Citizens International

Has the third Arab liberation movement failed?

by Zafarul-Islam Khan


Three diplomats sat in the French consulate in Beirut in May 1916 while the First World War raged and agreed on a secret plan to divide the Middle East among their countries. They represented Britain, France and Imperial Russia. After the Bolshevik Revolution in October 1917, Russia withdrew from the scheme. Britain and France stayed committed and soon after the end of the war, divided the countries among themselves under what is known as “Sykes-Picot Agreement”. The Arabs, who had been promised freedom by the British, revolted and were eventually placated with the creation of the Emirate of Transjordan (now Kingdom of Jordan) and Kingdom of Iraq to be ruled by the sons of the leader of Arab Revolt, Sharif Husain of Mecca.


A second attempt to throw away the Sykes-Picot yoke started shortly after the Second World War and countries like Syria, Iraq, Iran and Egypt witnessed coups and popular revolts. New dictatorships emerged while the old systems, essentially supported by foreign powers, remained intact. New elites, including a military ruling class, emerged while masses continued to lead a life of penury, bereft of civil and political rights.


Iran finally managed to break free of the Sykes-Picot yoke in 1979, but Arab countries had to wait for another three decades. The long overdue movement started in Tunisia in December 2010 and soon spread to many corners of the Arab World. Its biggest success was in Egypt where the movement to topple the long-entrenched military ruler (Air Marshal) Hosni Mubarak started on 25 January 2011 and finally succeeded in toppling him after 18 days of violent protests. But the reins of power did not fall into the hands of the protesters or institutions as there were no institutions worth their name with the exception of the Supreme Council of Armed Forces (SCAF) which hastened to take over the state and effectively ruled from February 2011 to June 2012.


The military rule in Egypt was established in July 1952 by Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser. Over the years, the army and army officers seized most of the positions of power in Egypt, directly or indirectly owning and controlling more than 50 percent of the Egyptian economy. The 2011 popular revolt challenged this status quo.


A new parliament was elected in a free and fair election in January 2012 but in June, SCAF dismantled it on technical grounds using a court verdict which found flaws in the electoral law.


On 24 June, 2012, Dr Muhammad Mursi, a university professor belonging to the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), was elected as President defeating the army’s nominee. The new President tried to resurrect Parliament by issuing on 8 July a decree which was struck down by the constitutional court the very next day.


On 26 December, 2012, President Mursi signed a constitution approved by 63.83 percent of the voters in a free and fair referendum. But it still remained heavily in favour of the army,e.g., a military officer was to be the defence minister (art. 195) and the National Defence Council was to have a majority of military commanders (art. 197). This effectively gave the military a veto over any national security or sensitive issue.


The fact is that President Mursi was not allowed to rule even for a single day. The “deep state” frustrated all his attempts to control the system. This deep state comprises of the military, the ministry of interior and the General Intelligence Directorate in addition to the Mubarak era technocrats including the judiciary.


SCAF had bestowed upon itself extra-constitutional powers vide a constitutional addendum issued in July 2012. In August, President Mursi froze this addendum and retired the generals who had signed it. But his choice of the new military leader, Gen. Abdul Fattah Al-Sisi, was catastrophic. Mursi was fooled by the general’s show of piety and submissiveness while the latter was fully committed to the interests of the Army and the Mubarak State which was still fully intact.


Soon an orchestrated street and media campaign was started by the deep state. SCAF had already placed the media in the hands of the “liberals” who had been routed in the parliamentary elections. State and private media including the mass-circulation government-owned newspapers and TV channels started an unprecedented daily campaign to ridicule and abuse the President and his team. Rogue and liberal elements rushed to the streets in frequent protests. “Black Bloc,” the secret militia kept by the interior ministry, started a reign of terror, extortion, attacks, murders and bombings to induce popular unrest as the first priority of any nation is peace and security. A managed scarcity of essential goods was launched under which the supply of crucial items like bread, petrol and electricity became erratic and scarce. Mubarak regime’s hand-picked judges started overruling the new regime’s decisions and overturning presidential decrees.


While the deep state with the help of the judges was moving fast to dismantle the Shoora Council (upper house of Parliament) and the Constituent Committee drafting the constitution, President Mursi stepped in to protect his government from an impending serious vacuum by signing the Constitutional Declaration of 22 November, 2012, which protected his decrees from judicial review until the next parliament was elected and the new constitution was passed. He also ordered re-trial of Mubarak officials accused of murder, terror and causing injuries to protesters, after they had been summarily acquitted en masse by the Mubarak era judges.


Now, at the behest of the deep state, many “liberal” members of the Constituent Committee resigned, street protests started and even the Presidential Palace was besieged. Soon, on 26 April, 2013, Tamarod (Rebellion) movement started in Cairo’s Tahrir Square and claimed to have collected signatures of 22 million Egyptians demanding removal of President Mursi.


This situation allowed SCAF, late in June, to openly intervene giving to the government and opposition one week to find a solution for the impasse. Soon, on 1 July, this ultimatum was reduced to 48 hours and, finally, Egypt’s first freely-elected President was deposed two days later. He was detained along with all his close aides, advisors, prime minister and members of the cabinet.


Now, millions of supporters of the deposed President and opponents of a fresh bout of military regime started street protests and camped at hundreds of spots across the country, especially at Cairo’s Rabia Al-Adawiya and Al-Nahda squares. The protests at both these huge squares were mercilessly broken on 14 August 2013, killing at least 638 persons (2600 according to the field hospital in the square) and injuring around 7000 persons. During an earlier attack on the Rabia camp on 4 July, 70 persons were killed. Pro-Mursi protesters observed a “Day of Rage” at Cairo’s Ramses Square where 173 protesters were mercilessly murdered by the security forces.


Many more have been killed in police attacks on peaceful mass protests which have continued ever since, in all parts of Egypt on a regular basis despite a ban on holding demonstrations without a police permit.


According to a conservative estimate, at least 3,000 protesters have been killed by the Egyptian army and police since President Mursi was toppled.


Despite these grave violations, human rights activists and tweeterati in Egypt and West have maintained an eerie silence if not actively supporting the army in its bid to crush and eliminate all opposition and criminalise the MB and its political wing (Justice & Freedom Party – JFP) which had won four successive elections and a referendum.


Judiciary fully supported the police and army’s bid to crush all protests and put every possible opponent behind bars. According to official figures, 16,000 MB leaders, workers and supporters are in jails, while an Egyptian human rights organisation has put the number of the arrestees at 22,000 which includes hundreds of women and minors and around 3000 MB leaders and workers. The detainees also include hundreds of journalists including three Aljazeera journalists who are accused of “terror” charges simply because they had met MB leaders.


The army-appointed council of ministers banned MB within the country and without on 25 December, 2013, declaring it a “terrorist group” and accusing it of all violent activities in the country. MB’s political wing, JFP, too, was banned. All their assets including bank accounts have been seized.


On 25 March, a court in Minya startled the whole world by sentencing 528 persons to death for killing a police officer although the officer’s widow has told media that the killers of her husband are freely roaming on the town’s streets. The whole court proceedings took some half an hour over two days. During the second session, the defendants and their lawyers were not allowed into the court-room! The same judge (Saeed Yusuf) had earlier acquitted all police officers accused of killing anti-Mubarak protestors. This verdict has been condemned all over the world. UN Commission for Human Rights said it is against international law and has no parallel in modern history. Amnesty International said this verdic offers the worst example of the incompetence of the Egyptian judicial system, while London Guardian said this verdict is a death sentence for the Egyptian democracy.


The fact is that this verdict was part of a consistent process. Earlier, in February 2014, threeAlexandria courts had sentenced a group of protesters to 945 years in jail and a fine of 0.5 million Egyptian pounds. Then, on 19 March, a Cairo court sentenced 26 persons accused in the so-called “Suez Cell” to death while one person was sentenced to 15 years imprisonment. They were accused of sabotaging the Suez Canal. More sentences against 682 MB members will be announced on 28 April. They are all supporters of President Mursi and are accused of unlawful assembly, setting a police station on fire and membership of an illegal organisation.


In a further escalation, the Public Prosecutor on 26 March ordered the trial of 919 supporters of President Mursi in Minya. They include the Leader (Murshid) of MB, Muhammad Badie who is accused of inciting people. President Mursi and thousands of his supporters and MB leaders and workers are being tried now. Mursi himself is charged of treason and communication with “enemy” (Hamas)! To deprive the accused any opportunity to grandstand for a nationwide audience, the proceedings are not televised and the accused are produced in well-insulated steel and glass cages.


The coup leader, Gen. Abdul Fattah El-Sisi, who got himself elevated to “Field Marshal,” has now announced his candidature for the presidential elections which will be held on 26-27 May. His announcement was instantly greeted on the Facebook with the hashtag “Intakhibu al-‘Ars” – Elect the Pimp – which went viral and was seen and supported by millions within hours. But the field marshal’s winning the elections is a forgone conclusion as no serious rival will be allowed to contest.


Seemingly, the counter-revolution in Egypt is complete by now. The old regime is fully back in the saddle thanks to full US, Israel and Gulf support. They were all, for different reasons, wary lest a popular, honest and enlightened movement takes roots in a key Arab country which was to have serious repercussions for the whole region.


The Egyptian deep state has succeeded in unravelling the 25 January revolution, sending a message in the region that Arab Spring has been buried, that political power flows not from a constitution but from the barrels of guns. To ensure that masses do not rise again, the main political force has been criminalized and ruthlessly crushed. A “demon” has been created as seen earlier in Argentina and Algeria. MB is accused of involvement in terror, which the movement fervently denies saying that the authorities are using “terrorism” to suppress dissent. Non-MB opponents of the regime too have been arrested on a large scale.


The road ahead for the field marshal is not paved with flowers. His ruthless tactics can hardly help his regime tide over a difficult economic situation which has already claimed the putschists’ first prime minister. Generous Gulf aid to the tune of some US$ 17 billion can hardly shore up a corrupt and kleptocratic system. Ever-rising unemployment, inflation, capital flight and absence of tourists will soon push the masses to the streets and the generals will have no place to hide.


It is still too early to write the epitaph of the 25 January Revolution. Sykes-Picot legacy is yet to be dismantled.

The writer, chief editor of 
The Milli Gazette, is a keen student of the Middle Eastdevelopments since late 1960s.