Steven A. Cook

From the Potomac to the Euphrates

Cook examines developments in the Middle East and their resonance in Washington.

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Egypt: Reductio Ad Absurdum

by Steven A. Cook
October 16, 2013

Members of the Muslim Brotherhood and supporters of ousted Egyptian President Mohammed Morsi shout slogans during a protest against the military (Amr Abdallah Dalsh/Courtesy Reuters).


Outsiders tend to underestimate the deep psychological impact that the last almost three years have had on Egyptians.  Not long after the exhilaration of Mubarak’s exit, Egyptians confronted the complexities of their reality.  What followed is now a well-worn story of disappointment, tragedy, more disappointment, some more exhilaration, and despair.  There are, of course, Egyptians who are looking forward to better days now that the Muslim Brotherhood experiment has been short-circuited.  Still, the uncertainty and violence have taken a toll.  For good reason, Egypt is a country collectively on-edge. Although it has avoided the general depravity that characterizes Syria—with perhaps the exception of the Sinai—the delegitimizing and dehumanizing discourse that is now common in Egyptian debates about the future makes the search, conducted mostly by outsiders, for negotiation and consensus fanciful.  Egypt has reached the stage where, despite a roadmap for reconstituting an electoral political order, the goal remains for one group or another to impose its political will on the others, just as it has been since February 2011.

It is pretty clear that whichever group has the support of the military is more than likely to win this battle.  Guns matter, but so do ideas, which is why Egypt is so profoundly depressing these days.  Instead of creative solutions for a country whose problems are piling up, people seem to want to pound each other into the ground.  The rejoinder to this observation among a seemingly large number of Egyptians is, “Well, we need to pound people into the ground before we can get on with fixing the country.” This can’t end well.

This all comes to mind because of an article I read a week ago and an encounter I had with some Egyptian friends in DC last week. The Muslim Brotherhood, through its official Twitter handle, @Ikhwanweb, was peddling a piece that appeared in Middle East Monitor by Badr Mohammed Badr. MEMO, as the publication calls itself, seems to be an outlet for the Muslim Brotherhood, and Badr—who formerly worked for Brotherhood tribunes al Da’wa (The Call) and al Sha’ab (The People) and a few other Brotherhood-affiliated publications offers up some standard MB fare in “Why is Israel Supporting the Egyptian Coup?” He conjures the Mossad planning the July 3 coup with the help of the Emiratis; invokes visits to Israel right after the military intervention by Brotherhood bogeymen Mohamed ElBaradei and Hamdeen Sabahi (I laughed out loud); claims the delivery of Israeli weapons to the Egyptian armed forces prior to the crackdown on Raba’a al Adawiya (thanks to Turkey’s official Anadolu Agency); quotes Noam Chomsky; and offers a series of statements by Israeli commentators and long-retired ambassadors  that are taken wildly out of context, are just plain stupid, or are simply made up.

Never mind the fact that given the Muslim Brotherhood’s hostility toward Zionism, Israel, and Jews more generally, Israelis had reason to be relieved when the military dumped Mohammed Morsi last July, but that is beside the point.  Badr’s article is particularly egregious at this moment in Egypt’s struggle.  Cairo’s difficulties with Hamas aside, there has long been a deep connection between Egyptian nationalism and Palestine.  Zionism—which is to many Egyptians an expression of European colonialism—and the Palestine question crystallized at roughly the same time as Egypt’s own nationalist awakening.  As a result, resisting the British and Zionists was perceived as the same battle.  In The Philosophy of the Revolution, which was written after the July 1952 coup in order to give an intellectual patina to the Free Officers’ motives, Gamal Abdel Nasser (or his widely believed ghostwriter, Mohammed Hassenein Heikal) specifically linked Palestinian and Egyptian resistance to foreign penetration.  Opponents across the political spectrum excoriated Anwar Sadat for his abdication of Egyptian nationalist principles when he came to terms with Israel.  Hosni Mubarak’s critics cited relations with Washington, which they believed were a function of Egypt-Israel ties, as the reason for Cairo’s diminished status in the region and the world.

I could go on and on with examples, but what’s important is that Badr knows his history too and he is using it in an effort to frame the terms of the debate in a dangerous way.  By tying al Sisi, the military, and their supporters to Israel, Badr is raising the question of what it means to be a good Egyptian nationalist.  If the July 3 military intervention was not the result of an eruption of popular anger at Mohammed Morsi and the Muslim Brotherhood, but was rather a plot hatched at the Institute for Intelligence and Special Operations (known globally by its Hebrew acronym, Mossad) in cahoots with Abu Dhabi and treasonous Egyptians, resistance is the only adequate response for a good nationalist.  Badr’s account of the coup fits neatly into the Brotherhood’s overall narrative of victimhood shot through with the language of martyrdom and violence.  As noted above, this can’t end well.

Lest anyone believe that the Brothers are the only ones guilty of peddling dangerous nonsense, just take a gander at Egyptian media, which regularly incited Egyptians against other Egyptians, notably those who support or are suspected of supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.  It is bad, but an incident a few days ago drove home for me just how bad.  I had the opportunity to meet with a group of Egyptians, all of whom are significantly accomplished and educated.  They are all people whom I have known for some time and for whom I have genuine affection.

My interlocutors’ anger over the state of Egypt was on one level understandable, but one another was startling and overwhelming.  It was as if the Brotherhood was not an organization with deep historical roots in Egypt and whose success in 2011 and 2012 was solely the work of a foreign hand—the United States.  What about the last three decades? Did they not exist?  Successive American administrations going back to Ronald Reagan did rely on Hosni Mubarak on to keep the canal open, maintain the peace with Israel, and keep the Islamists down.  I was told that over the course of time, something changed. That American support for Egypt wavered and then ended.  The United States, it seems, sought a Muslim Brotherhood-led Egypt because the Brothers had increasingly infiltrated the United States.  The proof?  I was told to watch noted Islamophobe Steven Emerson’s documentary, The Grand Deception.  So this is what it has come to. I never actually thought that any of my Egyptian friends or acquaintances would cite Emerson as an authority on anything, but there you have it. The United States supports the Muslim Brotherhood because Emerson says the Brothers are engaged in a plot from within to undermine the United States.  This can’t end well…

Post a Comment 8 Comments

  • Posted by azza radwan sedky

    I agree that the hatred has reached dangerous levels. I’m sure though that if the MB stops spewing its hatred and violence over Egypt, this reciprocated hatred will subside. Until then, the animosity will continue.
    Tell me that in any country, when a group wishes failure, despair, and terror on the whole country that the remaining majority will accept and not hate them back. An insignificant but also profound action is when the MB members were hoping that Egypt loses against Ghana. When it lost, these members were ecstatic. Tell me that the rest of Egyptians can accept this hatred sitting down.
    I am worried though that this hatred will make people unable to live together.
    See “Love and hate, Egyptian style”

  • Posted by Omerk

    Note that numerous Israeli sources (Haaretz, Channel 10) are cited in the BMB article above. None are named in your piece but they are all given a blanket clearnace (out of context, made up, etc.). Not so for Anadolu Agency is. I searched high and low for the Anadolu Ajansi piece and could not find it…Would be great if you could send me the cited source otherwise It appears that Egyptians are not the only ones eager to bend the truth when it suits them. O would be very relieved to be proven wrong on this one.

  • Posted by Tut Ankh Amon

    Ahmed Mansour (Al Jazeera MB reporter) claimed the Temp President was a Jew and several MB website accused Sisi that his mother was a Moroccan Jew.

  • Posted by Imran Riffat

    The Egyptians need time to heal after the prolonged rule of the military phaoros that culminated with the trauma of Tahrir Square three and a half years ago. At this point in time it is important to ensure that the # 1 exporter and funder of Salafist ideology i.e., Saudi Arabia does not use its financial muscle to entrench Sisi and his cohorts for a long time. Having lived in the country I give credit to the Egyptians for possessing enough intelligence and common sense to sort out their affairs. Just as Turkey’s Erdogan was supporting Morsi the Saudis are supporting Sisi. Egypt needs a bit of help; it does not need external support that is tied to an agenda be it that of the Brotherhood or the Salafists.

  • Posted by S. Siamai Kromah

    A well written argument presented thus far; on the dismal proportion of disagreement on a ruling class of civilian democratic society governance in Egypt.

    This article itself exemplifies that division in Egyptian society; when it comes to decision between military and civil society on democratic role.

    For instance, this article’s argument in the end implies Egyptians opted for the military intervention; to a bad civilian governance and a change of that governance through civilian mean – the ballot box.

  • Posted by Sameeh eldiesyawe

    As for Palestinians in general & Hamas in particular, I think they are just like a snake in the grass who cannot be trusted by the majority of Egyptians and this is not something new simply because they cannot even trust themselves and we can expect a slap on the face at any time from them, a regretful state of affairs that should be taken into consideration in any future relation with them.
    Concerning the MB and their affiliates of other Islamic groups, I claim they have their own agenda that contradicts the aspirations of the large majority of free Egyptians who are proud of their cultural identity being jeopardized by Islamic extremism. Islamists still cannot realize that they are rejected by the large masses who are now bravely encountering the violence and terror targeting their national army and police forces with an evil plot to destabilize the country and spread chaos everywhere.
    It must be assured that Egyptians are peaceful people by nature. Only MB and their Islamist militias want to pound any power that dares to oppose their extreme ideology into the ground. Rest assured that what happened on June 30 was a purely Egyptian revolution welcomed by some foreign powers and opposed by others, each according to their vital strategic interests in the region.

    As regards the mention of the UAE, I think that it cannot and will not plot against any country. This is not the nature of the Gulf states. Its support to Egypt arises from the fact that it stands behind the will of the large majority of Egyptians and it also fears the fire of Islamic extremism might extend to reach their small gulf state.

    As for the US and its stance towards what’s now happening in Egypt, I think it doesn’t matter for Americans whether Islamists or liberals supported by the military rules Egypt. It’s all a matter of strategic interests, with stress on the security of Israel and the observation of the peace treaty by any future Egyptian government.
    In a nutshell, Egyptians are capable of sorting out their own internal affairs with some financial and moral support from outside powers, taking into considerable account that Islamic extremism is a danger that should be encountered by the entire world. It’s been proven that they have their own wronged methodology about faith and they resort to what they call “jihad” to impose it on the free world. They place themselves as the owners and protectors of the Islamic faith and act completely in contradiction with the pillars and principles of true tolerant Islam.

  • Posted by Mahmoud Rateb

    The problem is that the Brotherhood received the shock of their lives.They were promised by the leadership that they are the base for a 500 years empire that will spread all over the Islamic world.They are driven by terrorising the others.(They threatened to burn Egypt if Morsi was not announced the winner of the presidential election,they beat and tortured demonstrators against Morsi & Brotherhood rule and threatened Egyptians on TV on June 26th with blood and terror if they dare participate in the June 30th demonstrations against Morsi.As for Israel,the irony is that Morsi offered Israel what Mubarak refused.The Brotherhood shock is offset by Egyptians’ shock that the competence of their officials is so low and that the brotherhood won the media war against the Egyptian government.However with the officials learning from mistakes and showing an improved performance the psychological impact should subside

  • Posted by Mostafa

    So many “case in points” proving the articles point just in the comments. Gotta love Mahmoud Rateb’s though:

    “As for Israel,the irony is that Morsi offered Israel what Mubarak refused”

    Brilliant man, that you can read the article then write that comment with a straight face…

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