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The aftermath of the Arab Spring - 2012
Robert Frisk's coverage
01 Jul 2012
Robert Frisk covers the fallout of the Arab Spring and how Egypt reacts to the Electoral victory of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Out of control
Morsi’s victory has done nothing to calm fears among Egyptians or to rein in the army

A couple of hours after Mohamed Morsi’s supporters greeted the democratic election of the first Islamist president in the Arab world with cries of "Allah-o-Akbar", a young Egyptian Christian woman walked up to my coffee table and told me that she had just been to church. "I have never seen the place so empty," she said. "We are all afraid."

I’d like to say that Morsi’s placatory speech on June 24 – CNN and the BBC made much of his all-inclusive message because it fits in with the western narrative on the Middle East (progressive, non-sectarian, etc) – was a pretty measly effort in which the army got as much praise as the police for Egypt’s latest stage of revolution.

Put bluntly, Morsi is going to be clanking down the road to Egyptian democracy with tin cans dangling from his feet, fear and suspicion mingling among the old Mubarakites and the business elite and, of course, the Christians, while the uniformed bulldogs of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces – its acronym, SCAF, is somehow appropriate to its inefficiency – go on biting off the powers that any president of Egypt should hold. He’s got no Constitution, no Parliament and no right to command his own country’s army.

Morsi’s friendly tone towards Iran on June 25 will, of course, enrage the same beasts. The Saudis allegedly poured money into the Muslim Brotherhood campaign and now they find Morsi smiling upon the Shia regime they so much detest and suggesting they resume "normal relations". The Brotherhood must at least be happy that Crown Prince Naif – the scourge of the Brotherhood and the man who could still entertain Mubarak’s ex-security boss last November – is dead and buried and can never be king of Saudi Arabia. And anyone who doubts the dangers to come should reread the vicious coverage of the presidential election campaign in the Egyptian press. Al-Dostor claimed that the Muslim Brotherhood planned a massacre if Morsi won while Al-Fagr claimed that the Brotherhood planned an "Islamic emirate" in Egypt. The novelist Gamal al-Ghitani vouchsafed that "we are living a moment that may be similar to Adolf Hitler’s rise to power", an exaggeration that would have been less offensive if a certain Anwar Sadat had not once been a spy for Rommel.

Clearly, the Brotherhood has to watch out. Saad al-Katatni, the short-lived speaker of the democratically elected Parliament – its throat cut by the SCAF last week – has been insisting that Egypt won’t see an "Algerian war" even if the army has legalised their almost exclusive power for years to come. When Algeria’s generals cancelled the second round of elections in 1991 – because Islamists would have won – they ignited a war against their political enemies that left 2,00,000 dead. "The Egyptian people are different and not armed," he said. "We are fighting a legal (sic) struggle via the establishment and a popular struggle."

Egyptians may be different than their Algerian cousins – whether they are unarmed is a quite different matter. And the Brotherhood has itself been drawn, in the words of the Egyptian journalist Amr Adly, "into the web of legalistic and procedural entrapment set up by the military".

For as the army has shut down the Parliament, taken over budgets, produced an interim Constitution taking away most of Morsi’s power and reintroduced martial law – not to forget the dishonouring of its own promise to stand down after presidential elections – so a strange but not unfamiliar phenomenon has reappeared in Egypt: fear of the foreigner. Public service broadcasts, Mubarakite in their witlessness, have urged Egyptians to watch what they say in front of foreigners. Cameras in the hands of foreigners are increasingly regarded as spy machines. Egyptian film-makers meeting in Paris have described how the explosion of popular "image-making" during last year’s revolution is now being effaced as distrust grows.

And civic law is being flouted across Egypt. In the Delta, for example, a smallpox of illegal building sites has spread across agricultural lands – 5,000 alone in the last few weeks, according to farmers – after Morsi’s opponent, ex-Mubarak prime minister Ahmed Shafik, reportedly said that "those who have built houses in violation of the law on agricultural lands will be indemnified and their situation legalised". Since Egypt’s agricultural land is growing smaller by the year, this is, in the words of one Egyptian agronomy professor, "a crime against all citizens".

For the "real" revolutionaries, the young of last year’s rebellion against Mubarak, are going to have to connect with the poor of Egypt who voted for Morsi and abandon many of their slogans. It was the Tunisian leftist Habib Ayeb who told an Egyptian journalist on June 24 that those who called his country’s uprising the "Jasmine Revolution" failed to realise that the original Tunisian revolutionaries of Sidi Bouzid had probably never seen jasmine in their lives. And there are many Egyptians today who believe they never saw an "Arab Spring".

The above article was published in The Independent on June 26 2012. www.independent.co.uk

Archived From Communalism Combat,  July 2012. Year 18, No - 167. Arab Spring.

 
The long view
A rigged ballot and a fox’s tale that has all of Cairo abuzz

There is a fox in Tahrir Square. Bushy-tailed and thickly furred, he claims to hear everything. And this is what he says: that 50.7 per cent of Egyptian voters cast their ballot for Mubarak’s former prime minister, Ahmed Shafik, in last month’s elections; that only 49.3 per cent voted for Mohamed Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party; but that the military were so fearful of the hundreds of thousands of Brotherhood supporters who would gather in Tahrir Square, they gave the victory to Morsi.

Now, foxes can be deceitful. But this is a well-connected fox and he claims that Morsi actually met four leading members of the SCAF in Egypt four days before the election results were proclaimed and that he agreed to accept his presidency before the Constitutional Court rather than the newly dissolved Parliament – which is exactly what he did on June 30. He says there will be another election in a year’s time although I have my doubts.

Now, behind this piece of Reynard-gossip is a further piece of information – shattering if true – that the Egyptian army’s intelligence service is outraged by the behaviour of some members of the SCAF (in particular, the four who supposedly met Morsi) and wants a mini-revolution to get rid of officers whom it believes to be corrupt. These young soldiers call themselves the New Liberal Officers – a different version of the Free Officers Movement which overthrew the corrupt King Farouk way back in 1952.

Many of the present young intelligence officers were very sympathetic to the Egyptian revolution last year – and several of them were shot dead by government snipers long after Mubarak’s departure, during a Tahrir Square demonstration. They admire the current head of military intelligence, soon to retire and to be replaced, so it is said, by another respected military officer with the unfortunate name of Ahmed Mosad.

I have to say that all Cairo is abuzz with "the deal" and almost every newspaper has a version of how Morsi got to be president – though I must also add that none have gone as far as the fox. He says, for example, that the military intelligence services – like some of the SCAF officers – want a thorough clean-out of generals who control a third of the Egyptian economy in lucrative scams that include shopping malls, banks and vast amounts of property. Where does Morsi stand in relation to this? Even the fox doesn’t know.

Nor is there any plausible explanation as to why Shafik set off for the United Arab Emirates the day after the election results were announced, reportedly to perform the Umrah pilgrimage in Saudi Arabia. There is much talk of a court case against Shafik going back to Mubarak’s era.

One man who was not present at the Morsi-SCAF meeting, says the fox, is Mohamed ElBaradei but he may well be asked to be Morsi’s prime minister. The Nobel Prize winner and former nuclear "watchdog" has expressed a profound lack of interest in such a role. ElBaradei’s appointment would help Morsi keep the streets calm and allow Egypt to come up with an economic plan to persuade the International Monetary Fund to loan the country the money it needs to survive. There is also talk of great tensions between the military intelligence and the staff of the interior ministry, some of whom are fearful that another mini-revolution will have them in court for committing crimes against Egyptian civilians during the anti-Mubarak revolution.

There are persistent rumours that the plain-clothes baltagi thugs who were used to beat protesters last year were employed to prevent Christians voting in some Egyptian villages. Interestingly, when Farouk Sultan (head of the election commission) ran through election irregularities before announcing the presidential winner on June 24, he said he didn’t know who prevented the village voters getting to the polling station.

All of which is quite a story. Not the kind that can be confirmed – but Egypt is not a country which lends itself to hard facts when the Egyptian press (a mercifully wonderful institution after the dog days of Mubarak’s newspapers) makes so much up. But one fact cannot be denied. When he wanted to show that he was a revolutionary animal, the fox held out his back paw. And there was a very severe year-old bullet wound in it.

 The above article was published in The Independent on July 2, 2012. www.independent.co.uk

Archived From Communalism Combat,  July 2012. Year 18, No. 167 - Arab Spring.
Looking back for answers
Zaghloul might be missed today, after an election in which the words ‘Islam’ and ‘security’ seemed like interchangeable platitudes,

While 50 million Egyptians were waiting on June 24 to hear that they had elected a Muslim Brother-hood mediocrity over a Mubarak bag-carrier, I paid a visit to the home of Saad Zaghloul. Not for an interview, you understand (Zaghloul died 85 years ago and is buried opposite his house in a mausoleum styled like a pharaonic temple), but as a pilgrimage to a man who might have served Egypt well today, a revolutionary and a nationalist whose Wafd Party stood up to the British empire and whose wife, Safeya, was one of the country’s great feminists.

Mohamed Morsi is no revolutionary. No feminist. Not much of a nationalist. And the army elite has already laid its traps for him. But the "deep state" represented by his opponent, Ahmed Shafik, receded yesterday. Up to a point – and only up to a point – Zaghloul would have approved.

My shoes squeak on the wonderful, polished old wooden floor of his two-storey home, a reassuring memento of an age before Cairo became a canyon of traffic. Zaghloul’s photograph hangs on almost every wall – there, at least, he has something in common with Egypt’s dictators – and at the top of the stairs sit the remains of his two pet parrots, tied (not nailed) to their perches. There is even a canary in a cage that went to meet its maker in the 1920s.

I am shown into a room with a vast, pink-covered bed and shuttered windows: "10 p.m., 23 August 1927", it says in the corner. "This is the bed where he passed away," a lady in a black veil says softly, as if the old boy is still lying there.

It is the same bedroom into which British soldiers stormed, on December 23, 1921, to send him off to exile in Malta; the guide wrongly claims we packed him off to Aden but there is an air of unreality about the whole place. The Zaghloul bathroom, for example, with a wicker chair to sit in while showering, and all those photographs of the early Wafd members, a fez on every one of them. There is even Zaghloul’s ceremonial dress as prime minister, a cross between a major-domo’s coat and an opera jacket, with the gold livery of a field marshal embroidered down the front.

Unlike Morsi however, Zaghloul wanted to live in a modern, progressive, secular Egypt, saying of his party in 1919 that "the present movement in Egypt is not a religious movement – for Muslims and Copts demonstrate together – and neither is it a xenophobic movement or a movement calling for Arab unity". Egypt for the Egyptians. You can see why he might be missed today, after an election campaign in which the words "Islam" and "security" seemed interchangeable platitudes.

Zaghloul wasn’t a perfect man. He failed to make any impression on delegates to the Versailles peace conference after the first world war (they foolishly ignored his demands for independence) and he has been accused of cheating on his expenses during his trip to Paris. He abused one of his closest friends by claiming he was only brought into the Wafd because he was rich. In later days, he grovelled to the British.

After assassins shot dead Sir Lee Stack, the military governor of Sudan, the British demanded, and got, a formal apology and an indemnity of £500,000. Stack survived for two days in the house of Lord Allenby but Zaghloul thought it was all a plot against him. "The bullet that took his life was not aimed at his chest but rather at mine," he said. Someone did try to kill Zaghloul at Cairo railway station. His grey jacket hangs behind glass outside his bedroom, his blood still staining the material.

But the ordinary people, the street-sweepers and the villagers and the poor, loved him. His lean, mustachioed face with the inevitable fez on top was as familiar to Egyptians as Arafat’s was to Palestinians. Huda Shaarawi, perhaps a greater feminist than Safeya, wrote an infinitely sad letter to Zaghloul in 1924, quoted at length by her biographer, pleading with him to resign as prime minister.

"The country does not want to let you go," she wrote. "It made you its leader in the hope that you would keep your promise of achieving the total independence of both Egypt and the Sudan. However, the longer you stay in power, the greater is the distance between the reality of what is happening in this nation and what you promised. In the light of your failure as a statesman, I am urging you not to become an obstacle yourself." Zaghloul, said Shaarawi, "should rid us of the embarrassment to which we have been subjected by stepping down…"

In the great 1919 revolution Zaghloul led against the British, hundreds of Egyptians were killed while Safeya and Huda led protest marches through Cairo, banging on the doors of foreign embassies and demanding independence. Safeya’s library is still intact – a French edition of Alfred Milner’s England In Egypt nestles beside volumes on Turkey and a book intriguingly titled The Psychology of Contemporary England. It is, of course, the psychology of contemporary Egypt we must now study, an Arab nation whose army commanders will try to ensure that Morsi’s powers, such as they are, will be further stripped from him. Zaghloul might have glanced at the crossed-sword epaulettes of the Egyptian generals and been reminded of General Allenby. Armies know how to safeguard their own power.

And, for a man born long before his time, it is a dismal fact that Zaghloul died despairing of his own people. "Cover me, Safeya," were his last words, uttered on that pink-covered bed. "It’s of no use." 

The above article was published in The Independent on June 25, 2012; www.independent.co.uk


Archived From Communalism Combat,  July 2012. Year 18, No. 167 - Arab Spring

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In front of Govandi station, Mumbai

Tuesday

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Samaj Seva Kendra Hall, Dadar West, Mumbai

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Archives