by Ayman Ahmed (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 41, No. 5, Sha'ban, 1433)
The euphoria that greeted the official announcement confirming victory of Dr. Mohamed al-Mursi of Hizb al-Hurriyah wa-al-‘Adalah (the Freedom and Justice Party) in the run-off presidential election of June 16 and 17 may prove short-lived.
True, Dr. Mursi’s address to the Egyptian people after the June 24 announcement was broadcast on Nile Television — a first for a leader of the Ikhwan al-Muslimeen in Egypt’s history — but it merely reflected the changed reality, and it would be unrealistic to expect that major changes are on the way.
Dr. Mursi promised to be the president of all Egyptians. That is how it should be. Islam is inclusive, not exclusive, notwithstanding the ludicrous assertions of self-proclaimed Western experts — in the media and elsewhere — about how the rights of minorities and women would be curtailed. The same “experts” never bothered to highlight the brutality inflicted on the overwhelming majority of people in Egypt — men and women — during the long dark years of military dictatorships. Nor are they bothered about the curtailment of women’s rights in their favourite client regime in Saudi Arabia where women are not even allowed to drive cars. Yet dark warnings have already been given about how the clock would be turned back in Egypt.
After delaying declaring the election result for three days, Egypt’s “Supreme” Presidential Election Commission announced that Dr. Mursi had won more than 13.5 million votes (51.73%), beating former Prime Minister Ahmed Shafiq. Farouk Sultan, a military man appointed judge of the Election Commission by Hosni Mubarak, said the announcement was delayed because the commission had to deal with 466 complaints from both candidates. These, however, did not affect the final outcome, he said. The massive crowds camped in Cairo’s Tahrir Square since June 19, erupted in jubilation when the result was announced. There were chants of Allahu Akbar and shouts of thawrah, thawrah hata al-nasr (revolution, revolution, until victory!). They also continued with the demand that the elected parliament dismissed by the military on June 14 must be restored and the military relinquish power immediately. These demands are unlikely to be met but they show the pitfalls of operating within the existing, alien imposed system where decision-making is in the hands of unelected officials and generals despite people having given their verdict.
Informed observers felt the delay in announcing the election result had more to do with the military’s attempts to wring more concessions and grab even greater powers than it already has. There appeared to be ample reasons to fear collusion between the ruling “Supreme” Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), and the “Supreme” Presidential Elections Commission dominated by former military officers. Egypt’s deep state may have had to concede the presidential post but it would be unrealistic to expect that the new president will have a free hand to rule the country even if he is not in prison, as he was when the uprising was in full swing last year.
Dr. Mursi’s rival, ex-general Shafiq, should have been barred from the contest because of his close association with Mubarak, who was sentenced to life imprisonment last month. The newly elected parliament passed a bill in April barring him and others of his ilk but the Election Commission that has final say in these matters and its rulings cannot be appealed, allowed him to participate in the race. Mubarak, meanwhile, has reportedly been in and out of coma (sharing the same fate as his Israeli buddy, Ariel Sharon) after he was sent to prison. He was moved to a hospital amid reports that he was close to death. At the time of filing this report (June 25), he was still around, even if not exactly kicking. If Mubarak were Oscar Wilde, he would surely have declared that reports of his death are grossly exaggerated. But Mubarak, as we know, is no Oscar Wilde. In any case, the death rumours were meant to garner sympathy for the old crocodile.
His ghost, however, continues to dominate the political scene in the likes of Field Marshal Muhamed Hussein Tantawi through the military council he heads, and the numerous judges ensconced in courts, and the governors of various provinces. How many armies does the “Field Marshal” command and what great feats of military daring have they achieved? Even if Mubarak dies, Egyptians will not be able to get rid of his legacy. His dark shadow hangs over them like a curse, not least in the system that is fully in control of all state affairs and departments. In a sense, Mubarak continues to rule from his deathbed without having to issue direct orders.
The challenges facing Dr. Mursi and the political party from which he emerged, Ikhwan al-Muslimeen, that has suffered grievously at the hands of successive regimes, are enormous and will not be easy to overcome. The immediate crisis to be dealt with is that Dr. Mursi will not take the oath of office before the Election Commission. He insists he will take his oath before the elected parliament that the military has dismissed. If the parliament is not restored — and there is no indication the military is about to oblige — what will Dr. Mursi do? Was this scenario deliberately engineered by the military to embarrass him and by extension, the Ikhwan? How this impasse will be overcome is uncertain.
Beyond the oath-taking controversy are three major problems facing Egyptians that Dr. Mursi will have to address: social, economic and security concerns. After 17 months of political turmoil, the economy has been badly affected. Prices of food items have escalated and tourism, one of the main sources of revenue, has virtually dried up. The drawn out political contest was also meant to sharpen social divisions in society. That is exactly what has happened and since the levers of power are still in the hands of the old guard, the new president will face serious challenges putting out brush fires lit by them. Lack of security is another problem. The police and other security agencies are deliberately making life difficult for ordinary people. Instead of apprehending criminals, they have joined them at the behest of officials in positions of authority to create uncertainty and make people long for the old days of “law and order.” If Dr. Mursi is not able to bring some semblance of normalcy — he will be dependent on the same corrupt officials in various departments — people will lose hope. The expectations aroused by his victory will dissipate and not only he as president but the Ikhwan that built their reputation on providing services to the people over decades will be seriously damaged.
As the most important country in the Muslim East (aka Middle East), Egypt attracts many predatory powers including the US, the Zionist State and now such upstarts as Saudi Arabia and Qatar. Since 1978, the US has entrenched itself in Egypt through the $1.5 billion annual handout the bulk of which goes to the military. That explains why the generals are so reluctant to relinquish power or allow civilians to oversee their budget. After getting used to easy money, they have come to take it as their right. The US uses aid to buy influence and make certain institutions dependent on it. The other purpose of US aid to Egypt has been to protect the Zionist regime. Again, Egypt was coerced to enter into a peace agreement with the Zionist State. What this means is that while Israel is free to attack and kill the hapless people of Gaza and Lebanon, Egypt or its security forces must not get involved. The generals have willingly obliged for a fistful of dollars.
It was not surprising when Christiane Amanpour of CNN interviewing Dr. Mursi on June 24 constantly needled him about the “peace treaty” with Israel. While vowing to honour all international treaties and obligations — codes for sticking to the so-called peace treaty with Israel — Dr. Mursi also pointed out that both sides must respect it. This was a reference to frequent Israeli violations of the treaty such as stationing troops and tanks in the Sinai recently when such deployment is prohibited by the treaty. Interestingly, the demilitarization of Sinai that belongs to Egypt was forced on Cairo as part of the treaty. The other restriction has been on sending any food or medicines to Gaza that has been under a brutal Israeli siege since 2007.
So far, the Ikhwan has played by rules it has not made, rules it has not brokered, and rules that are not conducive either to economic or social justice. For it to succeed, it has to get a backbone and start breaking some of these rules — smashing them if possible. The first of these rules is to serve the interests of imperialism and Zionism, and not do what is right for the people, who have given it a mandate.
On the face of it, this sounds like a platitude, but what this means in practical terms is that “it’s not the economy, stupid.” The US will try to constrain Dr. Mursi to a domestic agenda where he will have to revive the Egyptian economy; but Egypt’s problem is not an economic one, it is a political one and a military one. Egypt’s economy has more to do with political issues on the outside and representation issues on the inside, than it has to so with creating markets for foreign investment. Egypt’s economy will take care of itself if its (Ikhwani) leaders build stable and representative institutions; on the other hand, Egypt’s political institutions will not build themselves if Egypt’s leaders restore an economy in which the majority of the country’s wealth continues to be controlled by a few individuals, the majority of whom were stockpiling that wealth in foreign banks and financial institutions. Redistributing the wealth, including land and corporate shares, and thereby power, to the workers, laborers and educators who generate this wealth to begin with is a political issue, not an economic one.
The condition of the worker who was earning something like $2/day will not change much if the tourism sector is restored; his situation before and after the revolution, despite the economic standstill over the last 18 months will not change unless the wealth at the top is redistributed. Besides if the tourism sector was 20% of the economy, why didn’t 20% of Egypt’s people belong to the middle class? Wealth reallocation, the proscription against hoarding, monopolies, etc., and taxes based on land ownership and agricultural production are all Islamic legal principles that require a political will backed up by legislation that drives transformative changes into the behavior of the people. Give the people their wealth, instead of to Uncle Sam and Nephew Schmuel, and see what they can do with it.
Second, Egypt has only one major river, the Nile; and only a small strip of land on both sides of the Nile is irrigated. The vast majority of the rest of the country is desert, like Libya and Chad. All the other countries in the area with such arid terrain have tons of oil and natural gas. Why hasn’t Egypt explored this potential? Should anyone inside or outside the country be so easily convinced that Egypt has no fossil fuels underground? Fossil fuel exploration, production, and distribution is a political issue that is decided by US/European oil corporations, the World Bank, the IMF, and the Israeli prerogative to stay ahead of all the other “backward” single resource economies in the region. Egypt is “Third World” because its politics belong to the stone age. Conducting a political process by the will of the people requires commitment, character, courage, and yes, it requires lives. Some members of the Ikhwan may have to surrender theirs in order to make this case. The US/Israel have no social character or courage, thus they are not concerned about building stable representative institutions inside the country; they know that if a representative process dominates, there will no space for them to operate, and obviously that is why they have done away with it altogether through their local military proxies.
But there is a more pressing geo-political and geo-strategic matter. The US is still politically and militarily operating under the Cold War domino theory with the communist bloc — only now the Islamists have replaced the communists. There is very real alarm in Washington and Tel Aviv (and their European satellites, who are busy scurrying back and forth like rats to Russia in order to try and bring Ivan into the fold) that Egypt will go “Islamic.” And if it does, because of its influence in the Arab world, the domino theory suggests that many other countries in the Muslim East, North Africa, and East Africa will follow suit, having the potential to reverse the militarization of Africa, and the nation-state sectioning of the Muslim East. This is not an irrational fear on their part, as they recognize, some would say better than the Muslims do, that power coupled with principle has its own gravitas.
It is for this reason that Israel is once again threatening to formalize its occupation of Gaza, and even the Sinai to protect the oil tanker traffic going through the Suez Canal. The Suez Canal of course becomes even more critical in a war scenario against Iran where the Persian Gulf is expected to be locked up to tanker traffic. Similarly, for this reason, the US has occupied Libya, reviving its military staging areas there in order to threaten to occupy the oil-rich areas of Egypt to the west if it goes in the Islamic direction, and to project its imperialist ambitions over the rest of (Islamic) North Africa. To the south, it is continuing to try to further dismember Sudan, so that it can gain control through its regional proxies, of Egypt’s main source of water, the Nile River. To this end, it went a long way in achieving its objectives by creating a new country in the south of Sudan. To the east, King ‘Abdullah is sitting in Uncle Sam’s pocket, ready to give all sorts of financial and logistical support to the Egyptian Salafis, who are just waiting for the Ikhwan to fail so that they can come down with the Saudi-style iron fist. Such a result, should it occur, would be tailor-made for worldwide imperialism, Zionism, and Anglo-Wahhabism.
Finally, regime change in Syria has geo-strategic objectives that go well beyond trying to surround Islamic Iran and breaking up the so-called Shi‘i Crescent. They also have much to do with trying to contain the Egyptian Islamic momentum, should it be engineered by the Ikhwan. Syria and Egypt have a history; both belonged to the United Arab Republic, even though Syria was just a junior member. Despite the tortured history of that relationship, at that time, the Ikhwan, before they were salafized 15 years later, had a very mature approach to the Shi‘is and vice versa: they weren’t enemies and they weren’t calling each other kafirs. Even today, the Egyptian Ikhwan, more broadminded, is not exactly the same as the Syrian Ikhwan. In this character, Muhammad Mehdi ‘Akef, the previous murshid of the Ikhwan, offered to send 10,000 Ikhwanis to fight in Hizbullah’s resistance against the Israelis in the 2006 war. The US fears that this broadminded segment of the Ikhwan, if it is not prevented from leading Egypt as it should, coupled with the influence of Islamic Iran, will cause Syria also to go “Islamic.” And then, surely, Jordan, all of Lebanon, and Turkey (which will abandon walking a tightrope between secularism and Islamism) will go “Islamic,” leaving only Israel and the Peninsula.
Dr. Mursi will have to tackle these and other challenges while he has both hands tied behind his back. The Saudis and Qataris have jumped into the fray flashing their checkbooks. The tribal regimes in Riyadh and Doha are terrified of developments in the region where people’s uprisings have swept several long-entrenched dictators from power but they hope to entice the new leadership in Egypt to toe their line. Should Dr. Mursi and the Ikhwan fall for this, they will pay a very heavy price and lose people’s support.
It is one thing to be elected president but it is a very different ballgame to run a country, especially when all decisions are made by others. The next few weeks and months will tell whether the Ikhwan have the vision to walk through the minefield of Egyptian politics without blowing themselves up. It is certainly not an ideal situation to be in.