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Rollback of the Egyptian revolution

Egyptian military has successfully reversed the change the 2011 pro-democracy events brought in the country. The first ever democratically-elected president of the country, Mohammad Morsi, is in prison, while more than 1000 peaceful protesters demanding his reinstatement have been mercilessly mowed down by the security forces, and thousands injured. At least 36 detainees were brutally murdered while being taken to a prison.

A ruthless crackdown on the Muslim Brotherhood supporters continues. Its leader, Mohamed Badie, has been put behind bars, and charged with “incitement to murder” for his alleged role in protests leading to Morsi’s ouster. He along with two deputies is to be brought to trial on August 25 while the Western countries favourite former dictator, Hosni Mubarak, is due to be released in the next few days.

Defenders of the status quo have taken a sigh of relief, wiping perspiration off their brows. After some tut-tutting over the bloodshed, President Obama while continuing to avoid calling the coup a coup has announced cancellation of joint military exercises by way of a symbolic gesture. But he has stopped short of announcing cutting off $1.3 billion the US has been paying the Egyptian military to secure the separate peace agreement Mubarak’s predecessor, Anwar Sadat, signed with Israel. Unable to defend the indefensible, EU has said it is firmly engaged in efforts to promote an end to violence and return to a democratic process, and to that effect it is to “urgently review in the coming days its relations with Egypt and adopt measures aimed at pursuing these goals.” The review is to cover aid and loans worth five billion euros.

An unfavourable review is not going to make any difference to the coup maker, General Abdul Fattah Sisi. US’ regional allies – Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait – have already stepped in with a $12 billion aid package, also helping the country overcome energy shortages besetting the Morsi government.

King Abdullah, in fact, was the first head of a foreign government to congratulate military installed interim president, Adly Mansour. The UAE, Kuwait and Bahrain followed suit. These counties along with Israel are pressing the EU and others not to take any punitive measures against the military rulers.

So what is it that bothered them, especially an arch conservative theocracy like Saudi Arabia, about an Islamist president Morsi? It would seem they had more commonalities than reasons for discord. That obviously is not the case. King Abdullah said it all in a televised speech in which while defending the crackdown on Morsi supporters and terming it the government’s “legitimate right” he described the Brotherhood protests as “attempts to destabilise” Egypt. The name of the game is power politics.

The Gulf kingdoms fear Islamists movements, such as the Hamas in Gaza and Hezbollah in Lebanon, which participate in democratic elections and then go on to challenge the status quo on the basis of people power. Notably, in its very first judicial order following Morsi’s detention, the military-backed government accused him of conspiring with Hamas during the 2011 uprising against the Mubarak regime to “carry out anti-state acts, attacking police stations and army officers and storming prisons.” Considering that Hamas has enough of its own troubles to deal with, there is little it could have done, even if it wanted to, for the Brotherhood in Egypt.

More importantly, Morsi won presidential election fair and square which means the movement had substantial support within the country and did not need outsiders, Hamas or anyone else, for the crimes he has been accused of. The accusation apparently was made to strike a sympathetic chord where it mattered, ie, in Western capitals. Little wonder then that Israel could hardly hide its glee over what has happened to the Brotherhood, openly applauding the repression.

The military regime has been talking of its intention to dissolve the Brotherhood. The movement is not going to go away anywhere. It has survived decades of repression. Its electoral victory in the first ever free elections must have strengthened its supporters and sympathisers’ resolve to fight on for what they deem their legitimate right. The Gulf kingdoms want to preserve the status quo as far possible and prevent the contagion of pro-democracy uprisings, Islamists or otherwise, spreading to their societies.

The policy response they have come up is fraught with disastrous consequences. Media reports from Cairo say, aside from supporting General Sisi, these countries have been buoying up the country’s Salafist Noor party, which sides with the military. To counter Iran’s influence, the Gulf States have already been fuelling sectarian hatreds elsewhere in the region, and backing the Salafists fighting the Assad regime in Syria. Obviously, no lessons have been learnt from the radicalisation that their previous endeavour in aid of US’ first Afghan war in Afghanistan generated, giving rise to al Qaeda.

Barring some of its splinter groups, the Muslim Brotherhood, over the years, has morphed from a radical Islamist movement to a moderate religious party. True, during the 11 months of Morsi rule, it managed to offend the sensitivities of liberal Egyptians. That though is not the cause of his removal. If anything threatens to destabilise Egypt they are the Salafists who having ideological differences with the Brotherhood, reject democracy and constitutional rule as an un-Islamic concept and strive for the establishment of a totalitarian system in the name of caliphate. The danger now is that the Islamists disaffected by the Brotherhood’s defeat, may want to take a more radical path and swell the Salafists ranks.

The Salafists may be thankful to the Gulf kingdoms for all the money and resources they are getting to support General Sisi in Egypt and fight Alawite Shia regime in Syria, but at some point these people are going to get back at their benefactors, like bin Laden and his al Qaeda followers did at their creators. They could destabilise Egypt and the region in ways that will not serve anyone’s interest, neither the protectors of the old order nor those striving for democratic change.


Saida Fazal, "Rollback of the Egyptian revolution," Business recorder. 2013-08-22.
Keywords: Political science , Political issues , Political process , Political change , Political leaders , Political crisis , Revolution-Egypt , Military-Egypt , President Morsi , Hosni Mubarak , King Abdullah , Gen Sisi , Egypt