Egypt On The Brink Of A New Dark Age, As The Generals Close In
For The Kill
World View: Compromise is no longer feasible, and the army
controls the levers of power. But can its victory be conclusive?
By Patrick Cockburn
August 18, 2013 "Information
Clearing House - "The
All parties in Egypt have overplayed their hands in the two and
a half years since the fall of Hosni Mubarak in 2011. In the
first months it was the army high command deceiving itself into
believing it could marginalise those demanding radical
democratic change. Then it was President Mohamed Morsi and the
Muslim Brotherhood interpreting a narrow electoral victory as a
mandate to rule alone. With the overthrow of Morsi by the army
on 3 July and the massacre of Muslim Brotherhood followers on 14
August, the Egyptian army is gambling that it can win an
outright victory and crush the Brotherhood, eliminating it
permanently from Egyptian political life.
Too much blood has flowed for compromise to be feasible.
Plausible suggestions made in early August about how the crisis
might be brought under control now look out of date. Perhaps
such hopes were always delusory: the army was never going to
cede power back to Muslim Brotherhood leaders whom it had just
put in jail, and those leaders were not going to legitimise a
military coup against a legally elected government.
Just how far General Abdul-Fattah al-Sisi and the Egyptian army
and security forces deliberately planned a massacre in order to
rule out any future compromise is not clear. Probably the
generals were not worried if they provoked a bloody
confrontation. If ordinary peacetime politics are replaced by
battles in the streets, guerrilla warfare or even civil war,
then this merely reinforces the primacy of the armed forces and
police. This process is already underway. General Sisi's
civilian allies at the time of the 3 July coup are being
discarded, ignored or, like former head of the International
Atomic Energy Authority and Nobel Prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei,
have resigned in protest. With 10 retired generals and two
police commanders from the Mubarak era being appointed
provincial governors, Egypt is effectively under military rule.
Many predictions of the experts about the trajectory of Egyptian
politics since the start of 2011 have been falsified by events.
This is not entirely the experts' fault. I have always thought
that if I can forecast a military coup in Egypt or in any other
country then so can the head of the secret police and he will do
something to avert it (unless, of course, he is leading the coup
himself). As a result, history favours the unforeseen, and
appears more accidental than it really is.
There is a further reason why the predictions of experts are
frequently wrong. Their vision of the future is often determined
or over-influenced by the assumption that protagonists will act
in their own best interests. But again and again – be it Soviet
Communist Party officials in the 1980s, Saddam Hussein in
1990-91 or Egyptian leaders in 2011-13 – those in charge opt for
self-destructive moves with disastrous consequences for
themselves. Right up to the giant rallies in Egypt on 30 June
Morsi believed the mass petition against his rule was "absurd
and unconstitutional". He convinced himself, against compelling
evidence to the contrary, that the Egyptian armed forces had
accepted a subsidiary role so long as their interests were
protected. By policies of sustained ineptitude Morsi and the
Brotherhood forced together a strange and awkward alliance
against themselves of officials from Mubarak's police state, the
military establishment, anti-Mubarak leftists and liberals,
businessmen, Copts, intelligentsia and even Salafists.
Of course, this bizarre alliance could not last and no doubt
many members of it saw this clearly. It was reasonable enough
for the Copts to conclude that they were safer under a military
regime than they would be under Morsi and the Brotherhood.
Businessmen might yearn for stability and enormous subsidies –
$12bn from Saudi Arabia, UAE and Kuwait – under a post-Morsi
authoritarian government. As for those liberals, leftists and
intelligentsia who imagined that the army and security forces
were going to share power with others, it is worth recalling
Lenin's contemptuous dismissal of a suggestion that he share
power with political opponents. He said that the person who gave
the advice showed "a sweet naivety which would be touching in a
child but is repulsive in a person who has not yet been
certified as feeble-minded." GJJBJJJ
Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood are presumably not great
readers of Lenin, but if they had been, they would have had a
better idea of the realities of taking and holding power.
Instead, they took the contradictory position of seeking to make
revolutionary changes in who ruled Egypt, while at the same time
expecting their opponents to be restrained by the letter of the
law and a controversial constitution. The Brotherhood's rhetoric
was radical enough to frighten opponents without diminishing
their power to act. Its leaders now complain that it is unfair
to blame them for failing to tackle Egypt's appalling economic
and social problems such as mass poverty, unemployment and
inflation because the civil service was virtually on strike from
the moment Morsi became president. This is undoubtedly true but
the non-cooperation of the bureaucracy and the security services
should have been a hint to the Brotherhood of the real weakness
of their position.
The generals are now closing in for the kill in every sense of
the phrase. The Brotherhood are demonised as "terrorists" who
must be exterminated. Propaganda on state-run media is as
hate-filled and mendacious as anything on Baghdad television
during Saddam's bloody campaigns against Shia and Kurdish
insurgents. A few Brotherhood supporters may have guns but most
are demonstrably peaceful and unarmed, as is illustrated by the
casualty figures. Even so, as corpses accumulate in the mosques,
the Foreign Ministry spokesman Bader Abdel Atty claimed the
demonstrators "are raising al-Qa'ida flags in the heart of
Cairo. They are using machine guns against civilians."
In other words, there is going to be a fight to the finish with
both sides believing the other has bitten off more than it can
chew. The army and security forces control most of the
instruments of power and are very unlikely to lose, but can they
emerge as an outright and conclusive winner? For all their
expressions of dismay at last week's bloodbath, the US and the
EU states were so mute and mealy-mouthed about criticising the 3
July coup as to make clear that they prefer the military to the
Brotherhood. Given that 500 Egyptian military officers a year –
including General Sisi and the air force head General Reda
Mahmoud – train in the US they will be well-attuned to what
America wants or will accept.
Unsurprisingly, generals and security men prescribe military
solutions for political problems. And, if force at first fails,
they are likely to see this as a reason to use more force rather
than seek compromise. This is a lesson of the Turkish military
coup in 1980 in which hundreds of thousands were jailed and
tortured, and likewise of the Algerian military takeover in
1992, designed to avoid an election victory by an Islamic party.
Military dictatorships often succeed by their own lights, but at
horrendous cost to the societies they are supposedly trying to
protect. Egyptians will be lucky if they are not at the start of
a new dark age of military repression.
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