Are we in a “…….” or just smelling the roses?

Farid Zahran
12 Min Read

Farid ZahranThis question is often repeated during times of crisis. When a nation finds itself consumed by war or strife, inevitably some will decide to remove themselves from the equation and occupy their time with trivial matters. A number of my friends have asked me this question since I published last week’s article where I attempted to analyse the state of Middle East politics occurring throughout the broader region. I will respond to this question now, and attempt to do so in detail.

I will start by first presenting an interrogative question of my own, which is: are we really in a state of “……”?  We know that Egypt’s current political situation is complicated, however I disagree that we have arrived at the state of “……” that some describe. Many have reacted with shock and awe over the supposed spontaneous rise to power of Egypt’s Islamists and Salafis, almost as if they were imported from abroad and brought in for the sole purpose of prodding at the country’s leftists and liberals.

We obviously know that the Muslim Brotherhood and its allies have been in Egypt for years, and currently exist as the remnants of the same reactionary, repressive forces that have cast a cloud of social despair over our country for decades. The overthrowing of Mubarak regime, and the absence of any powerful social democratic movement to take its place, served almost as an invitation for the country’s Islamists to come to power.

Is it not true that after any revolution it is the organised parties, or more precisely those that possessed an organisational structure before its outbreak, that ride the wave of reform to increase their political power? In this scenario, there are always groups that benefit more than expected and others who benefit less than they should, either due to a lack of organisation or because of the dullness of their ideas and philosophy. In the case of Egypt, it goes without saying that the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis gained the most from the change that came with the revolution, despite the fact that it began as a leaderless movement without any religious or Islamist tinge to it at all.

That being said, the natural chain of events in Egypt has progressed logically: a popular revolution supported by all the country’s political opposition forces is co-opted by the most organised and best able to administer the affairs of the country and determine its fate. However despite this, and despite the fact that Egypt’s true democratic movements had been repressed and forced into political exile for more than six decades, they have still been successful in challenging the Muslim Brotherhood’s grip on power, succeeding in this endeavour more than most had expected.

For the last two years, since it became clear that the Muslim Brotherhood was set to rise to power and bring back the same repressive regime propped up by the same military junta that has administered our country for over sixty years, Egypt’s democratic forces have shocked themselves and the world at the extent to which they have successfully prevented the Brotherhood from liquidating and eliminating the country’s opposition.

Has the Muslim Brotherhood succeeded in silencing Egypt’s free media? Despite the fact that many Muslim Brotherhood supporters have been placed in the highest ranks of the country’s many media outlets (the Minister of Information in particular), Egypt’s democratic forces have still been able to secure a place for themselves within the country’s airwaves and print media. This is thanks to the struggle of hundreds of courageous journalists and reporters, many of them from the country’s youth.

So we must ask, after having taken control of the country’s executive and legislative branches, have the Brotherhood and its allies become more popular amongst the ranks of ordinary Egyptians? All statistical indicators point to no. The Brotherhood’s first constitutional referendum, put forth on 19 March 2012, passed with 78% with no recorded instances of rigging.

This is in comparison to the last referendum, which passed with 64% approval, with widespread cases of rigging being reported by a number of NGOs and civil rights organisations. This is in addition to the fact that President Mohamed Morsi received only 52% of the vote during the country’s presidential election, despite the fact that Ahmed Shafiq was not popular amongst much of the country’s current opposition.

I don’t want to spend too much time on this issue, but before I move on I must point out that Egypt’s democratic forces have also been successful in dissolving Morsi’s Constitutional Declaration, and succeeded in amending a number of clauses in the constitution after applying pressure through a concerted political and media campaign.

Now we can move on to the second point, and ask our readers whether or not concern over the state of events outside of Egypt throughout the broader Middle East should really be considered “smelling the roses”? Of course not, because Egypt’s repressive, reactionary forces are more likely to gain ground inside the country if we as citizens are not conscious of affairs going on around us regionally and internationally.

Egypt has always been an influential country, and it makes sense that if our nation’s regional and democratic forces do not come up with a clear vision as to what our role is going to be vis-à-vis the outside world, then other players, either domestic or foreign, will come in to fill the vacuum.

In short, Egypt has an important regional and international role to play, and if we, as supporters of true democracy, do not develop an idea as to how that role should manifest itself, then the country’s reactionary forces will push us into playing a role that brings with it nothing but destruction and servitude.

It is necessary to clarify in detail how current events in the region have the potential to manipulate and affect Egypt’s current domestic politics. Despite its significance, I do not intend to discuss the complexities of the Arab-Israeli conflict here, as that is an issue best saved for another article.

I would like to focus instead on that which was discussed last week, and Egypt’s relationship with other regional powers, particularly Saudi Arabia, Turkey, and Iran. How does Egypt’s relationship with these countries affect the average, ordinary citizen? In short, Israel and the United States seek to split the Middle East into two axes, one Shi’a, the other Sunni, for the purpose of weakening countries in the region and preventing its people from co-operating and working to achieve their shared goals.

These efforts could lead to a regional war that may potentially draw in Egypt, a scenario which would only serve Israeli interests and those of America and Europe’s right wing, who view abandonment of their control over the Middle East as heresy and a form of treason.

It almost seems like yesterday that the US blindly invaded Iraq based on the assumption that the regime there possessed weapons of mass destruction, despite the fact that there existed no evidence to back up these claims. Worse yet, after having looted and destroyed the country, no one from the US has yet apologised for launching the war; instead they have begun dealing with Iran in the same way.

There is, on the other hand, a plethora of evidence pointing to the fact that Israel possesses a large nuclear arsenal, but no one seems to care. There exists nothing of the sort with regards to Iran, who has repeatedly denied possessing any such weapons or harboring any intentions to produce them. Despite that, Israel continues to threaten Iran with the launching of a military strike.

This double standard is despicable and borderline racist. Not to defend Saddam Hussein or the Maliki regime, but if we are discussing punishing repressive regimes, then why not Israel, the world’s only truly religious state?

What we ask is that all players in the region give up their weapons of mass destruction and stop living by double standards. What we don’t want is to see Egypt enter into any sort of strategic axis or pursue stubborn, jingoistic policies that hinder efforts at regional cooperation and push the Middle East towards inevitable war and conflict.

We are not in a state of “…..” yet, and concerning oneself with regional issues is not “smelling the roses”. What we find ourselves in is an open conflict with conservative, reactionary forces both within and outside Egypt, and just as we struggle domestically to achieve social justice, we also must do so regionally in order to avoid the outbreak of conflict amongst the people of the Middle East.

We cannot allow for governments in the region to export their revolutions and ideologies in an attempt to mold other countries in their image, as those countries who export are inevitably bound to intervene in the affairs of those they attempt to influence. This should not, however, be confused with countries attempting to emulate others who have presented a positive image of themselves on the world stage. Such a scenario does not encourage foreign intervention and should not be treated as such.

Only by adopting the policies of non-intervention and agreeing to rid ourselves of weapons of mass destruction (this includes Israel) can the people of the Middle East begin to travel the road towards true co-operation and prosperity.

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Farid Zahran is a publisher and writer. He is the co-founder of the Egyptian Social Democratic Party
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