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 Mubarakâ€™s regime is
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) Egyptâ€™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
Nearly all of these countries are key suppliers of oil â€“ 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 â
€˜liberation strugglesâ€™ or â€˜anti-terrorist campaignsâ€™ 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 â€˜terroristsâ€™ â€“ 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.
Washingtonâ€™s annual aid to Mubarakâ€™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
Although prominent figures of the Brotherhood are currently on â€˜a charm offensive,â€™ renouncing
militancy, advocating peaceful protests and pledging they have no interest in running the country (while advocating â
€˜Islamic democracyâ€™ whatever that means) their track record is worrying.
Though frowning on â€˜terrorismâ€™ in public, Brotherhood splinter groups have advocated the use of force.
The organization has close contacts with groups advocating â€˜jihadâ€™ (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 Hitlerâ€™s Germany, translating the Fuehrerâ
€™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
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 â€˜democraticâ
€™ power. The Islamists are assured of a majority vote by the mass of the poor.
â€œIf 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,â€� wrote political analyst Sameh Fawzy in the Al-Ahram weekly
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 â€“ who believes in their interpretation of Islam â€“ a just share in the nationâ
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 â€“ 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 â€˜revolutionâ€™ 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.
Mubarakâ€™s demise is also Americaâ€™s demise.
He was Washingtonâ€™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 worldâ€™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 â€˜our Palestinian brothers.â
€™ 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
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 â€“ 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 â
€˜democratic reformsâ€™ (an antiquated pacification formula never honored before) or warned them against creating
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 â
€˜democrats,â€™ perhaps the next generation of Egyptian plutocrats, were among the leaders on Tahrir
In marketing strategy brand names are often changed to give a product a fresh â€˜promotionalâ€™ 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 â€“ and a
The â€˜change-the-brand formulaâ€™ 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 â€“ 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 â€˜Times of Terrorâ€™ â€˜Gazaâ€™ and â€˜The Chinese Juggernautâ€™ all
available on www.Amazon.com