|EGYPT: THE COMING OF BEARDS AND SCARVES
By Uli Schmetzer
,FEBRUARY 1, 2011 --- As the so-called Free World rallies behind pro-democracy protests in Egypt little thought is given to the Islamic fundamentalists poised to take over if autocratic president Hosni Mubarak’s regime is ousted.
One more time the western world is in danger of a monumental blunder of its own making. Having ignored and often financed the brutal regimes of absolute rulers for decades Washington and its allies seem to change sides always when it is too late, supporting populist pro-democracy movements that are inevitably hijacked by even more sinister forces then those headed by the ousted dictators.
The lessons of Iran, Iraq, Palestine, Nicaragua, Somalia, Tunisia, Chile and others have failed to make our governments realize that people repressed and brutalized will eventually fight back. And they usually turn to those who have carried the torch of opposition and suffered torture and persecution during dark days. And they turn away from nations that financed the repression of previous regimes.
In Egypt the Islamic Brotherhood, though operating with the fake face of moderation these days, is the only organized populist force to eventually take over the country and impose its basic demand that the Koran must be the sole point of reference ordering the life of a Muslim family. The result will be similar to Iran where the imperialist Shah was replaced by the rule of the mullahs. In short a secular dictatorship exchanged for a religious dictatorship.
And the tragedy does not stop there.
Unlike previous blunders (which ended in local dramas and civil wars) Egypt’s Islamic Brotherhood is not just an Egyptian but a Pan-Arab movement. Its ideological followers have solid roots and often seats in parliaments across the Arab nations, from Jordan to Palestine (Hamas) to Syria, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iraq, Tunisia, Libya and Algeria.
Nearly all of these countries are key suppliers of oil – the lifeblood of our western civilization. Nationalizing, rationing or cutting these vital supplies will inevitably force wealthy nations to go to war, conflicts our leaders will sell as ‘liberation struggles’ or ‘anti-terrorist campaigns’ yet in reality these will be wars to ensure our petrol pumps will not run dry. Those who want to take away the oil will be labeled ‘terrorists’ – misguided people who believe the oil on their land is theirs and not the property of the international oil companies.
Judging by the anti-U.S placards of protesters on Tahrir Square in Cairo the Egyptian public, like the rest of the Arab world, are aware their repressive and corrupt regimes have been propped up by U.S. financial aid for decades. Washington’s annual aid to Mubarak’s Egypt was some two billion dollars. Yet the United States - whatever noise it makes today in support of reforms - is highly unpopular among the Egyptian masses whose intellectuals argue, justifiably, if Washington had attached demands for reforms and less repression to its aid packages in the past the current situation could have been avoided.
Now it is too late.
Friends who have been reporting from Tahrir Square for the last week say initially the protesters were mainly young students dressed in jeans and T-shirts. But over the last days young men in long Arab garbs and easily identified as members of the Islamic Brotherhood with their compulsory short-cropped hair and long beards, have taken over, together with black-dressed women wearing head scarves. The Brotherhood is distributing food and water, giving it the aura of a social welfare organization. The same aura propelled Hamas to become the undisputed leader in the Gaza Strip.
Although prominent figures of the Brotherhood are currently on ‘a charm offensive,’ renouncing militancy, advocating peaceful protests and pledging they have no interest in running the country (while advocating ‘Islamic democracy’ whatever that means) their track record is worrying.
Though frowning on ‘terrorism’ in public, Brotherhood splinter groups have advocated the use of force. The organization has close contacts with groups advocating ‘jihad’ (holy war) among them Hamas and believes the fight against Zionism must continue to liberate Palestine.
(One positive outcome of the Egyptian crisis maybe the onus on Israel to make a settlement with the Palestinians since it can no longer rely on the peace accord with Egypt if populism triumphs in Cairo and fundamentalism becomes the spark that lights the fire of change throughout the Middle East)
For years fundamentalists have operate with false faces while they consolidate power) to placate domestic and international concerns.
Founded in 1928 by Islamic scholar and Sufi schoolteacher Hassad al-Banna (later assassinated) the Islamic Brotherhood is the oldest Islamic political group. In the 1930s it embraced Hitler’s Germany, translating the Fuehrer’s Mein Kampf into Arabic mainly because the Hitler regime was anti-Jewish and was expected to help the Brotherhood rid Egypt of the hated British administration.
Accused, perhaps wrongly, of a failed plot to assassinate Gamal Abdel Nasser in 1954 hundreds of Brotherhood members were arrested and cruelly tortured and the group was proscribed. But by 2005 its members, still proscribed as a party, stood as independents for parliament and gained twenty percent of the seats, the largest opposition bloc.
Many Egyptians are convinced their secular liberty is in danger if the Brotherhood gains power by jumping on the bandwagon of protest as a fellow rider before gradually dominating and taking over the reins of ‘democratic’ power. The Islamists are assured of a majority vote by the mass of the poor.
“If the Islamic Brotherhood were in a position to enforce its ideological monopoly the vast majority of the populace would face severe restrictions on their freedom of opinion and belief, not just on religious matters, but on social, political, economic and cultural affairs as well,” wrote political analyst Sameh Fawzy in the Al-Ahram weekly newspaper.
The reverberations of events in Egypt are certain to engulf the entire Arab world. With governments corrupt and autocratic, the great mass of Arab citizen reaped no benefits from the oil wells and watched with growing anger as the privileged basked in luxury. In this climate Islamic fundamentalism promised, just as the communists did previously, to right the many wrongs and offer everyone – who believes in their interpretation of Islam – a just share in the nation’s wealth.
Such promises though betrayed in the past still fall on receptive ears.
Uli Schmetzer was a a foreign correspondent for forty years
covering Latin America, Asia and the Middle East. He is the author of
Gaza, a realistic novel of his experiences, Times of Terror, an autobiography and The Chinese Juggernaut, the powerful Chinese Diaspora in South-East Asia and Australia. All his books are available on www.Amazon.com
| EGYPT: REVOLUTION OR SLIDE OF HANDS?
UNDATED, February 12 – The message that flashed around the world after street protests forced Hosni Mubarak to resign his 32-year old mandate was intoxicating: Peoples Power is very much alive and easily mobilized thanks to modern telecommunications today.
In fact the uprisings in Egypt and Tunisia constitute a stark warning that the comfortable status quo of our corporate-run consumer societies is now vulnerable to the outrage of those who have been sidelined or dispossessed, materially and spiritually, by the greed of a few.
The Egyptian ‘revolution’ is intimidating not only for other autocrats in the Middle East or the developing world but for Washington and its allies who have supported Pax Americana for decades - often no more than unqualified military, financial and political support for local strongmen-thugs.
Mubarak’s demise is also America’s demise.
He was Washington’s Arab pillar in the Middle East for three decades. His country - or his cronies - were paid two billion dollars a year to keep the Arab world’s largest nation on a pro-U.S. keel and at peace with Israel, a peace deal signed thirty years ago that made it superfluous for Israel to seriously attempt a settlement with the Palestinians or withdraw from the Occupied Territories.
While euphoric Egyptians celebrated with justified pride their victory over a dictatorship Israelis now face an uncertain future, uncertain because popular Arab sentiment has always been with ‘our Palestinian brothers.’ Tomorrow or next year, Egypt, the neighbor next door, might no longer be a complacent spectator as the Jewish State continues to bully Palestinians. In fact one of the positive results of the triumph on Tahrir Square might be overdue U.S. pressure on Israel to make a peace agreement with the Palestinians, so removing the core cause of the dispute with Islam.
In the past however Washington has shown neither foresight nor wisdom in dealing with the Middle East. It has placated both Israel and the Arabs with handouts. The U.S has been unwilling (thanks to the Zionist lobby) to exert more then paternal advise to Israel to make peace. And it pacified pro-Palestinian Arab sentiments with military toys and political support for omnipotent Arab sheiks, kings and tyrants.
With popular uprisings in Tunisia and Egypt pointing the way for the rest of the Arab world the old American ruse to support the headmen and forget the people may no longer be effective in nations like Egypt where the wealth never reached down to the people, where 40 per cent of Egyptians live below or on the poverty line – and where people have now realized the power in numbers.
More worrying for the West is the prospect of populist uprisings sweeping across the Middle East to imperil the flow of oil, the lifeblood of our industrialized nations. Rationing, curtailing or withholding oil from western pumps would inevitably be considered an act of war.
Taken already by surprise in Tunisia the U.S. State Department and the White House bumbled and fumbled through the Egyptian uprising sending conflicting signals. One minute U.S. officials insisted Hosni Mubarak must stay to ensure a peaceful transition of power, the next they attempted to placate protesters with support for ‘democratic reforms’ (an antiquated pacification formula never honored before) or warned them against creating chaos.
All the time however, with the Arabs acutely aware, the U.S. pledged its total support for an Israel so panicked by what was happening on Tahrir Square the Israeli defense minister made an urgent and unprecedented plea for a peace treaty with the Palestinians.
So what of the future?
Obviously the most serious danger facing the Peoples Revolt is that it will be hijacked by the Armed Forces, by Islamic fundamentalists or the bright young Egyptian activists who have been trained and indoctrinated in the United States after being awarded U.S. scholarships. These U.S.-trained ‘democrats,’ perhaps the next generation of Egyptian plutocrats, were among the leaders on Tahrir Square.
In marketing strategy brand names are often changed to give a product a fresh ‘promotional’ flavor even though the ingredients remain the same. This might happen in Egypt tomorrow where a politically bankrupt government system and its Washington financiers will try to reinvent the same regime by gluing on new faces – and a new label.
The ‘change-the-brand formula’ has already been tried out successfully in Tunisia where durable dictator Ben Ali fled only to be replaced by the people who had been in power with him. Political parties are like Medusas: Chop off one head and others will grow.
In fact as Washington waffles on about transition one might well ask: Transition to what – a new brand with the old recipe?
Uli Schmetzer was foreign correspondent for Reuters and the Chicago Tribune in the Middle East, Europe, Asia and Latin America. He is the author of ‘Times of Terror’ ‘Gaza’ and ‘The Chinese Juggernaut’ all available on www.Amazon.com