Earlier this year, the Muslim Brotherhood announced that it was reneging on its promise not to field a candidate in the 2012 presidential election, held this week, arguing that it had been forced to seek executive power. The Brotherhood said that the parliament, in which it won a plurality of seats in early 2012, had no real authority. Even after the parliamentarians were seated, the military-led Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) retained the power to nominate the cabinet, and the generals continually intervened in the process of constitution drafting. There was something to Brotherhood’s point: days before the presidential election, Egypt’s highest court, headed by an appointee from the era of former President Hosni Mubarak, dissolved the legislature.
With the parliament losing power by the day, the presidency looked like a last refuge for the Brotherhood. And its candidate, Muhammad Mursi, appears to have won in a closely fought race. If the initial results hold up—at the time of this writing, the Electoral Commission is still reviewing the more than 400 appeals filed by the two campaigns—the victory will be in name only. Despite gaining executive authority in principle, Mursi will have little power in practice. After months of subtler maneuvering, the military did away with the charade of a democratic transition in a series of power grabs that bookended the presidential vote. The first salvo was the re-imposition of martial law on June 13. Then, just as the polls were closing on June 17, the generals issued a supplemental constitutional declaration that granted them legislative authority and reinforced their role in the drafting of a permanent constitution. Not to be reined in, the brass also exempted itself from civilian oversight, giving itself the right to appoint and promote its own leadership, manage its own economic projects, and conclude arms deals. Finally, on June 18, Field Marshal Mohammed Hussein Tantawi announced the reestablishment of a national defense council, which puts the generals firmly in charge of Egypt’s national security policy.
The Brotherhood now faces a choice. It can seat Mursi and continue to legitimate a post-Mubarak transition that seems designed to advance the narrow interests of Egypt’s officer corps. Or it can return to the streets with the aim of unseating the military council.
Neither option offers the Brotherhood much benefit. Should Mursi take the oath of office as planned, it is unclear what authority he would actually have. The Egyptian military has already said that there will be no new parliamentary elections until a permanent constitution is drafted. The generals refuse to commit to a firm timeline, saying only that they hope to have a new constitution within four and a half months and a new parliament seated before the end of 2012. Operating in the absence of a permanent constitution and without a legislature, Mursi would have no authority to carry out the program of Islamic “renaissance” on which he ran, nor would he have any institutional allies. The ruling generals and the judiciary have shown no interest in Islamist-led change.
Moreover, should Mursi take up his position as the nominal president he will be exposing the Brotherhood to the familiar critique of intihaziya (opportunism. Many Egyptians already believe that the Brotherhood is happy to accommodate a military state when it means self-preservation, or when it gives them the opportunity to sideline their ideological competitors. In fact, this was the group’s pattern in the early 1950s and again during the 1970s, when the Brotherhood allowed itself to be used by the government as a tool to balance the secular left. The inclination toward intihaziya was visible in the run-up to the 2011-12 parliamentary elections, too. As the revolutionary groups battled security forces outside the Interior Ministry on the eve of the vote, the Brotherhood urged restraint. The fact that it then won a plurality reinforced the feeling that the group puts its political fortunes ahead of its principles.
On the other hand, should Mursi foreswear his post as the first freely elected president of Egypt after Mubarak, and the Brotherhood return to the streets, they may find that the moment for demonstrations has already passed. Sixteen long months after Mubarak was ousted, the star of the revolutionary youth has fallen considerably. Ordinary Egyptians appear weary of further unrest. Evidence of their exhaustion: only half of eligible voters turned out for the presidential runoff election, down considerably from the parliamentary elections. And around 48 percent of those who did show up voted for the stability candidate, Ahmed Shafiq, who did not bother to hide his connections to the previous regime. Egypt’s dismal economy exacerbates the fatigue; real per capita GDP contracted throughout 2011, and everyday Egyptians are feeling the pinch…
You know, when you wake up one morning and you see that David Cameron, Nicolas Sarkozy and Bernard Henri-Levy are on the same side as you are, you should realize right away that there is something wrong. When you see bearded men chanting Vive La France, Vive Sarkozy and taking pictures alongside Henri-Levy and the French flag, you know for sure that there is something terribly out of place here. The only thing left was Sarkozy to shout AllahuAkbar.
- Jahanzeb Hussain
… the other lesson of the Arab Spring is that the image which was being presented in the French media – or the Western media in general – of these countries has once again proven to be false. The image that the French media was trying to create of these revolutions reveals one of the facets of the Western ideological construction of the Orient. Both the Left and the Right celebrated the Spring as an event that marks the end of the difference between Us and Them. One could notice this at the annual Fete de l’Humanite as well. The precise image is that They are finally liberation themselves from their religion and culture to become like US; women are taking off the scarves (the West desperately wants to liberate the women of those who resist its hegemony); They are, at last, entering the world by accepting the West and not rejecting it, especially ending their incomprehensible hostilities towards Israel. The image of the Bad Arabwas gone and since, there were not anti-American and anti-Israeli slogans during the uprisings, the Good Arab had finally appeared.
However, this Orientalization is hopelessly empty because none of this is relevant for the people of the Arab countries. The uprisings are in the name of dignity, respect and freedom, instead of Islam. But what explains the electoral success of groups like Enahada and the Muslim Brotherhood is that, given the corrupt and opaque political and economic systems of North African and the Middle East, Islamistgroups are the only available outsiders and challengers to the status quo. Another important reason for the success of Enahda and the Muslim Brotherhood is that they talk in the language of Islam which has resonance among the population, since Islam promises a break from the colonial past, a return to the culture of the forefathers, as well as a chance for a new beginning. Thus, Islam is a part of identity politics and not theocracy because Arab societies have been going through a process of secularization for a considerable amount of time, therefore there’s absolutely no possibility of a theocracy in any of these countries. And those who are in the realm understand how important it is to talk in the language of Islam. It’s only Europe and North America – and a few rich Arab elites – who are outside of this realm. So it can be seen that the understanding of Islam for the Arabs has nothing to do with the ideologized Western perception of this religion. Furthermore, it’s imperative that Islam is allowed to be expressed because if the Islamists are constrained by the West then their expression will not be progressive and will become like that of Hamas.
There are three characteristics of the Arab Spring. First, one has to look at the relation between work and capital. A large mass of Arab population, especially the youth, are unemployed. Contrary to the Arab countries, Europe was able to absorb its youth bulge of post-WWII because the continent had an active industrial policy. In France, the population benefited from this period which is called Les Trente Glorieuses – the glorious 30 years of state-planned economic development – but the Middle East and North Africa haven’t had such a period.
The second characteristic is that many Arab countries were forced by the IMF to cut their social budgets. Moreover, the agriculture sector of these countries was privatized. One of the consequences of this was that there was a massive immigration from the periphery to the center. To give an example, 50% of the population in the revolt areas of Syria is from the countryside. People are forced to leave their farms for the cities, but they can’t find jobs in the cities because there are none.
The third characteristic is the high rate of population growth – 8% in many Arab countries – which their economy is unable to absorb. When you talk to the people from the World Bank, they mention youth unemployment. But nobody asks what kind of a situation the employed are in. Since the public sector is being dismantled under the directives of international financial institutions, 70% of the work is in the informal sector. Also, those who are self-employed are considered employed. Therefore, Mohammad Bouazizi – the young Tunisian fruit vendor who set himself alight, sparking the Arab Spring – belonged to the category of the employed.
The employed don’t have social security either. Previously, Arab countries used have a helpful state, which included free health care, but basic services were privatized as a result of the structural changes imposed on their economies by the IMF. Even in public hospitals, there are different procedures for those who can pay and those who can’t; and those who can pay receive better services.
One of the biggest reasons why the population of these countries was able to hold on is due to foreign remittance, which made up 20% to 30% of the economy. However, the global financial crisis had an adverse effect on foreign remittance and many people saw their hopes evaporate as a result.
By Jahanzeb Hussain
The most revealing position, however, is that of Iran. For many, this would be surprising, especially for those who read mainstream Western press, but the Iranians were ready to end their alliance with Bashar Al Assad. Iran started to establish links with the Syrian opposition in October last year; but as soon as it did so, the US pushed the United Nations to re-open Iran’s nuclear dossier and the following month the International Atomic Energy Agency published a harsh report on Iran’s uranium enrichment program. In face of renewed American pressure, Iran had no choice but to back off and, as self-defense, maintain its alliance with Assad. This shows that there is no Shia marriage between Iran and the Assads, but if the US plays the nuclear card then Iran is left with little option.
Mr. Lacroix stated that in fact the army was also opposed to Mubarak, especially his son Gamal Mubarak. This was not because of revolutionary reasons, but because Gamal, along with his young CEO friends, wanted to alter the structure of the economy and introduce changes which would undermine the army’s hold on the Egyptian economy. The military feared the Gamal Boys and, when the opportunity came – thanks to the Arab Spring – they used it as a cover to carry out an internal coup d’état. This is the reason why the army didn’t open fire against the protestors at Tahrir Square. But the army’s support for the uprisings doesn’t go further than that.
Another important enjeux is the election itself. Tahrir square has its own two candidates. One is an ex member of the Muslim Brotherhood who is now very popular among young activists in the Egyptian streets. The other is a former Salafist.
However, the Muslim Brotherhood and the army are in the same camp when it comes to picking a candidate. They both support Amr Musa, the former finance minister under Mubarak. He is not only close to the system but if he is named candidate, this could see a tactical alliance between the Brotherhood and the military. Will this be durable alliance or just a short-term calculation? The Muslim Brotherhood is not naïve when it comes to its relations with the military establishment, because they remember their experience under General Nasser – the Brotherhood supported Nasser but when he came to power, he turned his back on them and jailed the Muslim Brotherhood.
In Algeria, after the independence, the FLN considered itself to be the only master of the country. Also, at that time the Soviet and Stalinist model was very attractive for the newly independent countries: one party and one ideology. The authoritarian tendencies of FLN were evident even during the war of independence. It ruthlessly massacred all its opponents, including lots of youths who were participating in guerilla warfare, as well as the partisans of Messali Hadj. Even today the remnants of the old-guard of the FLN are holding power. Bouteflika became the interior minister immediately after independence. In fact, this old-guard is almost at the end of its biological life. The great question for Algeria is what comes after that. But after the civil war and hundreds of thousands of deaths, people are afraid of the future. They are scared of any upheaval.
Collateral Damage: Why has the question of relations between civilizations been raised in the French electoral campaign? Why did the UMP extend the anti-immigrant discourse to the relations between civilization when normally this discourse is centered on economic and security issues? Is it likely to have adverse effects on the foreign relations of France? France is generally perceived in the Muslim world as the most accommodating of the Western countries (such as its historical position on the Palestinian issue, Bosnia etc…). Can you imagine that the extreme-right in France will take Saudi Arabia to task for not respecting women’s rights? If the UMP wins the upcoming election, will this issue of civilizations have an impact on French relations with countries that apply the Sharia such as Saudi Arabia, UAE, Kuwait, Oman and Pakistan? Will it stop, for example, selling weapons to them or end its support of the existing regimes there?
Anouar Benmalek: There is logic in this type of discourse. There is a great reason. This is the first time in recent French history that the incumbent president, according to all the opinion polls, is set to loose in the next presidential elections. There is a state of panic in the ruling party. It is in this state of panic that Claude Guéant has been assigned the mission of attracting the votes of that 15-16 % of the electorate which is congenitally xenophobic. For electoral purposes, Nicolas Sarkozy has shed all his pretentions to be a president open to new ideas. He is a very pragmatic person. After his election in 2007, he tried to seduce liberal and even left-wing citizens by co-opting people like Bernard Kouchner. He took Rachida Dati, who is of Algerian origin, and gave her the Ministry of Justice, which is a key ministry. But now, it is time for him to rely on certain of his close advisors who, in fact, are of the extreme-right soul. This is a very opportunist maneuver, because by his life-style and morals, he is very far from the traditional conservative and moralist right-wingers in France. If he wins, he can very well try to cultivate again the image of a President who is open to new ideas. These electoral tactics would not bind him when it comes to foreign affairs. Despite the vehement anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim rhetoric, the main concern of the voters is the economy and unemployment. So in the end this rhetoric carries little weight with the majority of voters in France.
Check out Anouar Benmalek’s interview for this month’s version of my e-zine. Anouar Benmalek is a French writer of Algerian origin and he has been compared to Faulkner and Camus.
Discontent in some provinces in Saudi Arabia, notably the Shi`i dominated Eastern Province, have been brewing for some time as a result of living conditions, other forms of discrimination, and demands to release prisoners of conscience.
Saudi Arabia will be the main prize of the Arab Spring.
Netanyahu expressed his complete contempt for the Arab people’s ability to sustain democratic regimes, and his nostalgia for Hosni Mubarak’s regime in Egypt. He said he feared the collapse of Jordan’s Hashemite monarchy and also reiterated his absolute refusal to make any concessions to the Palestinians.
But time has proved him right, Netanyahu said. His forecast that the Arab Spring would turn into an “Islamic, anti-Western, anti-liberal, anti-Israeli and anti-democratic wave” turned out to be true, he said.
Look at this clown. He shows real progress, doesn’t he? By progressing with occupying more and more Palestinian land. On the top of that, he weaves logic like nobody else can: Claims that the Arab Spring is anti-democratic, but at the same time longs for Mubarak and wants the Jordanian monarchy to stay is power.
Seems like another one is down. Just before you go wild, know that he is just the face and the real regime is still in place, just as it is in Egypt and Tunisia. But still this is an important development.
I think the most important question and the paradox the Arab Spring brings about is this: Do we inevitably need a political party with all its cadres in order to change the political system? If a revolution is defined as an anti-establishment movement which wants to bypass the system in order to bring change, then voting in a certain party is a pro-establishment move, thus paradoxical for a revolution. At the same time, the danger we face is that political parties can steal and betray the revolution, and eat its own children. But at the same time, how do you influence the political system if you don’t have your party taking active part in it?
We can safely say that voting doesn’t really change anything. Activism and struggle at a grassroots level is the real motor of progress. The protestors in MENA will have to continue their activities in the long-term. This will need to happen in different forms, from occupying Tahrir square to daily vigilance on political parties if we reach a day when there is a democratic system free of military rule. It has to be a continuous revolution in its many different forms. Much needs to be defined in these movements and much remains to be seen.
From my experience in living in Canada and France as well as having friends from all over the world, I can confidently say that whenever you add the term Muslim/Islam to anything, that thing is automatically viewed in a negative way. Take the Muslim Brotherhood, for example. I am sure that if the organization was simply called Brotherhood and did not have Muslim as a prefix, then nobody would be falling out of their chairs on hearing that this party might win the elections in Egypt. Another example is the Ennahda in Tunisia, a party that is categorized as Islamist. Nobody cares to look at their economic program or any such important political matters, but only at the tag which is given or which the party gives to itself. Again, everyone is pulling their hair out at the fact that these terrible people happen to be the main opposition in Tunisia. The same goes for some of the other Arab/Muslim countries. However, Turkey is an interesting case. The country has what’s called an Islamist party, but you won’t hear that many complaints about it in the Western intellectual circles. This is because the party’s name is secondary and it’s their policies that are important. Turkey is a very secular Muslim country, and under Erdogan has made enormous economic progress. But this fact is ignored in the Western media, the fact that there happens to be an Islamist political party running one of the most important country in the world in a very modern and progressive manner.
However, this does not mean that I don’t recognize that there are groups which have done terrible things in the name of Islam, like in Iran, Afghanistan and Pakistan. But at the same time, I should also point out the fact that some of the most extremist factions that operate in the name of Islam happen to be the closest allies of the West. Zia-ul-Haq, who carried out the Islamization of Pakistan, was Regan’s favorite. The West mobilized and funded the Jihad in Afghanistan after the Soviet invasion, consequences of which we are all living with today. The fact that Bin Laden’s group also benefited during this era is no small matter either. And do I even have to mention the House of Saud? The US just signed a $60 billion military deal with the country and the deal could rise to more than $100 billion. The US also funded the Muslim Brotherhood in order to counter Nasser in Egypt. Not so scary, are they, the Brotherhood? Another case is that of Hamas. Hamas was supported by none other than Israel in order to undermine the secular Fatah. Now that I have mentioned Israel, let’s not spare this state which happens to have been founded on the grounds of religion and in the name of entire Jewish people of the world. For the West, there is nothing wrong with a Jewish state which ethnically cleansed Palestine and occupied and/or occupies several Arab countries. All of it in the name of a religious identity and purpose.
What about Western countries themselves? Germany has a ruling party which has the term Christian to it. Does anyone even bother the same way they are bothered about, let’s say, the Muslim Brotherhood? Surely if everyone is viewed the same way, then we should be pretty afraid of the current government in Germany, especially given Christian history in Europe. But no. Nobody talks the same way about the proximity of the Church and the government in Greece either.
There has been talk that the West might intervene in Syria. But I don’t think that would happen and so far I have seen no hint of any such military intervention. If it has to come down to it, then at best it would be Turkey who would do something. A part from that, at this point of time, there is no chance of any intervention in Syria.
For the West to intervene, they need someone inside the country who is ready and capable of offering them favorable terms. If there is no group inside Syria which can guarantee Western interests then intervention will not happen. Unlike Libya where the NTC was available to do business with the West since the start, Syria has no such opposition. However, there has been some sort of opposition which is developing in Syria that might be able to organize and oust Bashar. I think they are called the Free Syrian Army or something, and are based in Turkey. They are potentially a group which can be recognized by the West as the “sole legitimate government of Syria”, but that seems way for off. They are not developed enough for that at this moment. As soon as we heard about this opposition, we also saw reports that there might be intervention. So far however, the West has been staying away from resorting to any such action. This is because they simply have nobody to deal with inside Syria who can be a viable alternative to Bashar. As things stand, only Turkey is in a position to support Syrian opposition and achieve some limited objectives. At this point, this still is a regional issue for the most part. We have to wait and see how things develop. Syria is increasingly sliding into a civil war.
A few words on Bashar are also important and his relations to the West. As there is no real alternative to Bashar as far as the West is concerned, they are more than happy to have him stay in power. Bashar is predictable and he keeps what’s called “stability”. Syria also does not have any spectacular energy deposits, while its geographical position is such that it’s better to leave Syria with its dictatorship as it is.
- Jahanzeb Hussain