by Ayesha Alam (Main Stories, Crescent International Vol. 43, No. 3, Rajab, 1435)
Generals love democracy, especially the kind that propels them into power without conceding anything to the civilians. This is underway in Egypt under General Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the Empire’s new muscleman.
Egypt’s mock elections are underway, with the requisite pageantry of using democracy to disguise the Egyptian military’s takeover of power. To make the proceedings seem even more realistic, the Egyptian military is running against itself. On the one hand, there is Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, the thug in army fatigues who has engineered the Empire’s Strike Back — the army’s July 3, 2013 military coup that deposed elected Muslim Brotherhood President Mohamed Mursi. On the other, there is Hamdeen Sabbahi, an obliging Nasserite who has entered the ring to support the make-believe that el-Sisi tolerates political opposition.
Meanwhile, el-Sisi is launching genocide against his own people, cleansing the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) with a vitriol that makes the Nasser-Sadat-Mubarak eras look like the rule of Cyrus the Lawgiver. Initially following the military coup, el-Sisi’s forces engaged in pitched battles with MB members in Cairo’s neighborhoods, bulldozing them and their families down in a haze of blood. It is estimated that the Egyptian military killed around 2,500 Egyptian civilians — mostly MB members — in the time following the first assault that was launched on August 14.
In April 2014, el-Sisi made headlines by sentencing 529 members of the Muslim Brotherhood to death. Observers noted that the court barely spent one minute on each sentence, while the defendants’ families screamed outside. It is not simply the death sentences that attract attention as a remarkable act of political evil; it is the sheer barefacedness of the action: the kangaroo court passed the sentences just as el-Sisi announced himself as a candidate for Egypt’s presidential elections. In other words, it shows how confident el-Sisi has grown of the carte blanche he has received from the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia and the Persian Gulf monarchies to dispose of what is perhaps the largest, and most established social organization in the Muslim world.
The US’ reaction has also been rather theatrical. The US State Department issued a statement on behalf of Secretary of State John Kerry, condemning the sentences. The release stated that Kerry is “deeply troubled” and called on the Egyptian interim regime to “remedy the situation.” The document goes on to state that this decision “simply defies logic” and fails to satisfy “even the most basic standards of justice.” Amnesty International deemed the death sentences “grotesque.” Other Western countries have expressed “deep concern” over the “sham trial,” along with hope the decision would be overturned on appeal.
If these eloquent humanitarian statements held a single grain of sincerity, the US would leverage pressure where it would hurt el-Sisi and the bloated ranks of the Egyptian military. There was no word of the US threatening to cut Egypt’s annual $1.3 billion military endowment. In addition, Saudi Arabia and the Gulf monarchies have amped up their golden shower of oil money on the Egyptian military, hoping to excise MB influence from within their own countries and buy out Egypt as a petro-colony. The public headshaking and private glad-handing has bolstered the Egyptian military’s confidence — they know that despite the humanitarian scolding, the US and Israel have declared open duck season upon the MB, and that the Brothers are fair game.
While the Muslim Brotherhood must confront an iron fist once more, it has led to an interesting development. A glaring split that has emerged between the old guard hunkered down in defeat, and the new guard that has turned to the street and lifts up the vanguard of resistance. After the military crackdown in Egypt, many of the well-connected older guard decamped for the Gulf or London, where they have links with business, non-profit and educational interests. Even this circle is closing around them, with only Qatar remaining as a tenuous safe haven. The UAE recently arrested 30 Egyptians and Emiratis for establishing a Brotherhood branch without a permit, linking them to an arrested group of 94 that is being tried for “conspiring to overthrow the regime.” British Prime Minister David Cameron also had an MB office investigated in London for alleged terrorist conspiracies.
Of course, these arrests are mostly theatrical, a public relations ploy to publicly criminalize the group. The Brotherhood has long had an established presence in the civil societies of both countries, numbering many professionals and many members from among the business and upwardly mobile middle classes. Qatar has persisted in welcoming the besieged group, at the cost of overt hostility from Saudi Arabia and the UAE. Many former MB members are now affiliated with al-Jazeera, trying to use the media as a platform for issuing critical commentary on the Egyptian military’s takeover. (Saudi Arabia has even threatened to boycott Qatar, unless it shuts down al-Jazeera).
In a CS Monitor article by Louisa Loveluck published on April 3rd, interviews in Cairo captured the visceral feeling of disconnect between young Egyptians affiliated with the Muslim Brotherhood and the old guard in exile. “Imprisonment and exile have made communication difficult between the leadership and our base,” says one member. Younger members are increasingly taking initiative — some members state that local decisions are now being rubber-stamped by the leaders from exile with little discussion.
Loveluck elaborates in her article, “[T]he crackdown has radicalized many rank-and-file supporters within Egypt. For them, such incremental moves aren’t enough: their goal is the destruction of the state as Egyptians know it, not just the right to control its levers once again.” There is a deep sense of regret at being contented with elections rather than changing a system deeply beholden to the US and outside powers. “At a recent pro-Mursi demonstration in Cairo, demonstrators carried signs reading ‘Cleanse the institutions and start again,’” observes Loveluck.
“The leadership abroad don’t really understand what is going on in Egypt, so when they do take decisions, they are usually wrong,” says one young MB member. “Appointing a new supreme guide or head of the party is just a formality now. They don’t have a real role in our movement on the street.” When the revolution sparked in 2011, the younger Brotherhood members were the ones who pushed into action an old guard that had grown comfortable with the status quo and didn’t want to rock the boat. When figures like Yusuf al-Qaradawi who has long enjoyed his cushy feather nest in Qatar, arrived back to Egypt to reap the fruits of the revolution, it seemed like an appropriation. Now, in the midst of devastating tragedy and unspeakable blood spilling, the younger generation of the Brotherhood is finding its own voice to take direction.
Meanwhile, the young guard of the Muslim Brotherhood has taken a different route — they have chosen to go underground in Egypt and put up a vanguard of resistance to the military authoritarianism over-shadowing Egypt. Recently, a young member of the Muslim Brotherhood, Ahmed Mughair, made waves when he released a statement on his Facebook page, calling the Egyptian military an occupying army and declaring it a religious obligation (fard) upon every Muslim to resist it. Statements on social media can be misleading — sites such as Facebook, Twitter, tumblr have been used to spread disinformation and social unrest.
However, if this young Egyptian is truly who he says he is and not a fictional identity, he captures the sense of discontent and the willingness to confront a glaring fact: Egypt needs more than a telegenic revolution, it needs a muscular resistance. “[Joining] the Egyptian resistance movement against the Occupying Army taking control of Egypt is obligatory upon every Muslim, based upon the rules (al-ahkam) of Islam and even the national laws that every muttaqi Muslim must follow and show observance to,” he wrote. “And [there is no doubt] that [as Muslims and citizens] they are facing a sword held menacingly over their necks, despite the sweet words and pretty declarations that try to convince us otherwise.”
Despite the iron fist wielded by Abdel Fattah el-Sisi, a new generation of game changers has emerged to rock the boat. As the cycle of resistance begins anew, a spark emerges in the darkness that is visibly overshadowing Egypt’s future.