The road that has been taken in Egypt is a dangerous one. A military coup has taken place in Egypt while millions of Egyptians have cheered it on with little thought about what is replacing the Muslim Brotherhood and the ramifications it will have for their society. Many people in cheering crowds have treated the Egyptian military’s coup like it was some sort of democratic act. Little do many of them remember who the generals of the Egyptian military work for. Those who are ideologically opposed to the Muslim Brotherhood have also cheered the military takeover without realizing that the military takeover ultimately serves imperialist behaviour. The cheering crowds have not considered the negative precedent that has been set.
Egypt was never cleansed of corrupt figures by the Muslim Brotherhood, which instead joined them. Key figures in Egypt, like Al-Azhar’s Grand Mufti Ahmed Al-Tayeb (who was appointed by Mubarak), criticized the Muslim Brotherhood when Mubark was in power, then denounced Mubarak and supported the Muslim Brotherhood when it gained power, and then denounced the Muslim Brotherhood when the military removed it from power. The disgraced Muslim Brotherhood has actually been replaced by a far worse assembly. These figures, whatever they call themselves, have only served power and never democracy. The military’s replacements for the Muslim Brotherhood – be it the new interim president or the leaders of the military junta—were either working with or serving the Muslim Brotherhood and, even before them, Hosni Mubarak’s regime.
The Undemocratic Egyptian Full Circle
Unlike the protests, the military takeover in Egypt is a blow to democracy. Despite the incompetence and hypocrisy of the Egyptian branch of the Muslim Brotherhood’s leadership, it was democratically elected into power. While the rights of all citizens to demonstrate and protest should be protected and structured mechanisms should securely be put into place in all state systems for removing any unpopular government, democratically-elected governments should not be toppled by military coups. Unless a democratically-elected government is killing its own people arbitrarily and acting outside the law, there is no legitimate excuse for removing it from power by means of military force. There is nothing wrong with the act of protesting, but there is something wrong when a military coup is initiated by a corrupt military force that works in the services of Washington and Tel Aviv.
Things have come full circle in Cairo. The military oversight over the government in Cairo is exactly the position that Egypt’s corrupt military leaders wanted to have since the Egyptian elections in 2012 that brought the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party into power. Since then there has been a power struggle between the Egyptian military and the Muslim Brotherhood.
Expecting to win the 2012 elections, at first the Egyptian military fielded one of its generals and a former Mubarak cabinet minister (and the last prime minister to serve under Mubarak), Ahmed Shafik, for the position of Egyptian president. If not a Mubarak loyalist per se, Shafik was a supporter of the old regime’s political establishment that gave him and the military privileged powers. When Ahmed Shafik lost there was a delay in recognizing Morsi as the president-elect, because the military was considering rejecting the election results and instead announcing a military coup.
The High Council of the Armed Forces, which led Egypt’s military, realized that a military coup after the 2012 elections would not fare too well with the Egyptian people and could lead to an all-out rebellion against the Egyptian military’s leadership. It was unlikely that many of the lower ranking soldiers and commissioned officers would have continued to follow the orders of the Egyptian military’s corrupt upper echelons if such a coup took place. Thus, plans for a coup were aborted. Egyptian military leaders instead decided to try subordinating Egypt’s civilian government by dissolving the Egyptian Parliament and imposing a constitution that they themselves wrote to guarantee military control. Their military constitution subordinated the president’s office and Egypt’s civilian government to military management. Morsi would wait and then reinstate the Egyptian Parliament in July 2012 and then nullify the military’s constitution that limited the powers of the presidency and civilian government after he worked with the US and Qatar to pacify Hamas. Next, Morsi would order Marshall Tantawi, the head of the Egyptian military, and General Anan, the second most power general in the Egyptian military, into resigning- neither one was a friend of democracy or justice.
Was Morsi’s Administration Really a Muslim Brotherhood Government?
Before it was ousted, the Muslim Brotherhood faced serious structural constraints in Egypt and it made many wrong decisions. Since its electoral victory there was an ongoing power struggle in Egypt and its Freedom and Justice Party clumsily attempted to consolidate its political control over Egypt. The Muslim Brotherhood’s attempts to consolidate power meant that it has had to live with and work with a vast array of state institutions and bodies filled with its opponents, corrupt figures, and old regime loyalists. The Freedom and Justice Party tried to slowly purge the Egyptian state of Mubarak loyalists and old regime figures, but Morsi was forced to also work with them simultaneously. This made the foundations of his government even weaker.
The situation for the Muslim Brotherhood in 2012 was actually similar to the one Hamas faced in 2006 after its electoral victories in the Palestinian elections. Just as Hamas was forced by the US and its allies to accept Fatah ministers in key positions in the Palestinian government that it formed, the Muslim Brotherhood was forced to do the same unless it wanted the state to collapse and to be internationally isolated. The main difference between the two situations is that the Muslim Brotherhood seemed all too eager to comply with the US and work with segments of the old regime that would not challenge it. Perhaps this happened because the Muslim Brotherhood feared a military takeover. Regardless of what the reasons were, the Muslim Brotherhood knowingly shared the table of governance with counter-revolutionaries and criminals.
In part, Morsi’s cabinet would offer a means of continuation to the old regime. Foreign Minister Mohammed Kamel Amr, Morsi’s top diplomat, was a cabinet minister under Marshal Tantawi and served in key positions as Mubarak’s ambassador to the United States and Saudi Arabia. Morsi’s cabinet would only have a few members of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party whereas the ministerial portfolios for the key positions of the Interior Ministry, Defence Ministry, and the Suez Canal Authority would be given to Mubarak appointees from Egypt’s military and police apparatus. Abdul Fatah Al-Sisi, Mubarak’s head of Military Intelligence who has worked closely with the US and Israel, would be promoted as the head of the Egyptian military and as Egypt’s new defence minister by Morsi. It would ironically, but not surprisingly, be Al-Sisi that would order Morsi’s arrest and ouster after extensive consultations with his American counterpart, Charles Hagel, on July 3, 2013.
The Muslim Brotherhood and the Obama Administration: An Alliance of Convenience?
As a result of the Muslim Brotherhood’s collaboration with the US and Israel, large components of the protests in Egypt against Morsi were resoundingly anti-American and anti-Israeli. This has to do with the role that the Obama Administration has played in Egypt and the regional alliance it has formed with the Muslim Brotherhood. In part, it also has to do with the fact that Morsi’s opponents – even the ones that are collaborating with the US and Israel themselves – have capitalized on anti-American and anti-Israeli sentiments by portraying Morsi as a US and Israeli puppet. In reality, both the United States and Muslim Brotherhood have tried to manipulate one another for their own gains. The Muslim Brotherhood has tried to use the Obama Administration to ascend to power whereas the Obama Administration has used the Muslim Brotherhood in America’s war against Syria and to slowly nudge the Hamas government in Gaza away from the orbit of Iran and its allies in the Resistance Bloc. Both wittingly and unwittingly, the Muslim Brotherhood in broader terms has, as an organization, helped the US, Israel, and the Arab petro-sheikhdoms try to regionally align the chessboard in a sectarian project that seeks to get Sunnis and Shias to fight one another.
Because of the Freedom and Justice Party’s power struggle against the Egyptian military and the remnants of the old regime, the Muslim Brotherhood turned to the United States for support and broke all its promises. Some can describe this as making a deal with the “Devil.” At the level of foreign policy, the Muslim Brotherhood did not do the things it said it would. It did not end the Israeli siege on the people of Gaza, it did not cut ties with Israel, and it did not restore ties with the Iranians. Its cooperation with the US allowed Washington to play the different sides inside Egypt against one another and to hedge the Obama Administration’s bets.
The Muslim Brotherhood miscalculated in its political calculus. Morsi himself proved not only to be untrustworthy, but also foolish. Washington has always favoured the Egyptian military over the Muslim Brotherhood. Like most Arab militaries, the Egyptian military has been used as an internal police force that has oppressed and suppressed its own people. Unlike the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian military gives far greater guarantees about the protection of US interests in Egypt, Israel’s security, and US sway over the strategically and commercially important Suez Canal. Furthermore, the Muslim Brotherhood had its own agenda and it seemed unlikely that it would continue to play a subordinate role to the United States and Washington was aware of this.
Revolution or Counter-Revolution?
Indeed a dangerous precedent has been set. The events in Egypt can be used in line with the same type of standard that allowed the Turkish military to subordinate democracy in Turkey for decades whenever it did not like a civilian government. The Egyptian military has taken the opportunity to suspend the constitution. It can now oversee the entire political process in Egypt, essentially with de facto veto powers. The military coup not only runs counter to the principles of democracy and is an undemocratic act, but it also marks a return to power by the old regime. Egypt’s old regime, it should be pointed out, has fundamentally always been a military regime controlled by a circle of generals and admirals that operate in collaboration with a few civilian figures in key sectors.
Things have really gone full circle in Egypt. The judiciary in Egypt is being aligned with the military or old regime again. Mubarak’s attorney-general, Abdel Meguid Mahmoud, who was removed from power in November 2012 has been reinstated. The Egyptian Parliament has been dissolved again by the leaders of the High Council of the Armed Forces. President Morsi and many members of the Muslim Brotherhood have been rounded up and arrested by the military and police as enemies of the peace.
Adli (Adly) Al-Mansour, the Mubarak appointed judge that President Morsi was legally forced to appoint as the head of the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, has now been appointed interim president by the High Council of the Armed Forces. Al-Mansour is merely a civilian figure head for a military junta. It is also worth noting that the Egyptian Supreme Constitutional Court, like much of the Mubarak appointees in the Egyptian judiciary, has collaborated with the Egyptian military against the Muslim Brotherhood and tried to dissolve the Egyptian Parliament.
Mohammed Al-Baradei (El-Baradei / ElBaradei), a former Egyptian diplomat and the former director-general of the politically manipulated International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA), has been offered the post of interim prime minister of Egypt by the military. He had returned to Egypt during the start of the so-called Arab Spring to run for office with the support of the International Crisis Group, which is an organization that is linked to US foreign policy interests and tied to the Carnegie Foundation, the Ford Foundation, and George Soros’ Open Society Institute. Al-Baradei himself has been delighted every time that the Egyptian military has announced a coup; he supported a military takeover in 2011 and, to his benefit, he has supported it in 2013. Where he could not secure a position for himself through the ballot box, he has been offered a government position undemocratically through the military in 2013.
Many of the Muslim Brotherhood’s supporters are emphasizing that an unfair media war was waged against them. The Qatari-owned Al Jazeera Mubasher Misr, Al Jazeera’s Egyptian branch which has worked as a mouth piece for the Muslim Brotherhood, has been taken off the air by the Egyptian military. This, along with the ouster of Morsi, is a sign that Qatar’s regional interests are being rolled back too. It seems Saudi Arabia, which quickly congratulated Adli Al-Mansour, is delighted, which explains why the Saudi-supported Nour Party in Egypt betrayed the Muslim Brotherhood. Other media linked to the Muslim Brotherhood or supportive of it have also been censored and attacked. Much of the privately owned media in Egypt was already anti-Muslim Brotherhood. Like Gran Mufti Ahmed Al-Tayeb, many of these media outlets were supportive of Mubarak’s dictatorship when he was in power, but only changed their tune when he was out of power. The point, however, should not be lost that media censorship against pro-Muslim Brotherhood media outlets does not equate to democratic practice whatsoever.
The figures that have supported the military coup, in the name of democracy, are themselves no friends of democracy either. Many of these opportunists were Mubarak lackeys. For example, the so-called Egyptian opposition leader Amr Moussa was highly favoured by Hosni Mubarak and served as his foreign minister for many years. Not once did Moussa ever bother or dare to question Mubarak or his dictatorship, even when Moussa became the secretary-general of the morally bankrupt and useless Arab League.
The Egyptian Coma Will Backfire on the US Empire
Despite the media reports and commentaries, the Muslim Brotherhood was never fully in charge of Egypt or its government. It always had to share power with segments of the old regime or “Washington’s and Tel Aviv’s men.” Key players in different branches of government and state bodies from the old regime stayed in their places. Even President Morsi’s cabinet had members of the old regime. The discussions on Sharia law were predominately manipulated by the Muslim Brotherhood’s opponents primarily for outside consumption by predominantly non-Muslim countries and to rally Egypt’s Christians and socialist currents against Morsi. As for the economic problems that Egypt faced, they were the mixed result of the legacy of the old regime, the greed of Egypt’s elites and military leaders, the global economic crisis, and the predatory capitalism that the United States and European Union have impaired Egypt with. Those that blamed Morsi for Egypt’s economic problems and unemployment did so wrongly or opportunistically. His administration’s incompetence did not help the situation, but they did not create it either. Morsi was manning a sinking ship that had been economically ravaged in 2011 by foreign states and local and foreign lenders, speculators, investors, and corporations.
There was an undeniable constant effort to sabotage the Muslim Brotherhood’s rule, but this does not excuse the incompetence and corruption of the Muslim Brotherhood. Their attempts at gaining international respectability by going to events such as the Clinton Global Initiative hosted by the Clinton Foundation have only helped their decline. Their hesitation at restoring ties with Iran and their antagonism towards Syria, Hezbollah, and their Palestinian allies only managed to reduce their list of friends and supporters. All too willingly the Muslim Brotherhood seemed to let itself be used by the US, Israel, Saudi Arabia, and Qatar to pacify Hamas in an attempt to de-link the Palestinians in Gaza from the Resistance Bloc. It continued the siege against Gaza and continued to destroy the tunnels used to smuggle daily supplies by the Palestinians. Perhaps it was afraid or had very little say in the matter, but it allowed Egypt’s military, security, and intelligence apparatuses to continue collaborating with Israel. Under the Muslim Brotherhood’s watch Palestinians were disappearing in Egypt and reappearing in Israeli prisons. Morsi’s government also abandoned the amnesty it had given to the Jamahiriya supporters from Libya that took refuge in Egypt.
The United States and Israel have always wanted Egypt to look inward in a pathetic state of paralysis. Washington has always tried to keep Egypt as a dependent state that would fall apart politically and economy without US assistance. It has allowed the situation in Egypt to degenerate as a means of neutralizing the Egyptians by keeping them divided and exhausted. The US, however, will be haunted by the coup against Morsi. Washington will dearly feel the repercussions of what has happened in Egypt. Morsi’s fall sends a negative message to all of America’s allies. Everyone in the Arab World, corrupt and just alike, is more aware than ever that an alliance with Washington or Tel Aviv will not protect them. Instead they are noticing that those that are aligned with the Iranians and the Russians are the ones that are standing.
An empire that cannot guarantee the security of its satraps is one that will eventually find many of its minions turning their backs on it or betraying it. Just as America’s regime change project in Syria is failing, its time in the Middle East is drawing to an end. Those who gambled on Washington’s success, like the Saudi royals, the Muslim Brotherhood, and Turkey’s Prime Minister Recep Erdogan, will find themselves on the losing side of the Middle East’s regional equation.
In ousting Egypt’s first freely elected president, Mohammed Morsi, the Egyptian military have certainly not acted to preserve democracy. They’ve never shown much interest in that. They’re determined to put a break on the mounting political and economic chaos that is ripping the country apart. That turbulence was threatening not just the survival of Egypt, but, more to the point, it was menacing the vast state within a state that Egypt’s military presides over.
Of course, the Egyptian Army is not monolithic. Its lower ranks are very much of the people: filled with hundreds of thousands of conscripts, drawn from the most humble ranks of society—and has a strong identity with the Egyptian people.
It has traditionally been the most important means of socializing and educating the lower classes, in theory, inculcating them with a sense of pride and patriotism.
Indeed the 1971 Constitution says that the Egyptian Army shall “belong to the people”
Thus, as I have previously blogged, in 1977 when the army was called in to quell riots after President Sadat announced cuts in basic food subsidies, the generals refused to intervene unless the subsidies were reestablished. Sadat restored the subsidies.
The top ranks of the army, however, have other concerns—beginning with personal survival. They certainly will never forget the lurid spectacle of Iranian generals being publicly executed in the aftermath of Khomeini’s revolution in Iran. Iran also demonstrated that a radical revolution also means a radically transformed military. (Egypt’s generals have a constant reminder of that lesson nearby: The Shah is buried in a Cairo mosque.).
But since the fall of Mubarak, the military have feared not just a takeover by radical Muslims. There is also the fact that real civilian rule could spell an end to the system of massive military corruption and patronage that has gone on for decades in Egypt, a system that has given the military unimpeded control over an estimated 40% of the Egyptian economy–”a state within a state” as a well-informed Egyptian friend of mine puts it.
For years, Egypt’s top military ranks have enjoyed a pampered existence in sprawling developments such as Cairo’s Nasr City, where officers are housed in spacious, subsidized condominiums. They enjoy other amenities the average Egyptian can only dream of, such as nurseries, bonuses, new cars, schools and military consumer cooperatives featuring domestic and imported products at discount prices. In other areas, top officers are able to buy luxurious apartments on generous credit for 10 percent of what those apartments are actually worth.
But we’re not just talking about sensational official perks. Many of Egypt’s brass are notoriously corrupt. Vast swathes of military land, for instance, were sold by the generals to finance some major urban developments near Cairo — with little if any accounting.
Other choice military property ran on the Nile Delta and Red Sea coast boasted idyllic beaches, and exquisite coral reefs. In return for turning the land over to private developers, military officers became key shareholders in a slew of gleaming new tourist developments.
The generals also preside over 16 enormous factories that turn out not just weapons, but an array of domestic products from dishwashers to heaters, clothing, doors, stationary pharmaceutical products, and microscopes. Most of these products are sold to military personnel through discount military stores, but a large amount are also sold commercially.
The military also builds highways, housing developments, hotels, power lines, sewers, bridges, schools, telephone exchanges, often in murky arrangements with civilian companies.
The military are also Egypt’s largest farmers, running a vast network of dairy farms, milk processing facilities, cattle feed lots, poultry farms, fish farms. They’ve plenty left from their huge output to sell to civilians through a sprawling distribution network.
The justification for all this non-military activity is that the military are just naturally more efficient than civilians. Hard not to be “more efficient” when you are able to employ thousands of poorly paid military recruits for labor.
Many civilian businessmen complain that competing with the military is like trying to compete with the Mafia. And upon retiring, top military officers are often rewarded with plum positions running everything from factories and industries to charities.
Whatever the number, Robert Springborg, who has written extensively on Egypt, says officers in the Egyptian military are making “billions and billions and billions” of dollars.
But there’s no way to know how efficient or inefficient the military are, nor how much money their vast enterprises make, nor how many millions or billions get skimmed off since the military’s operations are off the nation’s books. No real published accountings.
No oversight. Even Mohammed Morsi when he became president, was obliged to agree to the military’s demand that there would be no civilian oversight of the military budget.
Of course none of the above is a surprise to U.S. officials who dole out some 1.3 billion dollars a year in military aid to the Egyptian Army, and hope that sum and the neat weapons it provides will keep the army in line. [One of the most detailed studies of the military's non-military activities was done by a U.S. military researcher at Fort Leavenworth.]
The U.S. also has a 1.3 billion dollar carrot dangling in front of the Egyptian Army. That annual American military aid to Egypt has allowed the Egyptian officers to get their hands on some of the most sophisticated of modern weapons—as we’ve seen over the past couple of years in downtown Cairo.
The generals realize there is no way the U.S. will continue paying for those goodies if a new regime more hostile to Israel takes power in Cairo.
A perceptive look into all this came via a 2008 U.S.diplomatic cable released by WikiLeaks. The writer in the U.S. Embassy in Cairo ticked off the various businesses the military was involved in, and considered how the military might react if Egypt’s then president, Hosni Mubarak, were to lose power.
The military would almost certainly go along with a successor, the cable’s author wrote, as long as that successor didn’t interfere in the military’s business arrangements.
But, the cable continued, “in a messier succession scenario, it becomes more difficult to predict the military’s actions.”
No scenario could be “messier” than the mounting chaos in Egypt over the past few months.
The military acted.
From its inception the uprising against President Morsi was aided by the US, researcher and writer Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich told RT. She argues that whoever succeeds the ousted Egyptian leader will likely be beholden to the forces that put him in power.
RT: What do you think the future holds for Mohamed Morsi now?
Soraya Sepahpour-Ulrich: I don’t think Mohamed Morsi has any place to go to really. There might be a lot of jubilation that the military has removed him from office. President Morsi did make himself very unpopular not only inside Egypt but with his neighbors, the surrounding countries. But that being said, the implications are huge as he was democratically elected. And for the army to step in and remove him from office is a military coup and it is very hard for me to believe that the military would have taken this step without the blessing of the United States.
I know that the Americans said, President Obama said, that they would review aid to Egypt. But [US Secretary of Defense] Chuck Hagel had been on the phone with Egypt for two or three days. Egypt basically owes its military, owes its existence to the United States of America. This is not a step they would take without their blessings.
Mohamed Morsi may be out now, but his followers will not be and we’ll only see an escalation of clashes, which is very unfortunate for the Egyptian people.
‘People rallying against poverty – and Morsi’
RT: You talk about the support the Egyptian military got from the US. But live video from Tahrir Square suggests that there are people out there, a significant if not a majority of the Egyptian population who also want Morsi out of power.
SSU: I’m not arguing with that, I’m talking about a military that gets its support from the United States. You have to understand that a lot of people that are on Tahrir Square right now, many of them are not supporters of Morsi. The military actually put tanks against Morsi’s supporters and was very quick to arrest them.
There are people on the streets. A lot of them may be opposed to Morsi because of the laws that he wanted to establish, but a lot of it is also the economy. The [Egyptian] economy is very poor, these are very poor people. A lot of them are out there maybe protesting the fact that President Morsi was not able to improve the economic conditions better over the last year he had in office.
‘Egyptian army defends US-Israeli interests’
Again, for the military to have stepped in and removed him from power, and especially for General [Chief of the Egyptian Armed Forces, Abdul Fatah Khalil] Al-Sisi, who was instrumental in blocking and enabling the Israelis to kill the Gazans, for them rejoicing over that is just mindboggling. The [Egyptian] military is an instrument of the United States of America, and the billions [of dollars] in support it has gotten for years now goes towards maintaining peace with Israel, not to serve Egyptian people.
Very soon the Egyptian people will wake up and realize that they are perhaps cheering the wrong faction.
American protégé ElBaradei most likely to replace Morsi
RT: The military, having pushed Morsi out of power now, do you think they have a plan who will lead the country next?
SSU: Again, America has invested a lot of time and money into this. Ever since 2007, America knew that former President Mubarak was dying of cancer. There was even a New York Times article in 2007 talking about who would be his replacement. Since 2008, they would have young Egyptians coming to America, go to the State Department, meet at the time Condoleezza Rice and others, and learn how to use modern technology to start an uprising in Egypt.
So this uprising from the very start was aided by the United States and one of the favorite horses in the race has been and continues to be [Nobel Peace Prize winner and opposition leader] Mohammed ElBaradei. He is the one who actually met with the military to remove Morsi.
Interestingly enough, ElBaradei is a member of the International Crisis Group, which is funded by George Soros and also the Carnegie Endowment and Ford Foundation, which during the Cold War was a conduit for CIA money. Although some have said that Mohamed ElBaradei [when he served as Director General of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA)] never pushed hard enough to say that Iran was developing a nuclear program and Israel might have had issues with that, he is in fact a favorite [to succeed Morsi] and he is coming up very prominently right now.
‘Next Egyptian president risks becoming a puppet’
RT: Do you think this is bad for the country right now? Mohammed ElBaradei is internationally respected figure, widely regarded as moderate and pro-democratic force for Egypt.
SSU: ElBaradei absolutely is. But it is bad for any country when somebody is helped from the outside – from forces without – to bring this person to power.
Then that person will automatically turn into a puppet. Their concern will not be for ‘what is good for the country’, their concern is their ambition, and that is always dangerous, whether they are moderate or fundamentalist – it does not matter. It should be an Egyptian decision.
RT: If he is elected into office – do you think that there will be a legitimate popular support for him?
SSU: I think that the people will have to decide. But ultimately, should he be elected into office, which is very likely, one has to remember where he comes from and how he got to become so prominent and whose support he has.
A lot of times it happens in every country and we’re not aware of the forces behind a figurehead or a given politician. And once that plays out, you might realize that it is a bit too late to change the course. But let’s hope for the best.
‘Chaos will prevail’
I don’t think that the followers of President Morsi will sit back and take this very quietly.
My hope and my wish for Egypt is to see a very peaceful process from here on. But I doubt that will be the case. I think chaos will prevail.
RT: Why do you say chaos will prevail?
SSU: The Muslim Brotherhood followers, the people that put Morsi into power, they feel disenfranchised. In fact, all though one does not want to see this conflict at all, they are the ones who have more right to backing the democratically elected president than anyone else.
If they feel they don’t really count anymore, that their votes and voices don’t count, they are going to show reaction, I think it is normal.
The Ironic Lady: Margaret Thatcher, Supposed Champion of ‘Freedom and Democracy’, and Her Dictator Friends
Margaret Thatcher died Monday, April 8, 2013, at the age of 87. While there is no dearth of hagiographic profiles of the former British Prime Minister in the mainstream press and scathing vitriol elsewhere, it should be remembered that, throughout her career, Thatcher was a staunch supporter of many of the world’s most brutal regimes, propping up and arming war criminals and dictators in service to Western imperialism, anti-Communism and neoliberal hegemony.
Throughout the 1980s, Thatcher’s government backed Iraq during its war against Iran, funneling weapons and equipment to Saddam Hussein in contravention of both international law and British policy, all the way up until Saddam’s invasion of Kuwait. She even sent Christmas cards to both Saddam and Libyan leader Muammar Qaddafi in 1981.
But that’s just the tip of the iceberg. Here’s a review of some of her other pals…
In April 1978, prior to her ascension to Prime Minister, Thatcher visited the Shah of Iran, Mohammad Reza Pahlavi, in Tehran where she praised him as “one of the world’s most far-sighted statesmen, whose experience is unrivaled.”
Despite the popular protests against the Shah occurring across Iran with increasing frequency, Thatcher said of her host, “No other world leader has given his country more dynamic leadership. He is leading Iran through a twentieth century renaissance.” Exactly one month before her visit, street protests in over 55 Iranian cities resulted in the killing of more than 100 civilians, when police opened fire on the crowds.
Iran “holds a key strategic position in the defence of the Western World,” Thatcher continued, “Her strength and resolve are vital to our future.” She added, “Iran has been the West’s most resolute and stalwart ally in this crucial region.”
Upon his overthrow the following February, the Shah expressed his desire to seek asylum in England at his lavish country estate in Surrey. While the British government at the time wound up secretly helping the Shah make his way from Morocco to the Bahamas, it rejected his request to enter the UK.
Thatcher, who became Prime Minister soon thereafter, respected the decision of her predecessor for political reasons, but was “deeply unhappy” that Britain could not offer sanctuary to Pahlavi, whom she called a “firm and helpful friend.”
A longtime supporter of the Egyptian dictatorship of Hosni Mubarak, Thatcher once received a memo from the UK Foreign Office referring to Mubarak as “no intellectual but… always friendly and cheerful,” noting that while “apt to express simplistic views, he has become an experienced and accomplished political operator.” The brief continued, “His affable exterior evidently conceals a degree of ruthlessness since it seems likely that he has conducted some successful political infighting to maintain his position” having “succeeded in ousting or at least surviving all other prominent figures in the government or armed forces.”
“Nevertheless his reputation is free of any taint of corruption or malpractice and he is not thought to have made many enemies,” the memo said of Mubarak, adding that he was “eager to improve relations with the Royal Air Force and to buy British [military] equipment.”
Thatcher was only too happy to oblige.
Over the years of her leadership, Thatcher routinely commended Mubarak for his “courage” and “strength.” In 1985, at a banquet in Cairo, she said she “admire[d] particularly, Mr. President, the leadership which you personally… have shown.” Five years later, while hosting Mubarak and his wife at No. 10 Downing Street, Thatcher declared, “You are among our very favourite visitors because we all know you as particularly good and close friends of this country, as we are of Egypt,” and once again expressed her admiration for the Egyptian president, this time for his “incredible energy.”
“You are as full of beans as ever,” she said. Unfortunately for the Egyptian people over the next 11 years, thanks largely to American and British largesse, she was right.
Thatcher was a steadfast defender of Augusto Pinochet, whose unspeakably brutal dictatorship of torture and repression terrorized Chile from 1973 to 1990. She visited Pinochet in 1999 during his house arrest in England, saying that her country “owed” him ”a great debt” of gratitude for his help during the 1982 Falklands War.
Without any sense of irony, Thatcher added, “I’m also very much aware that it is you who brought democracy to Chile.”
Never one to mention his appalling human rights record, Thatcher expressed her “outrage at the callous and unjust treatment” of Pinochet during a speech that October at the Conservative Party Conference, called him “this country’s only political prisoner,” and hailed him as Britain’s “staunch, true friend in our time of need” and “who stopped the communists taking Chile.”
The next year, upon his release and return to Chile, for which she fought tirelessly, Thatcher sent Pinochet a silver Armada dish as a gift, condemned his detention in England as “a great injustice” and wished the deposed dictator and his family “all good wishes for a peaceful and secure future.”
When Pinochet died six years later, Thatcher said she was “deeply saddened” by his passing.
Subsequently, Robin Harris, a former official in Thatcher’s administration, wrote in The Telegraph that Thatcher “took a positive view of Pinochet’s 17 years in power” and “would not have spoken up for him if she had believed him a monster. She could not judge the merits of every allegation. But, clearly, the legal case against him was weak and the motivation of those involved suspect.”
Harris similarly praised Pinochet for “[leaving] behind a stable democracy,” concluding that “Margaret Thatcher has nothing to be ashamed of in defending Augusto Pinochet, when others refused to do so” and that Pinochet “was lucky to find such a champion.”
In March 1987, King Fahd of Saudi Arabia, visited Thatcher. Beforehand, Thatcher said in an interview, “Relations between Saudi Arabia and Britain are excellent. We have common interests in peace and stability in the Middle East. The Al Yamamah Project for the sale of Tornado and other aircraft to Saudi Arabia has done much to focus Saudi attention on Britain and British attention on Saudi Arabia.”
The Al Yamamah arms deal, signed a year and a half earlier, was “the biggest export transaction in British history, estimated by a British Aerospace executive in 2005 to be worth £83 billion in past and future sales to Saudi Arabia of military hardware including aircraft ranging from Tornado fighters and Hawk trainer jets to Eurofighter Typhoons,” in addition to a wide range of arms, naval vessels, radar, spare parts, and a pilot-training program.
The deal was largely the result of Thatcher’s own lobbying initiative on behalf of the British defense industry and weapons manufacturers and, ever since its signing, allegations of corruption, fraud and bribery have abounded.
In 1993, in a speech to a Chatham House Conference on Saudi Arabia after leaving office, Thatcher maintained that “[o]ne of Al Yamamah’s achievements has been the training and equipping of the Royal Saudi Air Force by Britain. Both training and aircraft were put to the test of wartime combat far sooner than anyone expected. As we now know, both the aircraft and their RSAF pilots performed superbly in Operation Desert Storm.” She continued, “The Al Yamamah programme has continued steadily since the conflict. When this year’s new order of a further 48 Tornado aircraft for the RSAF has been executed it will be safe to say that Saudi Arabia will have one of the strongest and most effective Air Forces in the world.”
Beyond this, Thatcher described the kingdom as “a peace loving nation” and a “modern miracle,” touting its “domestic achievements” and the “stable framework” and “solid rock of a well established and respected monarchy.”
“We are strong partners in trade and defence. We share great strategic interests,” she said.
Regarding Saudi Arabia’s human rights record, Thatcher was silent. “I have no intention of meddling in that country’s internal affairs,” she insisted. “It is one of my firmest beliefs that although there are certain basic standards and goals we should expect from every member of the international community, the precise pace and approach must reflect different societies’ cultural, social, economic and historical backgrounds. And Saudi Arabia, in particular, is a complex society which Westerners do not often fully comprehend.”
Again, without even the slightest hint of irony, Thatcher – in the very same speech – noted, “It is the surest signal to other dictators that the West lacks the resolve to defend justice. We have yet to see its full consequences — our lack of effective action will return to haunt us.” She was talking about Bosnia.
While Thatcher maintained throughout her political that she “loathe[d] apartheid and everything connected with it,” she referred to Nelson Mandela and the African National Congress, as “a typical terrorist organization” and refused, alongside Ronald Reagan, to back sanctions against the Apartheid regime in South Africa. ”In my view, isolation will lead only to an increasingly negative and intransigent attitude in the part of white South African,” she said in December 1977.
In 1984, Thatcher invited South African Prime Minister P.W. Botha to visit London, the first such visit in 23 years, sparking understandable outrage in the anti-Apartheid movement. The next year, the Associated Press reported that she “rejected demands by the opposition Labor Party that she meet with Oliver Tambo, leader of the African National Congress guerrilla movement, who is visiting Britain…on grounds he espouses violence.”
“I do not accept that apartheid is the root of violence… nor do most other people,” Thatcher insisted and, during a speech before Parliament, stated that Botha’s “South African government has taken more steps to start dismantling apartheid than any of their predecessors.”
“I can see little point in sanctions creating more unemployment in this country only to create more unemployment in South Africa… It seems to me a ridiculous policy that would not work,” she added.
In response to her death today, Oliver Tambo’s son Dali told the press, “My gut reaction now is what it was at the time when she said my father was the leader of a terrorist organisation. I don’t think she ever got it that every day she opposed sanctions, more people were dying, and that the best thing for the assets she wanted to protect was democracy,” adding, “It’s a shame that we could never call her one of the champions of the liberation struggle. Normally we say that when one of us goes, the ANC ancestors will meet them at the pearly gates and give them a standing ovation. I think it’s quite likely that when Margaret Thatcher reaches the pearly gates, the ANC will boycott the occasion.”
In the midst of the bloody Indonesian occupation of East Timor, Thatcher visited genocidal Indonesian dictator General Suharto, praised Indonesia’s “agricultural and industrial development” and, although East Timorese had been killed, starved, disappeared and herded into “resettlement camps” as part of Suharto’s “encirclement and annihilation” campaign, dismissed allegations of human rights abuses, explaining that East Timor was none of Britain’s business and that Suharto himself has “assured me that the International Red Cross not only had access to East Timor, but was very welcome there.”
She told the press, “Trade brings us together and identifies our interests, and I am sure that trade between Indonesia and Britain will increase as a result of the very friendly and warm atmosphere created by my visit here. We are clearly the best of friends and there is no sounder basis on which to construct future collaboration.”
In 2008, veteran journalist John Pilger recalled that Thatcher referred to Suharto as, “One of our very best and most valuable friends,” and how, “[f]or three decades the south-east Asian department of the Foreign Office worked tirelessly to minimise the crimes of Suharto’s gestapo, known as Kopassus, who gunned down people with British-supplied Heckler & Koch machine guns from British-supplied Tactica ‘riot control’ vehicles.”
“A Foreign Office speciality was smearing witnesses to the bombing of East Timorese villages by British-supplied Hawk aircraft – until Robin Cook was forced to admit it was true. Almost a billion pounds in export credit guarantees financed the sale of the Hawks, paid for by the British taxpayer while the arms industry reaped the profit,” Pilger adds.
With this kind of record, it is clear that Thatcher’s constantly pledged support for “freedom and democracy” was really a violent, imperial campaign waged for free markets and domination.
History books will cite January 25 as the moment of undoing for the dictatorial rule of Mohammad Hosni Mubarak. What we don’t know is what will be said about the scale of the change brought about by the uprising.
It is impossible to make confident predictions at present. Questions only raise more doubts as to the ability of Egypt’s new rulers to bring about major change. But as social theorist Samir Amin points out: “The Egyptian people are brave and will not be afraid to start a second and a third uprising.”
The events of the past two years prove that Amin’s assessment is realistic. The ongoing struggle over Egypt is the clearest sign that the country’s new rulers have not managed to establish a strong enough hold to last as long as their predecessors.
A formidable media machine continues in its efforts to restrict the Egyptian people’s uprising. Many people inside and outside Egypt wanted to persuade the masses that the underlying goals of their protest movement could be reduced to a mere change of president. These people have assumed powerful influence within the state’s institutions and seek to re-establish their control over the public and private sectors of the economy. They want Egypt and the Arabs to behave as though change has been accomplished.
This takes us back to Amin, who noted the menace posed by foreign powers in Egypt. He referred to a cooperative endeavor by the US, Israel, and Gulf states to ensure Egypt’s continued reliance on a policy of “begging from abroad” so as to better maintain its “assistance for US policies in the region.”
He observed that while “Mubarak’s Egypt supported the US invasion of Iraq…today’s Egypt under the Muslim Brotherhood assists the policies on Syria.” The end goal is for Egypt to acquiesce “to the Zionist scheme to eliminate the Palestinian presence within the occupied territory.”
There is no need to repeat Amin’s views on economic policy. The evidence that Egypt’s new rulers are resuming past economic policies is overwhelming. There will be no change in how the country’s economic, social, financial, and monetary policies are shaped. Hence the cruel joke that “Khairat el-Shater is Gamal Mubarak with a beard.”
Nobody can deny the Egyptian people’s massive achievement in bringing down a corrupt and tyrannical ruling clique that was subservient to the colonial West and submissive to the Zionist enterprise. But the story doesn’t end with the Muslim Brotherhood winning a narrow majority at the polls and claiming legitimacy to do what it likes with the country. Whatever misgivings there may be about the condition of the new opposition in Egypt, it has tough questions to face.
– What became of the legacy of Mubarak’s rule? What does the Islamic mantle mean when it is donned by rulers who pursue the same policies that they once said caused poverty, ignorance, and misery?
– Freedom of expression cannot be deemed a gift from the country’s new rulers. Egyptians are demanding guarantees that the gains made so far are not reversed. Can we expect a rotation of power in a few years time? Will Egypt’s new rulers help to recover its unified national identity, or will we see more ugly images of sectarian divisions?
– What real change has there been in the country’s foreign policy? What role does it play in reviving collective Arab action? Or has that been surrendered to the medieval monarchies of the Gulf? Is Egypt acting to regain its rights, sovereignty, and freedom with regard to supporting the people of Palestine?
– Can anyone provide any evidence that the money stolen by the National Democratic Party under Mubarak and his clique is being recovered? Or is the looted national wealth merely passing from one regime to the next?
Lynne Stewart is a New York attorney who is serving a 10-year sentence in the federal penitentiary for being a supporter of terrorism.
Two years after the 9/11 attacks, she read the following message from her client, convicted terrorist Omar Abdel-Rahman, at a press conference in New York City:
“I [Omar Abdel-Rahmn] am not withdrawing my support of the cease-fire, I am merely questioning it and I am urging you, who are on the ground there to discuss it and to include everyone in your discussions as we always have done.”
What’s criminal about that message?
The U.S. federal courts construed the message as exhorting the members of Abdel-Rahmn’s Islamic organization in Egypt, which U.S. officials had labeled a terrorist organization, to use violence to overthrow the Egyptian government. They said that made Stewart a supporter of terrorism.
The case is fascinating on several levels, not the least of which was that many Egyptian citizens were of the mindset that the Egyptian government was one of the most brutal, tyrannical military dictatorships in the world, one that had long oppressed the Egyptian people. It was, in fact, that deep-seated discontent among the Egyptian citizenry that ultimately led to the ouster of Egypt’s dictator, Hosni Mubarak.
So, why is that important?
It’s always been a belief of Americans that people everywhere have a right to use violence to overthrow tyranny. Stewart was convicted for going one step further and actually exhorting the Egyptians to use force to overthrow the tyrannical regime under which they had long suffered.
Let’s assume, hypothetically, that what Stewart did at that press conference was stand up and read the Declaration of Independence, specifically the following section:
“That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness.”
If she had done that, there is no way that the federal courts could have convicted her. After all, the Declaration of Independence is part of America’s heritage of freedom. It’s not against the law to read it in public.
Suppose she had added the following sentence: “The principles of the Declaration are not limited to Americans. They apply to people in every nation on earth who are suffering from tyranny.”
Could she then have been convicted? Again, I think that it would have been very difficult to convict her for supporting terrorism by simply extending the principles of the Declaration to people everywhere.”
Where Stewart crossed the line was in exhorting Egyptians to actually do what the Declaration says they have a right to do — use force to overthrow the Egyptian government.
So, why is that against the law? After all, one could rationally think that under principles of free speech, a person should be free to exhort people to do anything they want. After all, this is America, not Russia under Vladimir Putin, where people are being convicted for saying the wrong things.
There is one big reason why Stewart is in jail today for exhorting Egyptians to violently overthrow their government: The Egyptian government was a longtime ally and partner of the U.S. government and, therefore, wasn’t considered by U.S. officials to be a tyrannical regime that would trigger the right that Jefferson enunciated in the Declaration. Any American (or Egyptian) who would use violence to overthrow a non-tyrannical, pro-U.S. regime or exhort others to violently overthrow that regime is considered to be a terrorist or a supporter of terrorism.
Among the things that the Egyptian people hated most about Mubarak’s military dictatorship were the “emergency” powers enforced by Mubarak and his military, police, and intelligence forces. Such powers had come into existence some 30 years before, when Egypt’s president, Anwar Sadat, was assassinated. The “emergency” enabled Mubarak, who was a military man, to use the Egyptian military to arrest people without warrants on suspicion of being terrorists, incarcerate them, torture them, and execute them — all without due process of trial or trial by jury.
These extraordinary powers were supposed to be temporary. They were to expire when the “emergency” arising from the assassination had expired. But some 30 years later, they were still in existence. And they were employed brutally against the Egyptian people, especially those who dared to challenge Egypt’s military dictatorship, military supremacy over the civilian population, and Egypt’s military dictator himself, Hosni Mubarak. Most Egyptians learned to just keep their mouths shut.
Not surprisingly, the Egyptians considered the exercise of such powers to be the hallmarks of a tyrannical regime. Indeed, such powers have long been the most distinguishing characteristic of a tyrannical regime. It was mainly the exercise of those “temporary, emergency” powers that drove Egyptians into the streets, risking their lives at the hands of the military dictatorship to bring fundamental change to their society.
In fact, one of the principal demands of the protestors throughout the protests was that Mubarak relinquish those “temporary, emergency” powers that came into existence 30 years before. Mubarak refused to do so, arguing that his temporary, extraordinary powers were more necessary than ever, especially given the global war on terrorism that came into existence on 9/11.
For those entire 30 years, the U.S. government took the side of Mubarak and his military dictatorship. Those temporary, emergency powers weren’t tyrannical, U.S. officials believed. They were instead the essential prerequisite for protecting Egypt’s “national security” and for maintaining “order and stability” in the Middle East.
After all, don’t forget that immediately after 9/11, President Bush did precisely what Mubarak had done during Egypt’s terrorist emergency some 30 years before. Bush decreed that the terrorist emergency that America was now facing meant that Bush, as commander in chief, now wielded those same extraordinary powers — the powers to arrest people as suspected terrorists without judicially issued warrants, torture them, incarcerate them indefinitely, and even execute them, perhaps have some sort of kangaroo military tribunal. Later, President Obama would expand those powers with a widespread assassination program.
Thus, how could U.S. officials look upon the Mubarak dictatorship as a tyrannical regime, since it was a loyal, pro-U.S. regime that was doing nothing more than what U.S. officials would do in similar circumstances?
It goes without saying, of course, that throughout those 30 years, U.S. officials continued plowing billions of dollars in cash and armaments into the coffers of the Egyptian military dictatorship, helping build it up and fortify its omnipotent military control over the Egyptian people. In fact, it came as no surprise when the U.S. government made the Egyptian military dictatorship one of its principal rendition-torture partners in its global war on terrorism.
Throughout the Mubarak dictatorship, if anyone called for the violent overthrow of the Egyptian government, the Egyptian government, not surprisingly, considered him a “bad guy” — i.e., a terrorist. But as Lynn Stewart found out, so did the U.S. government.
Now, one might point to Syria, where U.S. officials are doing precisely what Stewart got convicted of — exhorting the Syrian citizenry to violently overthrow the Syrian dictatorship.
Ah, but they would be missing an important point. Syria is no longer a partner and ally of the U.S. government. It used to be — i.e., when President Bush and the CIA entered into a secret torture partnership by which the Assad regime agreed to torture Canadian citizen Maher Arar for the U.S. government. But once that partnership was dissolved, it became okay for U.S. officials to exhort Syrians to violently overthrow the tyranny under which they have long suffered.
For exhorting the Egyptian people to violently overthrow their tyrannical regime, Stewart got sentenced to serve 28 months in jail, a fairly lengthy term for a 73-year-old woman suffering from breast cancer. Unfortunately for Stewart, however, in a public statement to the press after her sentencing, she scoffed at her sentence, declaring that she could serve it “standing on her head.” Her statement garnered the wrath of federal prosecutors and federal judges and earned her a resentencing, one that sent her away for 10 years instead of 28 months.
I wonder if Stewart has learned her lesson, one that the Egyptian people learned during the 30 years of the Mubarak dictatorship. In the age of the national-security state and never-ending emergencies, it pays to keep your mouth shut.
Chinese Vice President Xi Jinping said the visit Egypt’s leader to Beijing “will increase mutual understanding and trust” between the two countries, local media reported on Wednesday.
Xi’s remarks came during a meeting with Egyptian President Mohammed Mursi, who arrived in China on Tuesday for a three-day state visit.
Mursi held talks with his Chinese counterpart, Hu Jintao, on Tuesday.
Mursi’s visit to China, a rising global power, comes ahead of a scheduled visit to the United States, the key ally of former Egyptian leader Hosni Mubarak.
The Egyptian leader is said to have put Chinese investments high on the agenda of the talks, as a means to inject much needed cash into Egypt’s ailing economy, as well as lessen Cairo’s dependence on US aid.
Mursi reportedly suggested increasing Egypt-China flights from two per week to ten, and requested that China build a high speed train route between Cairo and Alexandria.
According to Xinhua, Mursi called Egypt-China ties “strategic” in the meeting and commended the traditional friendship.
He described his talks with Hu as being “of significance for consolidating Egyptian-Chinese strategic relations.”
“I, along with the delegation of ministers, officials and investors, convey to you and all Chinese leaders and your people all respect and appreciation for your civilization and your pioneer experience in the modern age,” Mursi said.
Chinese news agency Xinhua reported Xi as affirming the visit “would inject new impetus into bilateral relations and will open a new chapter in the friendship between Egypt and China.”
Xi said that the development of Sino-Egyptian relations is due to both being developing countries that “share common goals of maintaining state sovereignty and social stability.”
He cited other common interests as “the promotion of peace and stability in the region and all over the world.”
In an interview last Monday with Reuters news agency, Mursi stated he will seek solutions to the Syrian issue with Chinese leaders. China, along with Iran and Russia, is one of the prominent supporters of Bashar al-Assad’s regime in Syria.
Following his visit to China, President Mursi will make a quick visit to the Iranian capital, Tehran, on Thursday where he will formally hand over chairmanship of the Non-Aligned Movement to Iran’s President Ahmadinejad.
(Xinhua, UPI, Al-Akhbar)
- Egyptian president heads to China for investment talks (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Egyptian Minister Asks for Direct Flights between Tehran, Cairo (alethonews.wordpress.com)
- Mubarak era tycoons join Egypt President in China (alethonews.wordpress.com)
Several of the businessmen who travelled with Morsi to China were prominent supporters of Mubarak and former members of the NDP
A delegation of Egyptian businessmen who travelled to China on Monday, one day before the visit of Egyptian President Mohamed Morsi, was made up of many figures who were close to the former regime of Hosni Mubarak, and who were members of Mubarak’s now-dissolved National Democratic Party (NDP).
In his first state visit outside of the Arab world, Egypt’s president headed a delegation of seven ministers and 80 businessmen to China.
One the most prominent NDP figures who was invited to accompany the new president was Mohamed Farid Khamis, chairman of the Oriental Weavers Company, one of the world’s largest carpet companies. Khamis was member of the political bureau of the NDP and a member of parliament.
Another prominent name is Sherif El-Gabaly, chairman of Polyserve Fertilisers and Chemical Group, and a member of the administration of the Egyptian Federation of Industries, who was also a member of the political bureau and was known to be close to Gamal Mubarak, son of the former president.
Other members of the NDP present in the delegation included Khaled Abul-Makarem chairman of Fibertex, Walid Hela vice president of heavyweight plastic producers Al-Helal wel Negma and Farid El-Tobgui chairman of Bavarian group.
Hassan Malek, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood and a well-known businessman, heads the delegation and is responsible for the choice of members. Malek, president of a committee for communication between businessmen and the presidency, told Ikhwan Online, the official website of the Muslim Brotherhood, that the group was comprised of businessmen who had existing business ties with China.
The delegation also included some businessmen who have close ties with the Brotherhood, such as Ahmed El-Sewedy, chairman of El-Sewedy Electrics and Abdel-Rahman Samir El-Naggar, chairman of Daltex Food Industries.
- Egyptian president heads to China for investment talks (alethonews.wordpress.com)
An Egyptian court has sentenced the country’s former oil minister and a fugitive businessman to 15 years in prison each over selling natural gas to Israel at below-market rates.
The Cairo Criminal Court sentenced former oil minister, Sameh Fahmi, and fugitive businessman, Hussein Salem, to 15 years in prison each over the (Israel) gas deal,” a judicial source said on Thursday, AFP reported.
According to the source, five other former high-ranking oil and gas officials also received jail sentences ranging from three to 10 years on similar charges.
Salem, who fled to Spain after Egypt’s popular revolution in February 2011 that toppled his close friend and the country’s then dictator, Hosni Mubarak, was also sentenced in absentia in October 2011 to seven years in jail for profiteering.
Gas exports to Israel were launched in 2008 and came under heavy criticism at the time from Egypt’s then banned Muslim Brotherhood.
In December 2010, Israel signed a 20-year contract with Egypt worth more than $10 billion (7.4 billion euros) — much cheaper than global prices — to import Egyptian natural gas.
Egypt accounts for roughly 40 percent of Israel’s gas supplies.
The masks dropped. The cards are shown.
For over a year, Egyptians have wondered who was leading the efforts to frustrate and obliterate their nascent revolution, or what was dubbed in the local media as the “third party” or the “hidden bandit.”
But the mystery is no more.
It was none other than the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), the same body that took power from deposed president Hosni Mubarak under the guise of leading the transitional period towards democracy. It was a masterful work of political art.
The final act was on display on Thursday, June 14, 2012, when Egypt’s High Constitutional Court (HCC) not only ruled against banning the military’s candidate and Mubarak’s last Prime Minister, Gen. Ahmad Shafiq, but also dissolved parliament, the only institution that represented the political will of the people in post-revolutionary Egypt. It is important to note that all the justices on the HCC were appointed by Mubarak, and that most if not all are considered regime loyalists.
Incidentally, last March, Parliamentary Speaker and MB leader, Dr. Saad Katatni, said that he was told, in the presence of SCAF’s deputy commander, Gen. Sami Anan, by SCAF’s appointed Prime Minister Dr. Kamal Ganzouri, that the order to dissolve the parliament was in the drawer but would come at the appropriate time.
This dramatic announcement was therefore followed by the parliament passing a law banning most of the former senior officials of the Mubarak regime (including Shafiq) from politics on the grounds of corrupting Egypt’s political life and institutions for decades. Nevertheless, Shafiq was shortly reinstated by the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC) even though it had no jurisdiction on the matter. It is perhaps important to note that the head of the PEC is also the Chief Justice of the HCC. He declared on the same day that the parliamentary elections’ law (that resulted in the victory of the Islamic parties, led by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), winning seventy five percent of the seats) was unconstitutional. It was the same law that several of the same justices assured all political parties last summer that it passed constitutional muster.
With this brazen act of thwarting the political will of the Egyptian people, the emerging Islamic and revolutionary parties have now been totally stripped of their political ascendency, less than five months after their rise to power. This was accomplished simply by utilizing the institutions of the deep state crafted by a regime that was controlled for decades by corrupt officials, senior military officers, and intelligence agencies. Further, a Mubarak era military man is now on the verge of being “elected” president using the assorted tools of the democratic process.
One of the major demands of the revolution was to end the three-decade old emergency law that allowed the security agencies and the military to arbitrarily arrest and abuse the civil and human rights of any activist at will. But under tremendous public pressure throughout last year, these laws were repealed at the end of last May. But what was kicked out of the door crawled back through the window. Egypt’s Justice Minister announced this week, less than two weeks after the repeal went into effect, that he was empowering all military officers and intelligence personnel to arrest indefinitely any person deemed a security threat to public order.
In a transparently coordinated fashion, before parliament could react to this shameless challenge to the essence of the revolution, it was dissolved within 24 hours by the High Court. Further, within minutes of the decision to dissolve the parliament, hundreds of military and security officers occupied its buildings, preventing any member to enter or even clear their offices. In short, Egypt has come a full circle, the transition to democracy was aborted, the process hijacked, and its remarkable revolution put on life support.
The final act of quietly killing the hopes of Egypt’s youth and the aspirations of its people is coming this Sunday when the presidential elections end in the declaration of a Shafiq presidency. The other candidate in this charade is represented by the MB’s Dr. Muhammad Mursi. For weeks, the MB has been warning against elections fraud perpetrated by the institutions of the deep state and led by its security and intelligence services.
For example, the Elections Commission has refused to hand over the voter lists, which it had no problem doing last winter during the parliamentary elections. But the problem is that these same lists have now increased by a whopping 4.5 million voters, raising suspicions of multiple registrations of regime loyalists who might vote multiple times in different provinces over the two-day elections process (for example 200 thousand regime loyalists voting in twenty different precincts.) Furthermore, elections officials announced that they would refuse to allow elections’ monitors to stay in the same rooms where the ballot boxes are left unattended for 12 hours between the first and the second days of the elections, although they were allowed to stay in and watch the boxes overnight in the previous parliamentary elections last winter.
In addition, the government announced that it is giving all its 6 million employees a two-day vacation and free public transportation to boost participation (an indirect prodding of government employees and their families to vote for Shafiq). In a blatant violation of elections’ laws, hundreds of millions of pounds have been spent on media propaganda to boost SCAF’s candidate, as well as payments to local officials especially in the delta region, to secure the peasants’ votes.
In a nutshell, the intense involvement of the security state is now in the open. But most Egyptians are frustrated and feel that they have been robbed of making a choice consistent with their sixteen-month popular uprising. Before their own eyes they see how the Mubarak regime is slowly being re-invented with the full backing of state institutions under the direction of SCAF, the same military that promised to fulfill the objectives of the revolution.
Most pro-revolution groups, activists, and public intellectuals have called on MB’s candidate Mursi to withdraw from the presidential elections so as to deny the military’s candidate any claim of legitimacy once he is “elected.” But in its desperate attempt to show any achievement in its one-year dalliance with SCAF, it appears that the MB is pressing ahead with the elections. Once again the Islamic group has demonstrated its inability to join in, let alone lead, any revolutionary path, even though its leaders understand fully the determination of SCAF and the state institutions to manipulate the elections and force their candidate on the rest of the people.
During his final interview before the elections, Mursi understood the stakes and his long electoral odds as the elections are being manipulated. Although he believed that he would easily win in free and fair elections, he admitted that elections’ fraud were certain to take place. He further said that he was recently told by President Jimmy Carter that Mubarak was for decades “sleeping in Israel’s bed,” and that “Shafiq would follow in his footsteps.” The former president, who raised many concerns about the first round elections, had earlier stated that he did not believe that the military would hand over power to civilian rule.
Meanwhile, Shafiq, who does not deny his admiration for Mubarak and considers him a role model, has brazenly declared that his first state visit would be to the U.S. in order to signal that he was its preferred candidate. He also said that he would not only keep the peace treaty with Israel, but would also deepen it.
Thus, the MB’s delusion that SCAF will allow it to contest power will soon be exposed. Sooner or later the group will realize that it simply can neither outmaneuver nor win against the military or the deep security state on its own. It will have to fundamentally change its strategic choices and genuinely adopt the revolutionary path in order to defeat the entrenched interests of the deep state. Even if by some miracle their candidate wins the election, the past year has demonstrated that in every state-controlled institution, including the judiciary, no real change will take place unless all the counter-revolutionary elements are purged, a concept that is lost on the MB’s leadership that is used to slow approach reforms or behind-the-scenes questionable deals to preserve its interests.
Disappointed, yet again, with the MB’s attitude to ignore their consensus, most of the revolutionary groups have vowed to press on with their revolution that has been deeply, but not yet gravely, wounded. Former presidential candidate Dr. Abdel Moneim Abol Fotouh, a favorite among many revolutionary and youth groups, has declared that the latest decisions by the High Court allowing the candidacy of Shafiq and the dissolution of parliament were nothing short of a soft coup d’état orchestrated by the military. He called for the immediate establishment of a revolutionary leadership council comprised of all pro-revolution groups and leaders to challenge the military hold on power and Shafiq’s inevitable presidency.
Sensing these threats dozens of such groups that have sacrificed so much since the early days of the revolution, have vowed to join in and continue the difficult struggle to dislodge the military and achieve the main objective of the revolution in establishing a true democratic civil state and ending the culture of the deep security state. Thousands have taken to the streets, while hundreds started a sit-in in Tahrir Square.
They now quietly admit that a hard lesson has been learned. This time their slogan is not “the people and the army are one.” Rather their cry is: “This time we are serious, we will not leave it (the revolution) to anyone.”
Esam Al-Amin can be contacted at email@example.com
The Charade is Over
When deposed Egyptian president Hosni Mubarak and his sons were indicted in April 2011, legal observers cynically noted that the charges were not only politically motivated in order to quiet the massive demonstrations demanding their trial, but also that they were so weak that the trial might have been designed to end in acquittals.
Initially, eleven people were indicted on two sets of charges. The first batch included Mubarak, his two sons, and his old friend and former intelligence officer turned businessman, Hussein Salem. Salem came to prominence after the peace treaty with Israel was signed in 1979, when he became the point man in Egypt for the American aid that poured in as a result of the Camp David accords.
At the time, Hussein was acting as a private contractor, receiving tens of millions of dollars in commissions related to the American military and economic aid. By the mid 1980s, the Pentagon was so concerned with his financial corruption and over-billing that it threatened to indict him unless he was removed from the process. He was subsequently barred from entering the U.S.
Hussein then focused on domestic business ventures, constructing massive tourist resorts on the Red Sea, especially at Sharm Al-Sheikh, attracting European and American tourists. In exchange for getting prime land from the state for his projects on the cheap, he gave Mubarak and his sons five villas at practically no cost. This transaction that took place in the 1990s was the basis of the first set of charges against the Mubarak family for corruption and exchanging influence for financial gain. It should also be mentioned that it was Hussein that owned the private company that bought Egyptian natural gas and sold it to Israel at significantly below market prices, pocketing tens of millions of dollars as a result. Several former Mubarak aids believe that his sons were also silent partners on this incredible deal. For many years the Mubarak regime protected this inequitable transaction before it was scrapped this year under public pressure.
Out of the billions of dollars illegally made by the Mubaraks over the years, the state prosecutor (who himself was also appointed by Mubarak) chose this rotten but insignificant deal from the 90s to indict the former ruling family, knowing fully well that in Egypt the statute of limitation is three years for misdemeanors and ten years for felonies.
The second set of charges were against Mubarak’s security people led by former interior minister Gen. Habib Al-Adly and six of his most brutal senior assistants, including the heads of State Security, Central Security, as well as Cairo and Giza Security apparatuses. It was these security agencies, with over three hundred thousand officers, that cracked down on the protesters killing more than one thousand in the early days of the revolution in January 2011.
Although the two sets of charges on their face were unrelated, they were deliberately joined together in order to give the appearance that Mubarak and his sons were tried because of the security crackdown. But the revolutionary youth took to the streets in April and May of last year, forcing the state prosecutor to include Mubarak on the second set of charges of ordering and conspiring to kill the protesters.
Dating back to the nineteenth century, Egypt’s judiciary is considered one of the oldest modern judiciary systems in the world, earning a fine reputation and an independent tradition. However, as in every authoritarian regime, senior judges were appointed for decades by a dictatorial president so that they could rule in favor of his regime at crucial times. During the past year the world has witnessed how Mubarak-appointed senior judges corrupted the judicial process for political purposes at crucial moments.
One example was manifested this year during the standoff between Egypt’s state prosecutors and the United States after the indictment of 19 American pro-democracy workers. They were charged with operating several unregistered organizations that interfered in the Egyptian political process. In the midst of the pre-trial hearings and under tremendous pressure from the U.S. government, the head of Cairo’s Appeals Court called the chief prosecutor and pressured him to grant the Americans bail. Within two hours of the Americans posting bail, they were smuggled outside Egypt on an American military plane, escaping their day in court. Interestingly, the Republican-led House of Representatives has subsequently deducted the $5 million bail from this fiscal year’s aid to Egypt.
Another example of compromised judges is the head of the Presidential Elections Commission (PEC). Constitutionally, the PEC in Egypt is made up of five senior judicial positions, and is headed by the Chief Justice of Egypt’s Supreme Constitutional Court. That man is Justice Farouk Sultan. Traditionally the head of the highest court in the country is its most senior justice. But not this time. Sultan was a military judge for many years but Mubarak promoted him within a three-year period to first head a district court in 2006, and then appointed him as the head of the Supreme Court in 2009. Many legal and political experts believe that Mubarak chose him for that position in order to orchestrate the rise of his son, Gamal to the presidency that was supposed to have taken place in 2011 had Mubarak survived.
During the recent presidential elections, the PEC received some twenty appeals from various presidential candidates. But the only one accepted was the appeal of Gen. Ahmad Shafiq. As the last prime minister of the Mubarak regime, Shafiq was barred from politics for ten years by parliament in March of this year. However, Sultan and the PEC ruled that this law was unconstitutional although the commission did not have the legal authority to overturn the law, as it was administrative in nature and not judicial (despite being comprised of judges).
As Mubarak’s trial (dubbed in Egypt as ‘The Trial of the Century’) was underway, the political charade became more transparent. The Mubarak-appointed judge Ahmad Rifaat, who chaired the 3-judge panel overseeing the trial, refused to transfer Mubarak to the prison hospital and instead kept him in a military hospital where he enjoyed the perks of a former president. He allowed several senior Mubarak officials to testify, including former Vice President Omar Suleiman, military chief and Egypt’s effective ruler since Feb. 2011, Field Marshal Hussein Tantawi, as well as two former interior ministers.
All of these witnesses tried to absolve Mubarak from any culpability in the security crackdown on the peaceful protesters. Court records released recently show that whenever the frustrated prosecutors tried to get details by asking these senior officials probing questions or through demonstrating inconsistencies in their testimonies, the presiding judge would interrupt and not allow the questioning to proceed. As the trial ended last February, Judge Rifaat said he would announce his ruling on the trial on June 2, in the midst of the presidential elections.
Since the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) took over the reign of power in the country in February of last year promising a transition to democracy, the struggle has been between two conflicting visions for Egypt. The revolutionaries, who comprise large segments of Egyptian society including Islamic and secular groups, aspire to a new democratic Egypt, raising the slogans of freedom, dignity, and social justice. On the other hand those who benefited from the corruption of the Mubarak regime including influential politicians from the now-banned National Democratic Party (NDP), crooked businesspeople, and the beneficiaries of the security state, called in Egypt, the fulool or remnants of the former regime, long for the days when they ruled and ripped off the country with total impunity.
For most of last year, the fulool laid low waiting for a ripe opportunity for a comeback. They relied on the military council to ride the revolutionary spirit until the public became exhausted with a weary process that addressed little of their daily struggles. Meanwhile, the military allowed basically free and fair parliamentary elections, resulting in the Islamic parties gaining about 75 percent of the seats. But despite the decisive outcome, the military refused to change the government that comprised Mubarak-era ministers, while the state media relentlessly attacked the new parliament as being ineffective in solving people’s daily hardships. In fact, the economic situation became much worse in recent months as basic goods became scarce including bread and cooking oil, while gas prices hit the roof. Furthermore, security became a major problem as crime rates in Egypt jumped significantly higher than any time in modern Egyptian history.
Enter Gen. Shafiq. In February, Mubarak’s Prime Minister announced his candidacy as the person to restore security within 24 hours and return the Egyptian economy to stability and growth. Although denied by SCAF’s spokesman, he then claimed that he sought and received the backing of the military for his candidacy. Shafiq has vocally said that Mubarak was his role model and openly regretted the success of the revolution.
He flagrantly tried to exploit the rift between the Islamists and the secularists vowing to fight the religious groups. He also sent plain signals to the Christian minority in Egypt by warning against the emergence of a “religious state.” In an unmistakable message sent to the U.S. and Israel, Gen. Shafiq said that he wanted Cairo, not Palestine, to be the capital of Egypt, an implicit attack on his opponents, who publicly declared their support for the Palestinians in their struggle against Israeli occupation. In short, through Shafiq’s candidacy the fulool found their man and consequently hundreds of former NDP politicians, corrupt businesspeople, and former security chiefs joined his campaign.
Those include his campaign manager, Gen. Mahmud Wagdy, who served as Mubarak’s last interior minster under whose direction the infamous Battle of the Camel was waged on Feb. 2, 2011 by the armed goons in an effort to dislodge the revolutionary youth from Tahrir Square. Dozens of people were killed that day, while thousands were injured as a result of the vicious attacks. In addition, Shafiq’s campaign directors in every major province are former security chiefs aided by former NDP officials in those regions.
During the Mubarak era, it was the task of the security chief in each province to secure the support and loyalty of the local mayors and officials to the regime. Meanwhile the businesspeople linked to the Mubarak system of state cronyism were happy to finance his campaign (and their comeback) by spending tens of millions of pounds. Since the first round of the elections, when Shafiq came in second at 24 percent (within one percent of Muslim Brotherhood candidate, Dr. Muhammad Mursi), much evidence has surfaced about the funding of his campaign. For instance, one Shafiq bankroller turned out to be the wife of convicted billionaire and corrupt politician and businessman, Ahmad Ezz, the mastermind of the 2010 elections fraud and Gamal Mubarak’s scheme to succeed his father.
Egyptians, Arabs, and indeed the world waited for the fateful day on June 2 for the announcement of the judgment on Mubarak and his culprits. After a fifteen-minute rant by Judge Rifaat, in which he praised the revolution and condemned the former regime, he announced his appalling, but not so shocking, ruling. He sentenced Mubarak and his former interior minister Al-Adly to life sentences for the killing of the protesters. He then acquitted Mubarak, his sons, and Hussein Salem on the financial corruption charges because the statute of limitation had run out. He also acquitted the six security chiefs of all charges in regard to the killing of the protesters, citing a lack of evidence.
Western observers, including media outlets and human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, did not see the ruse and initially praised the ruling where for the first time in the history of the Arab World a head of state was tried, convicted, and sentenced to what is seemingly a harsh sentence (The trial of Saddam Hussein was not considered independent because it was conducted under American military occupation.).
But Egyptians were not fooled. They immediately condemned the political nature of the rulings and took to the streets across Egypt by the hundreds of thousands, in scenes reminiscent of the early days of the revolution. The consensus and unity generated by these sentences within all the strands of the revolutionary groups, as well as the families of the fallen and injured, may have been the result of SCAF’s and the fulool’s gross miscalculation that the revolutionary spirit had waned or that their comeback was imminent.
It should also be noted that in anticipation of Mubarak sons’ acquittals and the possibility of massive riots, the prosecutors indicted both sons last week on money laundering and insider trading on Egypt’s stock market. They were charged with illegally gaining as much as 2 billion pounds (about $330 million) over several years. Because of these charges Mubarak’s sons were not released after their acquittal this week. But Mubarak’s supporters still hope that when Shafiq wins the presidency in two weeks these charges would be dropped, as their dad would be pardoned.
But why are most Egyptians angry at the verdicts?
First, the political nature of the rulings cannot be overstated. Acquitting Mubarak and his sons on financial corruption should have been foreseen, as the prosecutors knew that the statute of limitation had run out. They had dozens of other criminal complaints on Mubarak and sons involving corrupt financial transactions and shady land deals worth billions of dollars over many years.
Secondly, the conviction of Mubarak and his interior minister was political because the judge declared in his ruling that he did not know how the protesters actually died since the forensic evidence was inconclusive. But in actual fact there are direct declarations from former interior ministry officials that most of the evidence was shredded and destroyed shortly after the ouster of Mubarak under the military council by the same security chiefs that were acquitted.
Many legal experts believe that by acquitting these security chiefs, who would have essentially carried out Mubarak’s orders, the conviction of their superiors would surely be ultimately overturned on appeal. In short, the judge may have sacrificed Mubarak momentarily as he saved his sons and the regime.
Moreover, during the past 16 months, not a single person, let alone any senior official, has been convicted of killing a single protester. All of the junior officers tried in Egypt during the past year have been acquitted. Even Mubarak and Al-Adly’s convictions are now susceptible to be overturned on appeal, since Mubarak himself did not kill the protesters. If his underlings are innocent then how could he have carried out the murders? And of course if Shafiq becomes president not only would he pardon the deposed dictator, but he would possibly restore to him the status of a former president.
Since February, the political process underway in Egypt has been carefully manipulated by SCAF and the fulool. The tactic hinged on dividing the revolutionary groups, and gradually restoring power to the former regime elements by convincing the majority of Egyptian voters that their security, economic stability, and future could not be trusted with such divided, inexperienced, and novice political parties. In addition, regional countries led by the Gulf states such as Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Kuwait, as well as foreign international powers including the U.S, Israel, and some European countries sent unmistakable signals to the Egyptian electorate that voting for Shafiq would bring stability, security, and economic prosperity, in an effort to reproduce the old regime with a democratic façade.
But instead of bringing most Egyptians closer to choosing Shafiq, the plot has backfired. As a consequence of the verdicts, the exhausted Egyptians have been reinvigorated and their unity reestablished, in a display unseen since February 11, 2011, the day Mubarak was ousted from power. In essence, the pronouncement of the trial’s outcome has sent a loud and unambiguous signal that all the gains of the revolution are now in jeopardy. Unless the revolutionary groups unite, convincingly win the second round of presidential elections to be held on June 16 and 17, and defeat Shafiq, the SCAF’s and fulool’s candidate, the Mubarak regime would indeed re-create itself and dash the hopes and aspirations of Egypt’s youth and pro-democracy groups.
Meanwhile, the MB’s candidate in the runoff, Dr. Mursi, announced that if he were elected president, he would form an independent investigative commission headed by a senior judge with impeccable credentials in order to gather evidence and retry Mubarak and his cronies. On the other hand, most Egyptian groups in support of the revolution see the imminent dangers that would result in a fulool comeback. They have announced their support for a presidential team to consist of the MB’s Mursi as president, and Dr. Abdelmoneim Abol Fotouh and Hamdein Sabahi, the runner-ups in the first round, as vice presidents. There have also been strong calls to have Dr. Mohammad Elbaradei, the former head of the UN Atomic Agency included in this team and serve as Prime Minister.
The three candidates representing different constituencies within the revolutionary groups (Mursi, Sabahi, and Abol Fotouh) received more than 15 million votes in the first round or about 65 percent of the total votes cast. It’s now up to the MB to rise to the challenge and unite all pro-revolution Egyptians. If such a presidential slate can be formed, it would be next to impossible for the fulool candidate to win. Only through such unity and a firm determination to overcome the petty differences -compared to what is at stake- can the Egyptians claim back their popular revolt. One of the most remarkable and peaceful revolutions in the history of the world.
Esam Al-Amin can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org