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Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Days of Rage - an Egyptian Melt Down



Everyone is concerned about the coup d’├ętat by the Egyptian military.  Of course, no-one is calling it a coup but it is difficult to describe a situation where the elected government of a country is replaced, by force, with an unelected government as anything other than that.  The media are full of excited speculation about the direction the violent confrontation will take. No doubt as the death toll rises they will become even more energized and speculative about the probable direction of the conflict.  This is not about democracy but about a venomous identity and Western support for a failed extremist theology.

Debate is polarized because the facts presented by pundits are no more than entrenched political ideological positions and therefore, they are not truths but passionately held theories at risk of being shown to be false.

No wonder the experts are so agitated. It is difficult to generate excitement about Israeli-Palestinian Peace Talks where a news blackout is in place to prevent either side from grandstanding in order to undermine the talks.  There are no natural disasters to take our minds off the tedium of our cyclical weather.  And wars are thankfully uncommon in the 21st Century. And so we are left with Egypt. Because, save for Syria, nothing much else is happening in the world.  Therefore, everyone will offer their sage advice without really contributing anything honest to the discussion. 

We could be presumptive and view the whole exercise since the January 25 Revolution in 2011 overthrew the regime of President Hosni Mubarak as the military giving the Muslim Brotherhood plenty of rope to hang itself.  They certainly did that.

The Egyptian Military allegedly own around a third of the Egyptian economy.  Following the 1952 Revolution by that same military they have continued to exercise control in a country that has a relatively diverse economic base and therefore, the potential to sustain the economy irrespective of the upheavals that global events create internationally.  But the most powerful rival that the military faces is the Muslim Brotherhood. It is an Egyptian creation, having been founded in Egypt in 1928 and it has remained influential, feared and for much of that time, banned. When not banned it was tolerated and encouraged in its social work which alleviated poverty for many Egyptians, fostering obedience rather than helping anyone to actually leave poverty behind them.

The Brotherhood is a conservative, Islamic movement that is fundamentally intolerant of any vision other than its own narrow Islamic one. It has been happy to encourage others to create chaos even as it remains on the sidelines, often providing condemnation of violence while tacitly approving of those that carry it out.  Quite simply, the greater the chaos, the more people flock to its cause.  Islamic social and political justice, a destiny of conquest and rejection of a Western identity deemed corrupt, this is the dream. And it is the vision for a purified Islam, untainted by foreign influences.  Its nativist approach is by theological design ethnocentric and wholly bigoted.

While not all Muslim Brotherhood movements have been reactionary they are the exception, not the rule.

Morsi never had his eye on the economy.  He took the country from being a natural gas exporter to a state that this year needed to import gas.  Fuel shortages sent food prices soaring in a country where estimates of the population vary from a low of 80 million to a high of 90 million. And it has almost two million new mouths to feed born each year.   Over 50% of the population are under the age of 25 and 13.5% are unemployed (although the percentage is much higher for the young who despair of any kid of positive future) see: CIA World Factbook. Morsi was more concerned with consolidating power than feeding his people.

And here lies the crux of the problem. A movement that sees progress as a contagion and views its purpose as a return to the period of the brutal founding of its faith, in the seventh Century CE, can be relatively successful (as it has in Iran and Turkey) if it controls the nations’ resources (which in Egypt they did not) and if it is capable of running the country. But the Muslim Brotherhood rushed headlong towards economic catastrophe and did not seem concerned with the damage it caused.  Recent forecasts of Egyptian food needs are horrifying.  Egypt imports 80% of its grain needs and 60% of its total food requirements. It is expected to run out of both food reserves and cash before the end of 2013. With the overthrow of the Morsi regime this nightmare scenario may now be delayed by an emergency loan of twelve billion dollars provided by the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia

Starvation, violence, anarchy and terrorism are the dangers that lie barely beneath the surface of Egyptian society. The danger lies in the oft quoted example of Algeria. After the generals cancelled the 1991 election victory of the Islamic Salvation Front (FIS) a civil war was ignited that ultimately killed between 50,000 and 200,000 and was witness to whole villages being slaughtered.   The Muslim Brotherhood is patient but it has never been a particularly pleasant winner; it is an even worse loser. When the "Arab Spring" came to Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood took control of Tahrir Square and sexual harassment, abuse, and rape of women skyrocketed.

83% of Egyptian women have experienced sexual harassment, but 98% of foreign female visitors have suffered an often worse fate if, they dared to appear in public. In Tahrir Square after the revolution, organized rape of women became common place and this was somehow justified through the accusation that the ‘accused’ women were Coptic Christians, or Foreigners.

If the will of the people is something we should all respect then similarly we should respect the arbitrary sexual violence of the Egyptian Revolution, it’s burning down of churches, the ethnic cleansing of the Christian minority and its incitement against Israel.  Certainly, the world’s major newspapers have had a hard time coming to terms with the fall from power of the Muslim Brotherhood. 

At the time of the July 3rd coup against President Morsi, the world’s major “quality” newspapers were all horrified by the overthrow of Egypt’s first democratically elected president without considering the damage he had done to Egypt or why he failed.

The April 6 Movement that preceded the Revolution to overthrew President Mubarak made their own progressive demands for change.  But their platform did not tackle the strategic issues inherent within Arab society of triumphalism and jingoism (which by definition seeks, by belligerent endeavor, the acquisition of power and dominance through a focus on chauvinistic enterprises.) The international Press romanticized popular enthusiasm for change by referring to the youthful exuberance of the protesters ‘camping out’ in Tahrir Square but it was still change within an historical framework that was willing to ride to power on the back of popular prejudice.

True revolutionaries are bigots who willingly sacrifice others for their cause even as they demand real change.  This summer, Tamarod, the successor to the April 6 Movement likewise, took to the streets to demand a ‘return’ to so called ‘liberal’ democracy.  They overthrew President Morsi and his Muslim Brotherhood government. They also called for the cancellation of the peace treaty with Israel – a demand that the Muslim Brotherhood saw as desirable but placed on a wish list far, far away.  In celebration of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan a virulently racist TV serial was broadcast across the Arab (and wider?) Muslim world. As the Morsi overthrow sunk in, initially, Muslims destroyed 40 churches and severely damaged 28 others.

Nations that willingly embrace violence and hate; that demand greater respect for their ‘values’ while showing not the slightest interest in reciprocation or in fact, of reforming their own hate filled societies have no right to make demands of us.  And yet, on the eve of his first trip to the United States, President Mohamed Morsi instructed the United States to show greater respect for Arab values.  Turkey has told its citizens and their descendants living throughout the European Community they are first and foremost, Turkish Muslims.  Negative reciprocity is a marker for Islamic relations with the non-Muslim world; generosity and kindness are not.  It is always easier to blame a traditional foe for ones own failures.

The Jewish faith teaches that there was a beginning and that we should look forward, not back.  Perhaps this is Islam’s greatest weakness (as well as its greatest strength). Everything is referenced to the past, not as a guide to the future but as a model of unchallengeable and therefore, unchangeable perfection.  If the embodiment of all that is to be aspired towards took place 1,400 years ago, at a time of Muslim savagery and conquest then the failure to complete that conquest with equal or even greater murderous cruelty must have its non-Islamic scapegoat.

We can be sure that there will be many conspiracy theories surrounding the failure of the Morsi era.  It lasted less than a year.  But the one thing Egypt will not do is to seriously address the internal dysfunction and prejudice that has made it unable to overcome centuries of malevolent mediocrity.

Free and fair elections brought fascism to power in Egypt and in the West too many cheered the result.  A recent article asked whether democracy was a process or a result. In fact, democracy is a state of mind.  It is not a favor that is granted and one that may be diminished by special interest groups but an inalienable right. It is tolerance for widely divergent opinions; respect for everyone, even ones enemies; it is checks and balances and then and only then, a press and judiciary that is free from fear or interference. But most important of all, democracy works because it rejects the demagogue and practices emotional control on an individual and group basis.  The election of a fundamentalist party to power was a vote for fascism.  In contradiction to the accepted view, it was a failure of democracy.

Respecting Arab values will neither feed the Arab masses nor will it save the defenseless Arab (or non-Arab) woman from her groping and predatory Arab master. But in the Western World choosing sides is unpopular, unless it is against America or Zionism (i.e. Jewish Israel). 

And that is why there will be no meaningful discussion of the failure of the Arab Spring or of the nature of the illness that afflicts Egypt.

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