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Wednesday, October 23, 2019

A General Out of Labyrinth


SAURABH KUMAR SHAHI | Issue Dated: July 12, 2013, Cairo
Tags : A General Out of Labyrinth |

The signs were ominous. More importantly, explicit. After all, not even a year had passed since the first uprising at Cairo's Tahrir Square that led to the ouster of Hosni Mubarak when banners proclaiming “Mubarak! We are Sorry” started making their way to the same venue. It was becoming pretty obvious that a year of life under the Islamists was proving to be more intolerable for Egyptians than three decades under a secular despot. And that was indeed quite telling.

Many regional analysts, as well as intelligence agencies, had got an inkling of what was in store in the days to come. The only one who appeared oblivious of the ground realities was President Mohammad Morsi himself.
A year under Morsi's rule was tumultuous at best and disastrous at its worst. When people overwhelmingly voted for him, and hence tacitly Muslim Brotherhood, in the presidential elections, they did so because the choice was limited. Morsi's main opponent was a Mubarak era official and people were in no mood for any kind of residual from the past. Also, since Morsi did not fight officially as a Brotherhood candidate, people had some hopes. Most of which were dashed within weeks of him entering into office.

Suppressed, hounded and persecuted since the days of Colonel Nasser, right to the days of Mubarak, with Sadat in between; Brotherhood got a chance to implement its agenda both inside and outside Egypt. But like any anarchist group, the tryst with power was uncomfortable. Rather than working on strengthening the fabric of a polarised society, Brotherhood started to push the ethnic and ideological groups further apart. Naturally, the Christians, Shiites and other secular and liberal Muslims started showing signs of discomfort.In a baffling incident, some members of the Brotherhood actually gathered to decide whether or not tea can be considered haraam.

The Brotherhood also faced a steep ideological climb right in front of it. Salafists, the most extreme ideologues of Islam, were growing in numbers under patronisation of Saudi money. Although their overall impact was still piffling in comparison to what the Brotherhood commanded in Egypt, they did had nuisance value. The relationship started well with the Salafist Nour Party collaborating at all levels with Brotherhood. Its members became advisers to the President as well. However, there was no love lost. After all, Saudi Arabia, Salafist's main benefactor, has always been jittery about Brotherhood and its “subversive actions”. The collaboration had to be short lived. The fight over the ouster of a Nour Party member from the government early this year completed the inevitable. In short, it was becoming obvious that they were unfit to rule.

“I call the phenomenon 'desacralisation of Islamism,' where Islamists’ indulgence in politics decreases their credibility and appeal. And the more they do, the less they can maintain their symbolic and moral power,” explains Khalil al-Anani, an expert on political Islam based in Durham.

And while the Brotherhood brought all the agonies, it did not bring any incentive it was expected to bring. Morsi and his aides travelled to Washington and struck a tacit understanding with the Americans safeguarding their and, more importantly, Israel's interest in the region. In fact, Brotherhood showed unusual haste in becoming bedfellows with the Israelis. It was not for nothing that when one of the Israeli spokesmen claimed after the ouster of Morsi that Israel was comfortable with the latter, he looked visibly distraught.

And if that was not enough, Brotherhood and its ideological leader Qardawi's involvement in destabilising Syria did not go down well with secular masses and the armed forces. Morsi's snapping of ties with Damascus was followed by his appeal to Egyptians for jihad in a private capacity. By doing so, Morsi erased the difference between an Arab monarch and an Arab elected president. The armed forces were left stunned. It saw a chance to intervene, and did intervene. 

The question is, was it people's wish? It is hard to say. There is no doubt that a large, and dominant section of Egyptians wanted to see the back of Morsi. But the question whether or not they will like to see the face of General Abdul Fatah al-Sisi remains open ended.

“It means that Egypt has another shot at completing the revolution that was stillborn in 2011 when the secular groups were rendered ineffective. Why will these groups fare better in the future than they have in the past? In the past two and a half years, the secular groups have become better organised and more unified. Moreover, it appears that the military is further levelling the playing field by suppressing the ability of the Muslim Brotherhood to sow instability. And if the promised collaboration across religious and political divides materialises as the country advances toward its next government, it is possible that Egypt will now undergo a true political revolution, one that involves a new social contract for the country and is inclusive of a more diverse set of political voices,” maintains Ross Harrison, a US-based expert who keeps an eye on the incidents unfolding in Egypt.

The ouster and the post modern coup that we are witnessing will also have huge impact in the regional politics. Take for example Syria. The unceremonious ouster first of the Emir of Qatar and now Morsi has damaged Brotherhood's sway in Syria. The only person happier than Bashar al-Assad is the Saudi Intelligence chief. In a move that surprised everyone concerned, the figurehead leader of the Syrian opposition, a man who proudly proclaimed on several occasions that he was a Qatari stooge, was kicked out and was replaced with someone who is closer to Riyadh. The insurgency in Syria appears to be on its last legs unless the world powers decide to intervene.

In Ankara, Erdogan appears to be a bitter man. He had relied heavily on Morsi and his Brotherhood to expand his influence in both Egypt and Syria. None seems to be working. And with Morsi gone in a post modern coup, the generals in Ankara might also get a clue or two. And that is bound to give him sleepless nights.

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Issue Dated: Feb 5, 2017