by Finian Cunningham
Egypt’s military strongman General Al Sisi is playing with fire that may engulf the North African country with even more internecine bloodshed. This week on state TV, Al Sisi called for massive street protests to face down “terrorists” who, he said, were destabilizing Egypt’s national security.
He also claimed that such popular show of strength would give the Egyptian army “a mandate” to use violence to restore order.
Such inflammatory talk by the supposed head of national security is tantamount to pushing Egypt – the Arab region’s most populous country – into a civil war.
The reprehensible thing about this is that General Abdel Fattah Al Sisi is indulging in reckless demagoguery to incite violence in order to cover up the fact that it is he who violated the law and constitution of his country.
As head of the Egyptian military, Al Sisi is supposed to be duty-bound to protect the nation from harm. But what he appears to be doing is plunging the nation into chaos and conflict by way of concealing his own selfish ambitions.
On 3 July, it was Defense Minister Al Sisi who dismissed then President Mohamed Morsi. Nearly three weeks on, no one has seen or heard from the deposed Muslim Brotherhood president. Even his family is still unaware of Morsi’s whereabouts and has accused the military of “kidnap”.
Meanwhile, Al Sisi, who also heads the Supreme Council of Military Forces (SCAF), appointed a senior judge as the interim-president, and oversaw the formation of an unelected government. This civilian administration is only a front for Egypt’s military deep state, which stems from the US-backed Hosni Mubarak dictatorship (1981-2011).
The 35-member interim government is packed with holdovers from the Mubarak era. Many of them are closely associated with the Egyptian military and police. The central figure in the so-called civilian administration is General Al Sisi, who also appointed himself as deputy prime minister – in addition to his portfolio of defense minister and head of the SCAF.
Fawning visits to Cairo last week by US senior diplomat William Burns and the European Union’s Foreign Policy Chief, Catherine Ashton, demonstrate that Washington and its Western allies are endorsing the military coup against Egypt’s nascent democracy.
Burns said somewhat cryptically that this was “a second chance” for Egyptians. One wonders if what he really meant was a second chance for Egyptians to conform to the US-backed military deep state that Washington has bankrolled with $1.5 billion every year for the past three decades.
In recent days, the US has said that it is delaying the delivery of F-16 fighter jets to Egypt. This was prompted by the incendiary call for street protests by General Al Sisi. But Washington is only reacting for public relations purposes to fend off criticism that it is pandering to the military junta.
Notably, an unnamed senior Pentagon official told the Washington Post: “This is not a way of punishing them (Egypt’s military). It gives us more time to consult with Congress, walk them through our strategy and explain our views to them.” Besides, too, US Secretary of Defense Chuck Hagel reportedly consulted with Al Sisi hours before the announcement that the F-16s would be delayed.
Understandably, millions of Egyptians who voted for Morsi’s presidential bid in June 2012 feel that their long-fought-for democratic rights have been trampled on by the same military machine that they rose up against in January 2011 as part of the Arab Spring.
The ouster of Mubarak on 11 February 2011 was supposed to herald a new democratic beginning for Egypt. But evidently, the Mubarak-era military deep state is back in the driving seat – albeit with the trappings of a civilian administration.
When Al Sisi and his other US-trained Egyptian Generals deposed Morsi, they did so under the cynical guise of “obeying the popular will” and “saving the nation” from possible violence between anti and pro-Morsi crowds. There is evidence that Mubarak-era businessmen and media magnates gave the anti-Morsi demonstrations lionized coverage, thereby amplifying an atmosphere of national tensions and insecurity.
While Morsi certainly alienated wide sections of the population during his one-year presidency, it is nevertheless legally questionable that he should have been dismissed from office, put under secret arrest without charge, and that the constitution should be suspended and the Parliament dissolved. If that sounds like a military coup that’s because it is, even though Western politicians and media have banished the word from public discourse.
The way to make that unlawful intervention appear legitimate was to claim the mantle of acting on behalf of the people to maintain national security. However, what has transpired is that the Egyptian military and remnants from the Mubarak-era judiciary have taken the reins of political power out of the hands of the electorate. The formation of the interim government without any popular mandate earlier this month makes that clear.
The targeting of hundreds of Muslim Brotherhood members and other Morsi supporters with arrest, detention and prosecution for alleged Mubarak-era crimes also makes it apparent that the military-led Egyptian deep state is running a vendetta to wipe out political opponents, not acting as a caretaker for a transition to civilian politics.
Repression has also involved lethal violence by the state forces and apparently civilian-clothed agents. Since Morsi’s overthrow, as many as 200 people have been killed in street clashes and thousands more injured. Most of the victims have been Morsi supporters, with the military responsible for most of the bloodshed. The single-biggest deadly incident was on 8 July when the military opened fire on Muslim Brotherhood protesters outside the Republican Guard headquarters in Cairo, killing as many as 80 and wounding over 400.
Last week on national state TV, the interim President Adli Mansour used provocative language when he said: “We will fight the battle for security until the end.” He also warned darkly against those who “hide behind false slogans and who are driving the country to the abyss”.
What “false slogans” might the military-appointed interim president be referring to? Perhaps they include “We don’t support military coup” or “Reinstate Morsi”.
This sinister formula of polarizing society and demonizing political opponents was taken to new heights this week. Again, speaking on national state TV and wearing sunglasses, General Al Sisi said: “Egyptians must take to the streets on Friday to give me the mandate to face down violence and terrorism… Friday is the day we, the army, the people and the police, will unite.”
Asking people for a mandate to face down violence and terrorism sounds like preparing a green light for even more massacres committed by the Egyptian army. And then, in the aftermath of bloodshed, the military strongman will be able to claim that he was only acting “on behalf of the people” to “defend the nation”.
This is the politics of fascism, conducted with the imprimatur of Western so-called democratic governments.