Robert Fisk, in the London Independent on Sunday 29th December, writes about the decision of the Egyptian Junta to formally declare the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) a terrorist organisation. He speculates that this may be a step towards hanging its leadership, which is currently being held incommunicado in secure military prisons. Ultimately Fisk says the Junta will fail to eradicate a movement that has been around for 85 years, but his reasoning, by reflecting a ‘meme’ that seems to be infecting reports on the MB across the Western press, appears illogical. He writes: “They will fail, of course, not least because… the Brotherhood is politically corrupt and will consort with any military regime to return to legitimacy. Morsi himself negotiated with Mubarak when the latter’s thugs were shooting down demonstrators in Tahrir Square. Sisi was appointed defence minister by Morsi”.
This ‘meme’ — that the MB are simply ‘power grabbers’ — was originally generated by the CIA-advised Egyptian Military Intelligence PSYOPS unit, under Abdel-Fattah el-Sisi. This is now under the leadership of the Sisi’s brother-in-law, while the man himself is busy being groomed for the presidency. This ‘meme’ provides a description of the MB which cleverly short-circuits the fact that the MB founded a political party in 2011— the Freedom and Justice Party (FJP) — which was open to all comers, non-Brotherhood members, Muslims and Christians alike, which won 213 seats out of 508 in the November 2011-January 2012 Egyptian Parliamentary elections, and one of whose members, Mohamed Morsi went on to win 51.7% of the electorate in heavily contested, well-attended, truly free and fair presidential election, for the first time in Egypt’s history. The ‘meme’ ran wild through the Egyptian media owned by the oligarchs of Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP), as Morsi, now president, tried to collect back-taxes from those very same oligarchs, for the purpose of funding Egypt’s development, and is now travelling through much of the Western press, we presume as a testament purely to Galileo’s discovery of momentum.
This is the only conclusion that can possibly be arrived at, given that since the 3rd July coup, MB leaders have been held in prisons in their thousands, many in dire conditions in solitary confinement, and that this treatment, which has occasionally led to hunger strikes on their part, does not seem to have led them to want to consort with anyone, least of all with this military rÃ©gime. When President Morsi was offered a reprieve for himself and all his colleagues 5 days after the coup by Army Chief-of-Staff Sobhi Sedky if only he would resign, he refused. When Sedky organised the massacre of MB supporters praying outside the Republican Guard Building where Morsi was being held at the time pour encourager les autres, this clearly had no effect on Morsi or his colleagues, in or out of prison.
When Catherine Ashton, NATO representative — sorry our mistake, EU foreign policy chief — visited Morsi on the 29th July to offer him power for 3 months, after which he would be forced to resign, Morsi still refused. After a litany of savage attacks by the security and police complex and the military on both MB supporters and the Egyptian public at large, and when Morsi finally emerged at his trial, despite all attempts by the Junta to sanitise the public appearance, as Esam el-Amin wrote in Putting Egypt’s Coup on Trial, CounterPunch November 8-10, 2013, “… on TV the people saw a glimpse of their president as a determined, defiant, and confident leader willing to give up his life to preserve their hard-earned freedoms”. In other words, the Egyptian people caught a glimpse of their Mandela, and the effect was so unnerving on the Junta that Morsi has once again been bundled off into the unknown, while any future trials are unlikely to be broadcast at all, even if, as last time, state media could still supply tens of technicians, under the supervision of Egyptian Military Intelligence, to Photoshop the TV output.
Brendan O’Neill in the London Telegraph on Thursday 19th December, gets the picture when he writes: “Who was the greatest champion of democracy in 2013? Unbelievably, the Muslim Brotherhood”. But ‘unbelievably’ is what O’Neill means because otherwise the MB “is no defender of true, meaningful democracy, far less individual and minority rights. In fact it’s a frequently intolerant outfit, harrying and sometimes persecuting those who don’t buy into its Islamist agenda”. He makes the acute statement that the main reason for the accolade he is awarding is a result of ‘the stunning failure of Westerners who claim to love democracy’ to condemn the coup. But herein lies the problem, for no Islamic Sunni popular movement has ever had a chance to actually prove itself in government, without it being crushed. So how do we actually know all this stuff about the MB? When the Islamic Salvation Front (Front Islamique du Salut — FIS) won 231 out of the 430 seats in the Algerian parliament in free and fair elections, they were crushed before getting five minutes in government, on the basis that they were going to build — and this is the Algerian military talking mind you — a totalitarian state. Apart from the fact that the Algerian military were talking nonsense, if they had the guns, couldn’t they just wait and use them later when matters had cleared up a bit, instead of starting an 11-year civil war?
But Morsi was — sort of — in power for a year, so actually we perhaps have something to analyse. Recognising the fact that ‘power-grabbing’ is essentially, within limits, the business of politics; can we say that the MB have been ‘power grabbers’ purely and simply, in the sense outlined by O’Neill, namely that there is there a hard-and-fast agenda to be imposed – coÃ»te que coÃ»te — that is insensitive to whatever political environment the MB finds itself in? And will it all or won’t it end up like Algeria?
There’s No Smoke Without Fire: So Let’s Enquire
After the 25th January revolution, the MB and the ‘liberal’ parties clashed. The ‘liberal’ parties consisted of patrician organisations like el-Wafd, left-wing youth organisations like April 6th, and ‘We are All Khalid Said’, hard-core Marxist-Stalinists acculturated in the ‘deep state’, and variety of hang-over parties from G. W. Bush’s ‘Freedom Agenda’ period, as well as the personality of el-Barade‘i hailing from the UN-osphere. Clearly, the MB had the advantage of unity and experience. A committee was formed on 26th February by SCAF under Mubarak critic Tareq al-Bishri to amend the 1971 Egyptian Constitution to loosen candidacy requirements in forthcoming elections, and limit presidential terms (the bane of Egyptian politics), together with limiting the power to impose emergency law (the other bane of Egyptian politics). Unlike the MB, the liberal parties refused this roadmap, and wanted more time to form their own parties. They claimed that the MB, many of whose members had been in prison under the previous rÃ©gime, were simply interested in grabbing power, and given that some of them had past prison terms, they were benefitting from the looser candidacy requirements, which involved an amnesty.
The MB’s strategy was one of gradualism. They had won 87 out of 454 seats in Mubarak’s November/December 2005 parliamentary elections, which they had contested knowing cynically that they would be rigged. The seats were won by members of the Brotherhood standing as independents, although the MB itself, as an organisation, was banned. Mubarak’s National Democratic Party (NDP) won the majority of seats in those elections, which were marred more by the fact that voter turnout was 25%, than by the fact that they were rigged. If in 2011, in new elections, the MB could reform itself as a legally represented organisation, wouldn’t that be a logical step forward? Tareq al-Bishri had made a proposal for a new constitution which the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) were happy with, which did not exactly reflect the root and branch spirit of the revolution, but which would lead to elections which, this time, would be free and fair, based on a constitution which was trying to reform the worst aspects of past Egyptian political life. Was that in of itself not an advance on the 2005 Mubarak elections?
Rather than facing the facts of Egypt’s Byzantine political system, the motley crowd of liberal parties looked inward at their own electoral weakness and refused to play. The MB had campaigned in 2005 as individuals, whereas the liberal parties had never campaigned. But one would ask them: how else could you build your political parties, other than by campaigning and demanding elections as quickly as possible? But they wouldn’t have it. They asked SCAF to act as a ‘guardian’ of the political system, whilst they would do whatever they thought they should do to prepare themselves for their future in politics. It was then in early 2011 that the revolution was lost, and that the 3rd July 2013 coup became the grindingly depressingly inevitable outcome of it all. The reason: SCAF had enormous economic power, beyond anybody’s wildest imagination, but it didn’t have political (or for that matter military) power. In 2011, SCAF was politically on a level-playing field with the MB and the liberal parties. Asking it to suddenly become the ‘guardian’ of the political system, rather than striking the electoral iron while it was hot, was asking for trouble. Perhaps the MB’s gradualism had a rationale after all? If so there would be no unprincipled ‘power-grabbing’ here, merely political wisdom.
The Development of Military Under Mubarak
There were four important features to the military under Mubarak:
(1) Ever since 15th of April 1989, when Mubarak removed 1973 War- hero, Charlie Wilson’s war-co-conspirator, and large-scale international arms dealer, Abdul-Halim Abu-Ghazala, as head of the armed forces, and replaced him with the ‘poodle’ Mohamed Tantawi, Mubarak and his NDP crony-capitalist Ã©lite had the political power. It was with great joy that SCAF acquiesced on 11th April 2011 to the Egyptian street’s demand to close down the NDP, and ban former NDP members standing for political office in the future. Although no-one in the military backed revolutionary demands for the humiliation of Mubarak and his sons in court, they were nevertheless delighted that the revolution had put pay to Mubarak’s plan for his son Gamal to succeed him, which succession would have perpetuated the political power of the NDP.
(2) Ever since ‘al-Gama’a al-Islamiyya’, a breakaway Islamic militant group bombed the World Trade Center in 1993, Omar Suleiman had started to manage Cairo’s end of Bill Clinton’s ‘rendition’ (kidnap and torture) programme. When Mubarak himself became subject to an attempt on his life by yet another breakaway Islamic militant group called ‘Egyptian Islamic Jihad’, in Addis Ababa at the June 1995 conference of the Organisation of African Unity, he tripled the budget and size of the security-police complex [viz.: Yezid Sayigh, Above the State: The Officers’ Republic in Egypt, Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, August 2012, p. 7,download PDF]. This was seized on as an opportunity by Douglas Feith, Bush’s Undersecretary of Defence for Policy, after 9/11 when he judged that the US may have had enormous military capabilities, but that it had limited intelligence. The security-police complex became the basis of the strategic US-Egyptian alliance rather than the bloated and inefficient military, whose reputation with the US after the 1991 Gulf War fell sharply. Omar Suleiman, rather than Mohamed Tantawi became the point man. In fact, the US, who weren’t particularly enamoured of Mubarak’s succession plans used the events of the revolution to force Mubarak on 29th January 2011to finally appoint a Vice-President, in the person of none other than Omar Suleiman. The intention was for Suleiman to succeed as President, but SCAF sided with the revolutionaries in making him resign with Mubarak on February 11th. Announcing on April 9th 2012 his contention of the upcoming Presidential elections, Suleiman reappeared, but then he just as quickly disappeared and died of a mysterious illness.