Sunday, September 01, 2013

OPINION: Egypt's re-revolution going viral

Muslims around the globe are joining protests on streets and on social media against military takeover.

Protests have spontaneously erupted in cities across the Muslim world, from Istanbul to Lahore to Jakarta. Apart from some clashes with police, mostly the protests have been peaceful and matched by parallel protests on Twitter, Facebook and other forms of social media.

Meanwhile, photos of the dead and the living in Egypt's nascent democracy are going viral. There is a photo of Habiba Ahmed Abdel Aziz, a multimedia volunteer for the Muslim Brotherhood standing in the crowd holding a camera on small stand. Next to this is a photo of her lifeless face in a white shroud. But it isn't just ordinary Egyptians being murdered by a military that each year receives millions in military aid from the US. Soon news spreads across cyberspace that an Egyptian athlete who won bronze at the London Olympics is among the dead. The 17-year-old daughter of a Brotherhood leader is filmed being cut down by a sniper. 

Indeed, Egypt's counter-revolution is being televised to those who care to watch. Egyptian protests are making international headlines while their parallel international equivalents are being ignored by our allegedly honest independent Western media outlets. Indonesia, the world's most populous Muslim nation and perhaps Asia's most vibrant democracy, has close spiritual ties to Egypt, home to Al-Azhar University in Cairo, perhaps the most Sunni Muslim seminary in the world.

Large numbers of Indonesian religious scholars are Al-Azhar graduates. Egyptian religious culture is regarded as reflective of the epitome of orthodoxy in many parts of the archipelago. Hence Indonesians have hit the streets following the 3 July coup.

The United States prefers not to use nasty terms like "coup" to describe the military removal of a democratically elected government followed by a massacre of its citizens. To do so would threaten its ongoing $1.5 billion military aid package to the Egyptian military which underpins the Camp David Peace Accord with Israel. Protecting the security needs of the only democracy in the Middle East is far more important than supporting nascent democracies in other Middle Eastern nations. Or to quote the Israeli ambassador to Cairo: "Al-Sisi is not a national hero for Egypt, but for all Jews in Israel and around the globe."

The United States and Israel have a firm ally in the democratic moderate secular nation of Saudi Arabia. The last thing Saudi's absolutist absolute monarchy would want is a host of Arab springs in its own backyard. At first, Saudi Arabia's role in Egypt's democracy was to act as puppet master for the Salafist faction.

Saudi Arabia has now directed its Salafist allies in Egypt to back the Egyptian generals. It is also using its influence in the Arab media to flex its muscle. In Kuwait, well-known preacher Tareq el-Swaidan has been sacked as director of a Saudi religious channel due to his Brotherhood links.

The Saudi prince Al-Waleed bin Talal wrote on Twitter that Mr Swaidan had been dismissed "for admitting he belongs to the Brotherhood terrorist movement". The Saudi dictatorship has pledged $5 billion to the military junta.

The mastermind behind the military takeover and massacre is hardly a staunch secularist. General Abdul Fattah el-Sisi was appointed by former President Morsi in August 2002 to head the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF). Sisi was trained in Egypt, the UK and the United States. Unlike other SCAF members, Sisi is a deeply devout man. Despite the support it is receiving from the US, Sisi's military rulers are flooding the country with anti-American propaganda, claiming that the US Government and media are supporting the protesters. Successive military regimes have used this kind of paranoia to deflect attention. 

Egypt is moving forward headlong into the past when elected presidents won polls with 99 per cent of the vote. The Brotherhood's Mohammed Morsi wasn't perfect, but he was Egypt's first elected President. Egyptian media were free to lampoon him without risking imprisonment and torture.

We now have no idea where Morsi is being held. On the other hand, former military strongman Hosni Mubarak, the man overthrown in Egypt's revolution who faces trial, has been released. In the long term, Morsi's opponents have little option but to rally not only around the army but possibly their original nemesis. 

Egypt's anti-Brotherhood liberals have proven to be democracy's worst enemy and the army's best ally. As an electoral force, they proved disorganised, unable to agree on a presidential candidate to oppose the Brotherhood. They seem only able to unite against a power, not for a cause. In Egypt, liberals have given up on liberal democracy.

First published in the New Zealand Herald on Tuesday August 27 2013.

Words © 2013 Irfan Yusuf

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