Muslim Brotherhood and Egyptian Military Enter the Abyss

Revolutionary Egypt: Part 3

In Part 2 Middle East observer BJ Sabri analyzed the actions of the Muslim Brotherhood vis-à-vis Gaza and the struggle against Zionist violence and oppression. The interview continues with analysis of how the Muslim Brotherhood have responded to western imperialism in the Middle East, particularly regarding Syria. (See also Part 1.)

KP: Not so long ago, Morsi severed relations with Syria and even called, indirectly, for war against the Syrian government. It is obvious that Morsi has taken sides. Was Morsi pushed by the US to take that action? In retrospect, what would have happened if Israel entered openly into the “hostilities”? Would Sunnis ally with Sunni oppressor Israel?

BJS: Morsi has been an opportunist president who viewed the dire geopolitical situation of the region and foreign interference in its affairs according to the political parameters of the Muslim Brotherhood and their planned expectations to reap benefits if they take this or that position. His actions toward Syria were not as erratic as many believed. Although he called early in his presidency for coordination between Egypt, Turkey, Saudi Arabia, and Iran to resolve the conflict, he never followed through, and his true intention was merely to advance a precise Muslim Brothers agenda in Syria and in the rest of the Arab world. Obvious ties with the Syrian Muslim Brothers, endorsement of the Saudi’s Syria policy so as to decrease their hostility toward his regime, and in the process obtain some financial assistance, as well as implicit endorsement of the policy that the U.S. and Israel designed for Syria and the Arab world were all factors in his decision to sever relations.

Most important, the timing of his declaration to sever relations came about when the popular uprising against his regime began taking serious turns and gaining expanding horizontal momentum. This indicates a calculation to divert attention from his troubles, especially when he involved the Egyptian Army in his plan as when he declared, “The Egyptian people and army are supporting the Syrian uprising.”1

Did the U.S. push Morsi to sever relations with Syria and take a bellicose tone? Given the close relations between the U.S. and the Egyptian Muslim Brothers, such a hypothesis is plausible. We will know that for sure if the upcoming Egyptian government exposes the facts behind Morsi’s decision. This will never happen though. Arab regimes, old and new, never reveal their dealings with the West, the United States, and Israel. About Israel and its role, the issue for the Zionist entity is not about Sunnis or Shiites. Israel is not that stupid to spend money and human and military resources on inter-Arab wars: why bother if the Arabs are killing each other and destroying their cities, societies, and armies!

However, Israel has been doing something else. (1) It repeatedly attacked strategic targets in Syria knowing that the Syrians cannot retaliate because of depleted military resources. (2) Its media instigates all factions to fight each other based on confessional identities, and Arab media publish these instigations without rebutting them. (3) It has been providing intelligence to all armed factions fighting the Syrian regime. (4) It has been training all armed factions via Jordanians, Lebanese, and Turks. (5) Above all, it is directing U.S. policy in Syria and the region. Accordingly, Israel does not need to enter in alliances with either Sunni or Shiite to alter the outcome of the conflict in Syria to its advantage. What Israel wants is the total destruction of the Syria and the Syrian Army. That is all.

KP: In the ongoing upheaval that engulfs Egypt, what was the role of the military in the protests against Morsi? Should protestors embrace/accept the military’s supposed support? Have the protestors not put themselves in the dilemma of wresting back the democratic will from the military whereas they might have held on and set up a government of the people? What actually motivates the military’s stance vis-à-vis Morsi?

BJS: At this point in the Egyptian history, gauging the intentions of the military establishment, analyzing its stance toward the revolution of June 30, and the role it played in deposing Morsi and removing the Muslim Brothers from power is somewhat problematic due to the history of the army itself.

Since Anwar El-Sadat recognized Israel in 1978 and subjected Egypt to the U.S. tutelage and Israeli control through the Camp David Accords that promised Egypt $1.3 billion in U.S. annual military aid, the Egyptian Army practically ceased to be independent and structurally became tied to U.S. foreign policy that Sadat and Mubarak faithfully implemented.

The prominent aspect that I want to underline is the army’s status within the structures of the Egyptian state. Without an independent national or Arab defense policy, defense policy and without having to confront any foreign enemy, the Egyptian army grew into a bureaucratic investment apparatus having all privileges and benefits of state capitalism thus becoming a class by itself. Now, despite its ties to the U.S. and Israel, when the army confronted the first tsunamic wave of the Egyptian Revolution in 2011, it chose to depose Mubarak. Was that out of love for the raging revolution? No. Tantawi received the nod from the U.S. to remove Mubarak because his rule had become a source of instability threatening U.S. strategy and aims in the Middle East.

The other two reasons for which the army moved against Mubarak were: (1) with huge mass protests, Mubarak became a burden that must be discharged, (2) to preserve their privileged status in the post-revolutionary phase. (It’s widely reported by progressive Arab media that during the protests to remove Mubarak and the months that followed, Tantawi, Enan, and all other top military leaders of the Military Council had extensive consultations with Washington as what to do next, and the intensive contacts and visits made by State and Defense Department officials, senators, and representatives during those days prove this point.)2

It followed, with studied political maneuvers and preplanned delays, the trio: Army, Muslim Brothers, and Washington worked together to give the reins of power to the Muslim Brothers through hasty elections and without phased and systematic transition to new state structures. Why did Washington put all of its eggs in the basket of the Muslim Brothers? Considering their long relations with the United States, the Muslim Brothers offered the best guarantee that the Camp David Accords would remain in place. And that’s what happened during the one-year term of their rule.

This phase saw the continuation of the American aid to Egyptian Army. But when the second and much larger tsunamic waves of the Egyptian Revolution hit the shores, the army did it again by moving, this time, against the Muslim Brothers. Why did the Army side with the second revolution? With Morsi and the Muslim Brothers failing in all spheres of government, as well as in the conduct of foreign and domestic policy, and with an ocean of protest estimated between 22 and 33 million, ignoring the sheer mass of such an overpowering physical phenomenon is a political suicide despite the might of the army. Simply stated, the army was no match for the masses.

Why did the army intervene in the second revolution, and what role does it envision for itself today and in the future? Reports say that Defense Minister Abdel Fattah El-Sissy is a nationalist and has political sympathy toward Nasserism. However, this isn’t a guarantee for anything. Other army officers could depose El-Sissy at any time. Not to be forgotten is that it was Tantawi (whose close interaction as a Defense Minister with the Washington military establishment — and with Israel — spanned over two decades) who elevated El-Sissy and groomed him for important future roles.

This explains why Morsi appointed El-Sissy as a defense minister consequent to a deal with Washington to remove Tantawi whose role after the election of Morsi had ended. This means, El-Sissy is also involved in relations with Washington. Yet, if he remains, and if his intentions toward Egypt’s independence are real, then optimism is in order. It presages that Egypt might take sovereign decisions in domestic and foreign policy despite the potential continuation of the Camp David Accords or the introduction of some modification to satisfy the prerequisites for national independence that Sadat and Mubarak ceded to Israel.

Although the Army removed Washington’s favorite regime (where else could the U.S. find a regime that has the power to silence the masses through religion while serving its interests with devoted servility) from power, and despite theatrical threats to cut off military aid, both the army and Washington kept their close relations going, a fact that raises serious suspicions.

For example, what does it mean when Mubarak’s ambassador to Washington of 10 years, Nabil Fahmi, is appointed as a “revolutionary” foreign minister? Based on his residence in Washington, he must have had wide connections with U.S. imperialist circles and with the Israeli lobby. This suggests to me that the Army and Washington are taking small steps to restore the Mubarak regime under different guises. In other words, they are waiting for the situation to cool down and revolutionary fervor to subside before bringing Egypt back to a part of the Mubarak era, this time though with some political reforms, and with the blessing of the left and liberal forces whose loathing of the Muslim Brothers makes them malleable to deal with Washington.

In his press conference of July 21, Fahmi outlined that he had formed a task force to outline Egyptian foreign policy through 2030. Now, who gave an unelected pro-tempore foreign minister the right to bypass future elections and future governments and single-handedly design the future of Egypt for the next 17 years? Besides, who conceived that target year and why?

Who is Fahmi anyway? Fahmi is more than an ambassador. Please read the following link on Nabil Fahmi, provided by the American University in Cairo. Nabil Fahmi is more than a neutral career diplomat. He is a part of that international intelligentsia cadre that are imbued with intimate educational, intellectual, and ideological connections with the milieu that shaped their views of the world — the United States. In particular, why did the West and its appendage, the U.N., accept an Arab to participate in designing Arms control and regional (meaning the Middle East) and International Security, unless he or she is a persona grata? Aren’t such types of security a monopoly of the West?

There are two scenarios behind Fahmi’s appointment. First, the United State suggested and maybe imposed him on Egypt in exchange for not making trouble for the post-Morsi government; or second, the Army appointed him with a clear message to Washington: we know what you want, and we will do it.

To close, in the press conference I mentioned before, Fahmi presented his view on Syria. He said that Egypt supports the Syrian Revolution. In the first place, there is no revolution in Syria — there is a civil war. Second, yes there were large protests that the repressive regime of Assad assaulted immediately, but mass arrival of Islamist fighters from the West and from Muslim and Arab countries, coupled with limited army defections aborted the initial push for a potential revolution. Therefore, when Fahmi speaks of a “Syrian revolution”, he is nodding to Washington, Tel Aviv, Turkey, and Saudi Arabia: I am with you on the issue of Syria, aren’t we partners?

It’s futile that some would argue that the appointment of Fahmi is only temporary, that it’s a technocratic necessity, and that it was taken to ease relations with Washington. My view, the dynamics of his work and his connections will generate new realties, new dependencies, and behind-the-scenes scheming that a future government (assuming it would be progressive and revolutionary) coming out of the new election would find difficult to undo.

If this were to happen, the price that Egypt will pay for this arrangement will be heavy in terms of economic reforms, social justice, and independent foreign policy. In such a scenario, the Egyptian military, the United States, and Israel would be winners and the masses would be losers. But if the election will see the revolutionary forces still riding the high waves, then my stark prediction is out of place.

Should the revolutionary forces embrace/accept the military’s supposed support?

This sounds like a dilemma, but it shouldn’t be so. This how I read the situation. In retrospect, knowing that the petition calling for Morsi’s resignation and for a new election was in full swing and surpassed the target, and once it became evident that the massive protestors’ inundation of all Egyptian cities could never be contained or stopped, the revolutionary forces should not have called for the army to intervene.

Here is why. (1) It made the army the supreme arbiter of Egypt’s present and future despite any protestation to the contrary and the simplistic claim that the army would eventually cease interfering in politics. (2) It shielded the army from objections or actions aimed at curtailing or eliminating its relations with the U.S. and Israel. (3) It belittled the momentum created by the revolutionary forces in that it imparted the strongest impression that no matter how large and powerful the masses are, they cannot impose the will of the people without the army’s support. (4) In doing so, it mortgaged the will and manifesto of the revolutionary forces to the United States and Israel via the Egyptian army.

Why did these forces seek the support of the army when they were just about to win? It’s mystery to me. However, I should mention that powerful factions from the Mubarak regime (Amr Moussa and company), and factions with ties to Washington (Mohammad ElBaradei and company) were for the army to intervene to preempt the masses from pursuing a true revolutionary course. As for Hamdeen Sabahi, a Nasserite and president of the political party, The Popular Current, it seems evident that he did not muster enough strength to force his views on the rest of the anti-Morsi coalition. His reliance on the army, therefore, might have been motivated by the wishful thinking that, ultimately, the Army could be reformed to serve the purpose of Egyptian nationalism, not that of the U.S. and Israel. The Salafists agreed with Army taking down the Morsi regime because he let them down, and now they are hoping to replace the MB as a catalyst for Islamic activism.

As for all other forces — including what came to be known as the “Insurrection movement”, acclaimed for organizing the second Revolution — their acceptance of the military’s role, and their designation of ElBaradei to negotiate with the military needs to be fully evaluated. Was that a tactical maneuver to ensure the army would reign in the Muslim Brothers should these create trouble for the changing reality of Egypt? Maybe or maybe not; with that said, I think they should brace themselves for some surprises because Baradei is America’s new man in Cairo.

Is embracing the Army after the removal of Morsi and the Brothers from power still a tactical maneuver? Several conditions must exist to make such embracing a transient necessity. (1) The army, gradually but forcefully must begin distancing itself from the United States, breaks its shackles to the U.S. by rejecting, henceforward, any military aid. This will not happen any time soon, and it may never happen. (2) The army, pending the composition of the government after the upcoming elections, must begin building its national identity that will put Egypt back on the map of active Arab and Egyptian nationalism. But without implementing condition 1, this will not happen either. (3) The army must commit itself to defend all revolutionary achievements including paving the way for an Egypt that is prosperous, strong, and above all, open to all of its citizens. Well. Without implementing conditions 1 and 2, this will not happen. (Note: Egypt distancing itself from the United States is something that will never be permitted happen as long as the hyperempire reigns. Nabil Fahmi, said that obliquely when he stated, “The United States is a superpower and has great influence, while Egypt has significant influence in the region…,” meaning, the U.S. will continue having great influence [read: control] over Egypt.)3

What actually motivates the military’s stance vis-à-vis Morsi?

If by motivation you mean some sort of unspecified inner qualms with the Muslim Brothers, then these may exist and have diverse origins. Like all trained and professional armies of the world, the Egyptian Army enjoys distinct identity, hierarchical orders, character regimentation, departments, divisions, cadres in all disciplines, and more than anything else, it has a certain image of itself.

In the Arab world that never had traditions of democratic rule, it is one thing that a bureaucratic standing army with an established tradition such the Egyptian Army takes order from presidents with military careers behind them such as Nasser, Sadat, and Mubarak; but it is another to be subjected to the whims of an inept civilian president such as Morsi. While this maybe ascribed to the psychology of power, it’s not the main reason. Most likely, the army received orders from Washington not to bother Morsi and his Brothers, but the mass protest changed all that.

If the army barely tolerated Morsi and the MB regime, then was there anything else driving it against Morsi? Yes. It is no secret that Morsi receives his orders and instructions from the Supreme Guide of the Muslim Brothers, Mohammad Badie. (After Morsi was elected, a reporter asked Badie why he did not run for the presidency. He replies, “Why should I, my position is more important than that of the president.”

Implication: the Army, certainly, felt the heavy burden of taking orders from Badie via Morsi, and that despite the fact that inside the conscripted Egyptian Army, the sympathizers of the Muslim Brothers are by no means negligible. (Egyptian papers reported that Morsi, after seeing many policemen letting their beards grow, was considering, as an “expression of freedom” to allow soldiers grow their beards too. I don’t know how it ended and how the clean-shaven army chiefs replied to his request seeing that he was interfering in their affairs.)

During his first six months of rule, Morsi tried to bribe the army by giving it unfettered power to arrest any or all persons accused of attempting to break the “new revolutionary order” and try them in military tribunals. His bribe failed due to the objections of the army and the judiciary.” (Note: The army stated its job does not include controlling individual cases of civil disturbances. As for the Judiciary, Egypt’s legal system, courts, judges, lawyers, paralegals, etc. have always had, since the inception of modern Egypt, a strong presence and influence despite the changes in the political systems. This is because successive Egyptian regimes did not interfere extensively on the works of the Judiciary in order to win them on their side and to show that Egypt is a country of respected legal traditions. In fact, although there have been episodes where the courts caved in to pressure from the executive branch on certain rulings and decisions, their independent voice — in
constitutional and civil matters — has been always heard.)

He then tried to put the military under his control via the United States. He sent Essam El Arian (vice chairman of the Muslim Brothers’ political wing: Freedom and Justice Party) and Essam El-Haddad (his assistant for foreign affairs) to lobby Washington and influence their policy toward Egypt and the army with the evident intent to prevent the Egyptian Army from mounting any possible coup against his regime

Then came, as I mentioned earlier, the plan to form an autonomous Suez Canal Region for investment purposes and to put this region directly under the exclusive direction of the presidency, that is, under Morsi and his closed circles of venture capitalists seeking deals with Qatar and through this indirectly with Israel. The Army rejected the proposal of the Canal and labeled it as a threat to Egypt’s territorial integrity and national security since, militarily, it would detach the Sinai Peninsula from the rest of Egypt. One thing to remember, although the Egyptian Army may accommodate the United States on many issues because of over 33 years of dependency, when it comes to Egypt’s national security, it takes orders from no one.

In the final part of “Revolutionary Egypt” the discussion turns to what the future holds for Egypt.

  • B.J. Sabri is an observer of the politics of modern colonialism, imperialism, Zionism, and of contemporary Arab issues. He can be reached at: moc.loanull@irbas.j.b.
    1. Ahramonline: “Egypt’s Morsi severs ties with Syria.” []
    2. When I asked Sabri what was the proof, he responded with:
      [1] Mullen: U.S., Egypt Maintain Strong Military Bond
      [2] Egypt’s New Top General Has U.S. Ties
      [3] Top US general meets Egypt’s Tantawi amid NGOs row
      [4] Egypt uprising ‘repudiates’ Al-Qaeda: McCain
      [5] Top Egyptian military officials cut short meetings in U.S.
      [6] Under Secretary Burns pledges US support for Egypt political change
      [7] Hillary Clinton Egypt Trip Marks Highest Level Visit Since Mubarak’s Ouster []
    3. Asharq Al-Awsat, Egyptian FM outlines government policy. []

    Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.