oppressive dictatorship, on which very little goes to the needy people of Jordan, gives them reason to think the US is actually supporting the regime against them, and that therefore the US is the problem, and not their dictator.
The US might like to see pro-Western, democratic Arab governments, and help to direct their efforts to isolate and eliminate radical Islamists; after all a deprived and oppressed people might readily subscribe to radicalism. When, for example the Palestinians were under Israeli rule before 1993, their political tendencies were anti-Israeli, yet not pro-Islamist The Palestinians then were enjoying the fruits of the thriving Israeli economy, and even delighted Israel's freedom of speech. When the Palestinian Authority came into existence, however, bringing with it corruption, poverty, and jailing people who spoke against it, these Palestinians turned toward Islamism and support for Hamas.
The best way to counter Islamic radicalism in the Middle East would be to give the people there democratic institutions -- rule of law, equal justice under law, free speech and property rights, and so forth - and acceptable living conditions: improvements which can never occur under the current regimes. The demands voiced by protesters in Tunisia, Cairo, Amman and Yemen are all, in concept, reasonable and righteous..
While the generous US taxpayers' aid money given to Arab governments ends up financing the dictators' lavish living, this money could work wonders if channeled to the people through establishing more of these democratic institutions of government; they would also defuse the Islamists' notion that "It is all because of the absence of Sharia law" simply by demonstrating that it is "lack of democracy" that is actually causing the people's misery. The challenge would be in nursing the fledgling democracies not to have them hijacked by radicals they way Lenin hijacked the Russian Revolution from Trotsky and Kerensky. Well-funded, highly-motivated buzzards are waiting in the trees
Move along. Nothing to see here. More of Roald Dahl's Tales of the Pretty Much What we Expected. Obviously, we can imagine the Parliament creating a film fund to promote christian/muslim integration, and to highlight the huge number of "honour killings" and the mutilation of young girls.
The election of pharmacology professor Ahmed Fahmy as speaker of the Shura Council came during the chamber’s inaugural session. Saad el-Katatni, like Fahmy a member of the Freedom and Justice Party, was elected speaker of the more powerful lower house, or People’s Assembly, on Jan. 23.
The Muslim Brotherhood is Egypt’s oldest and most powerful Islamic organization. Its Freedom and Justice Party members hold just under half of all seats in the 508-seat lower house and 106 of the Shura Council’s 180 elected seats. An additional 90 lawmakers are due to be appointed by the ruling generals who took over power when Egypt’s longtime authoritarian president Hosni Mubarak was ousted after a popular uprising a year ago.
The generals are expected to leave the appointments to the nation’s next president, due to be elected before the end of June. Then the generals say they will hand over power to a civilian government.
Ultra-conservative Islamists known as Salafis made strong showings in elections for both chambers, finishing second behind the Freedom and Justice Party and giving parliament a distinct Islamic character. The two houses are due to hold a joint session later this week to select a 100-member panel to draft a new constitution, the main role of the chambers, chosen in Egypt’s first free elections in decades.
Liberal and secular activists who spearheaded the mass demonstrations that toppled Mubarak last February fared poorly in the election for the Shura Council, repeating their failure in voting for the People’s Assembly.
As was the case when the People’s Assembly held its first session, Salafi members of the Shura Council improvised when taking their oath of office on Tuesday. The oath ends with a pledge to respect the constitution and the law, but several of them added “God’s law” or said “as long as there are no contradictions with God’s law.”
Egypt’s military ruler, Hussein Tantawi, sent the Shura Council a message, blaming outside forces for Egypt’s continuing turmoil.
Tantawi, who was Mubarak’s defense minister for 20 years, spoke in the message of “attempts to sow sedition among the people” to distract the armed forces from what he called the restoration of state institutions.
Tantawi, as in previous public statements, did not say who was trying to drive a wedge between Egyptians nor elaborate on their motives.
Tantawi and the generals on the ruling military council have been accused of killing protesters, torturing detainees and putting at least 10,000 civilians on trial before military tribunals. They also are accused of bungling the transition and failing to revive the economy or restore security over the past year.
Fahmy read the message to the chamber, then heaped praise on the military, repeating the generals’ line that the military sided with last year’s popular revolution against Mubarak’s regime and has since served as a “sword and shield to protect and defend the nation.”
Fahmy’s comments appeared to give credence to growing suspicions that the Brotherhood and the generals have reached an understanding designed in part to isolate the youths and liberals behind Mubarak’s ouster. They have been campaigning for an end to military rule.
The generals are hoping that the Islamists will provide them with immunity against prosecution for any crimes committed during their rule. They also want protection from civilian oversight for their vast economic empire.
Those of us who saw the Pew survey on attitudes of muslims in Egypt, published a few months before the "Arab Spring" took off, were predicting the outcome of the Egyptian elections accurately (almost a 1:1 mapping with the Pew survey).
Meanwhile, from political journalists, to left-wing idealogues, to starry-eyed utopians, right up to Hussein Obama, people were saying that it was a new dawn for liberal democracy in Egypt. How wrong they were.
This article dissects the means by which islam took over the politics of Egypt. The lessons to draw from it: don't underestimate the enemy. Mind you, I can't believe it needs spelling out that a salafist party would not make use of the mosque command-and-control-centres in order to assert themselves in the election. Only an idiot who thought those places were just full of prayer mats would not know that. I've highlighted the section that would appear to apply as much to Bradford as to Cairo.
Rather charmingly, the author of this piece thinks there will a "next time...."
When asked on January 30, 2011, about the Muslim Brotherhood’s role in post–Arab Spring Egypt, the man seen by the media as a leading figure in the uprising, Mohamed ElBaradei, brushed aside Western fears: “They are not a majority of the Egyptian people. They will not be more than maybe twenty percent of the Egyptian people.” For ElBaradei, Western fears of the Islamists dominating the Egyptian future were “a myth that was sold by the Mubarak regime.” Nor was the former IAEA chief and Egyptian presidential hopeful alone in his insistence that the Muslim Brotherhood was only a harmless minority. President Obama agreed: “I think they’re one faction in Egypt. They don’t have majority support in Egypt.”
The nearly unanimous consensus among both the Egyptian political class and the Washington experts was that the Islamists were only a scarecrow used by Mubarak to frighten the West. The Muslim Brotherhood, according to this view, counted no more than one hundred thousand adherents out of a population of more than eighty million. And its failure to support the initial uprising in Cairo on January 25th made the group marginal to the current Arab revolt. Early warnings of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover of Egypt were dubbed “hysteria.” Yes, the Islamists were in the background of Tahrir Square, but they were weaker than people assumed. This was a liberal revolution led by tech-savvy youth, and the future of Egypt was a bright one.
Ten months later, after Islamists won seventy-two percent of the seats in the Egyptian Parliament, that optimistic avoidance of reality seems hard to fathom. Those who had been blithely confident of the future admitted that they never expected this result. Some professed never to have heard of the Salafists, although the party won more than a quarter of the votes. Shock and surprise, both in Cairo and Washington, soon gave way to a desperate effort to explain why the Islamists won and why the consequences of their victory might not be as disastrous as it seemed. Unfortunately, the explanations offered have created less rather than more clarity about the present situation in Egypt.
In the aftermath of the first round of voting, some immediately argued that the Islamist victory had been heavily financed by both Qatar and Saudi Arabia. Egyptian non-Islamists, fond of blaming everyone but themselves for their failures, were the main propagators of this argument. The fact that Egypt’s richest man stood behind the main non-Islamist party, and spent millions backing it, was irrelevant to them.
News stories have been published with claims that donations from the Gulf were sent to organizations devoted to Islamic teaching and preaching, and accusations have been made that some of this money might have been used in political campaigns. But while spending on Islamic teaching in general may create a favorable personality for Islamist parties, in fact, there has been no serious evidence that Gulf money flowed heavily into the Islamists’ political campaign.
Another explanation was a complaint in disguise: that elections were held too soon. Because the Islamists were better organized, a short time line was in their favor. Some argued that the Muslim Brotherhood, which has been around for more than eight decades, was better positioned than the newly established parties to compete, with its extensive organization unrivaled in its efficiency. In fact, while the MB has a long history, this vaunted organization is quite new, having been reestablished from scratch in the 1970s. Furthermore, the Salafists, who were the Brotherhood’s main competitor, are as new to the political scene as the non-Islamist “democrats.” If superior organization explains the MB’s thirty-six percent share of the vote, what explains the twenty-seven percent won by the Salafists’ al-Nour party? Not only is the party new, but it does not even have a unified structure.
There were also conspiracy theories proposed mainly by some Egyptian non-Islamists, who, unable to justify their failure, resorted to accusations of election fraud. Tied to this argument was the insistence that the military was secretly backing the Islamists. (Some of these conspiracy theorists accused the ruling military council of backing the group to scare the West; others accused it of rigging the elections in favor of the Salafists to weaken the Brotherhood.) But while the elections were chaotic and disorganized, no convincing evidence was ever adduced to prove that this hectic electoral atmosphere favored one particular party over the others. Forged ballots in favor of the Salafists were discovered in a polling station, but so were others found in favor of the MB, the Wafd, the Egyptian Bloc, and numerous former National Democratic Party candidates.
Next was the argument of illiteracy. Egyptians, it was claimed by the non-Islamist elite, are ignorant and illiterate people who were led like sheep by the Islamists. But this elite has always bemoaned its fate of having to live in the same country as those ignorant Egyptians. And the elitism of this elite reflects poorly on their idea of democracy. (Edmund Burke famously reflected on their equivalent during the time of the French Revolution: “You will smile here at the consistency of those democratists who, when they are not on their guard, treat the humbler part of the community with the greatest contempt, whilst, at the same time, they pretend to make them the depositories of all power.”) If it was illiterate Egyptians who carried the day for the Islamists, how to understand the fact that the Islamists won every district in the country, including cosmopolitan Cairo?
The final explanation offered by the Egyptian non-Islamists for their failure was that their votes had been spread among several competing parties. But Egypt’s electoral system actually benefits smaller parties. Had the non-Islamists gathered in one unified list, they would have gained fewer seats than they did. Furthermore, whatever their own results, this amalgamation would not have affected the Islamists’ percentage.
These explanations and rationalizations have little to do with the real reasons for the Islamists’ victory. One of the most important of these reasons is the mundane fact of the electoral system under which the vote took place. Under Hosni Mubarak, Egypt was divided into two hundred and twenty-two electoral districts, each electing two candidates. It was a system that favored local families in small districts who were the backbone of the authoritarian National Democratic Party (originally founded by Anwar el-Sadat and since then wielding uncontested power in state elections). As a nonideological party, the NDP simply supported local candidates with a strong patron-client relationship in the various districts as their members. Even when the party’s official candidate lost a seat, this outcome simply opened the door for the winners to join.
It was the non-Islamists who insisted on changing the electoral system. Obsessed with what they termed “the remnants of the regime,” they sought a new system, based on party lists, to kill the chances of continued domination by the local families. In the end, the ruling military council, attempting to appease everyone, chose a mixed system whereby two-thirds of the seats are chosen through party lists and one-third in individual districts. This meant that roughly three former districts were now combined into one, diluting the influence of local families, who were now forced to compete against each other outside their strongholds. With nothing in common, and realizing that only the top names of a party list would actually win, they could not agree on a unified list. The result was that some local families decided not to compete this time around, while others battled against each other, with the Islamists reaping the fruits of the disarray.
The electoral system chosen also gave a clear advantage to the smaller rural governates at the expense of Cairo. Since the system required two candidates in each individual-seat district and double that number in each party-list district, the governates were allocated seats in multiples of six. This meant that the smallest governate received six seats. A governate like Matruh, which demographically should have received two seats, got six. A governate like Fayyoum was allocated eighteen seats instead of fourteen, while Bani Suef got eighteen instead of fifteen. All of this came at the expense of the urban centers, especially greater Cairo, which was allocated forty-one fewer seats than it should have had according to population. In total, the urban centers were deprived of fifty-eight seats.
A final significant aspect of the new system is that it required Egyptians to vote for two individual candidates as well as a party list. It is important to notice the gap between the number of votes received by the Islamists on the party lists and the votes their individual candidates received. Those who voted for the Islamists on the individual seats are their actual supporters. Outside of the cities, most Egyptian voters were going out to vote for a local candidate that they knew and that had provided services to them. Being forced to choose a party list alongside their local candidate, they chose the Islamists. Had the elections been held according to the old electoral system with small districts, the local families would have checked the power of the Islamists.
The quality of the candidates they offered also helped the Islamists. The Muslim Brotherhood offered its most powerful candidates on the individual seats. It also put a leading MB figure on top of every party list. The rest of each list was composed of relative unknowns. Their calculation proved correct: Reserve your strong candidates, who have local support, in the districts for the individual seats where name recognition and services matter and strengthen the appeal of your list with famous figures. The results of this strategy were spectacular. Out of a total of one hundred and sixty-six individual seats, the MB won one hundred and eight and the Salafists thirty-three. The non-Islamists won only eleven of these seats, with the remaining fourteen going to former NDP members. The Salafists’ weak performance in the individual seats, compared to the party lists, reflects the reality of their strength. While they have a mass appeal among voters, they are incapable of operating in small districts where local grassroots work of “retail politics” is required.
The Salafists’ overall performance deserves a special look. Lacking a central party command, their electoral strength depended on two key components: Salafi organizations and sheikhs. The two major Salafi organizations are el-Gameya al-Sharia and Gameyet Ansar al-Sunna. The first was established by Sheikh Mahmoud el-Sobky in 1912, while the second was established by Sheikh Mohamed Hamed el-Fiky in 1926. Both organizations have thousands of offices around Egypt and control thousands of mosques. They have been spreading Salafi ideas and practices since the 1920s. The ultraconservative Islamist al-Nour party tapped into those two existing organizations, choosing many of its candidates from among their local branches. Besides the grassroots base, the performance of the Salafists in the different governates reflected whether a leading Salafi sheikh lives in that area. Kafr el-Sheikh and Behira, for example, were two governates where the Salafists got the most support in the list voting and defeated the Brotherhood due to the following Sheikh Abu Ishaq el-Howeini has there. The same goes for Alexandria, where their victory is due to the influence and following of the Salafist school of Alexandria founded by Sheikh Mohamed Ismail el-Mokadem. This explains why in a governate like Monofia, which should have been an ideal place for the Salafists, they won only nineteen percent of the vote. With no Salafi sheikh residing there, they could not build the level of support they had in neighboring Delta governates.
Those parties competing against the Islamists were neither secular nor liberal. (Trotskyites and Arab nationalists, after all, can hardly be described as liberal; neither are Copts necessarily secular.) Those different groups and parties, an amalgam of Christians, the business-oriented middle class, socialists, human rights activists, leftists, and Arab nationalists, had nothing in common except their hatred and fear of the Islamists. Having no common ideology, they lacked the ability to offer the Egyptian people any clear alternative to the Islamists.
A look at the main non-Islamist list shows the consequences of the lack of an ideological common ground. The Egyptian Bloc is made up of three parties, one supposedly right-of-center, one left-of-center party, and one explicitly socialist. Outside of its anti-Islamism, the Bloc was incapable of offering any coherent program, particularly a coherent economic program. Instead of forcing the Islamists to compete on economic grounds, therefore, where they could be defeated, they played into the Islamists’ hands and made this a battle of identity—whether the state would be Islamic or a “civil” one, in the non-Islamists’ phrase. “Civil state” was, of course, a meaningless term, but the non-Islamists were too scared to use the word “secular.” Notwithstanding their attempt to camouflage their views, the choice given to the voters was between those who are for religion and those who are against it. To further complicate the matter, the non-Islamist argument for a civil state was shallow, focusing on such trivial matters as the Islamist threat to bikinis and alcohol. This allowed the Islamists to brand the non-Islamists as nothing more than sluts and drunks. When videos of the key figure behind the Egyptian Bloc emerged in which he expressed his fears for his wife’s ability to wear short clothes in an Islamist Egypt, the branding was complete.
Behind such poor judgment was a deeper failure to take Islamism seriously. The non-Islamists viewed the Islamists as clowns. Since the Islamist argument did not make sense to them, they assumed it wouldn’t make sense to the average Egyptian either. For them, Salafi preachers were nothing more than crazy people still living in the sixth century, whose videos they passed around with sarcastic commentary. What they ignored was that Islamism offers a coherent worldview presenting its followers an explanation of the past, present, and future—and of the world itself. Islamism encompasses a moral structure that is the only available one for Egyptians. When an individual in Egypt might not be particularly religious, there is no alternative ethical compass to guide one’s life other than Islamism. (The failure of a natural rights argument to emerge within the realm of Islam after the demise of the Mu’tazilah in the tenth century factors heavily in this predicament.)
The non-Islamists’ electoral campaign was also chaotic and disorganized. While the Islamists announced their candidates’ names early and reached out to voters well before the elections, non-Islamist voters were still trying to discover who the Egyptian Bloc’s candidates for the individual seats were the day before the election. Outside of the Coptic Church’s efforts, no voter mobilization campaigns were conducted. Non-Islamist parties did not bother with the groundwork of gathering information and data on the districts, their voters, and their specific issues and problems. The general assumption seemed to be that you can win an election campaign by bombarding television audiences with ads. Furthermore, the quality of the candidates chosen was weak. Candidates who had little support in their districts were put at the top of the lists there solely due to their connections inside the party leadership. Few efforts were carried out to recruit strong local candidates who might have broadened the non-Islamists’ appeal, out of fear that such people might be viewed as “remnants of the regime.”
Finally, the non-Islamists allowed themselves to be drawn into the saga of the never-ending revolution. A fight near Tahrir between the police and football Ultras led the candidates to put their campaigns on hold to join the battle. Non-Islamist politicians and parties were forced to follow the mob’s mood no matter how irrational or self-destructive it was. Instead of offering leadership to “the street,” they chased its whims, leaving the Islamists as the only rational actor in the eyes of voters who were fed up with the idea of permanent revolution and anxious for functioning government.
The Islamist tsunami that washed over the Egyptian elections was overwhelming. But the mistakes the non-Islamists made can certainly be avoided in the future. Better candidates can be chosen, election campaigns can be conducted more efficiently, and the electoral system can be changed. But unless two interlinked problems are adequately addressed, the Islamists will repeat their success in any future elections. The first is the non-Islamists’ failure to form clear platforms and programs; the second is their failure to provide a political, economic, and moral alternative to Islamism. You can’t, after all, defeat something with nothing.
Here we are a couple of years on from the original protests, and still more protests. Estimates for the day put about 150 dead. There's also news that many churches have been burnt down as well. Nothing like taking a shot at the copts whenever you get a chance.
I was wondering how long this could go on before the west demands that the brotherhood be put back in power so they can kill a few of the opposition and burn a few churches down just to even things up.
If the Brotherhood gets back into a position of power anytime soon, I wouldn't want to be a member of the armed forces, so unless there's an uprising in the ranks of the Army, I think for the time being the military are going to have to take charge and attempt to install an intrim government that is anti-morsi, and hopefully anti-brotherhood. Although I thought he (morsi) had installed Generals sympathetic to the brotherhood. Just shows you can't trust anyone.
If the Brotherhood gets back into a position of power anytime soon, I wouldn't want to be a member of the armed forces
Exactly. Just look at what the Islamo-fascists have done to the Turkish army.