MIDDLE EAST: From Mubarak To Al-Sisi via Tahrir Square

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By Jayantha Dhanapala*

KANDY, Sri Lanka (IDN) - In marked contrast to the vibrant exercise of democracy in India last month, a military coup toppled a controversial but democratically elected government in Thailand – an Asian Buddhist country with which Sri Lanka has ancient bonds and shared traditions. Worse still an election was held from May 26-28 in Egypt – a founder member of the Non-aligned Movement (NAM) – resulting in recently retired Army Commander Abdul Fattah al-Sisi securing an incredible fairy-tale 96.9% of the vote in which only 47.45% of the voters cast their vote.

This column wrote in an analysis of the July 3, 2013 coup, which deposed the democratically elected Morsi of the Muslim Brotherhood: “Much now depends on the interim Government and their ability to pave the way for fresh elections when a genuinely representative Government will emerge. The Muslim Brotherhood must also change and settle for a compromise and for reconciliation in the larger interests of the stability and prosperity of Egypt and her people.”


Nothing of the sort happened. The betrayal of the hopes and aspirations of the predominantly youthful protesters at Tahrir Square is now complete. Financed by the monarchies of Saudi Arabia, and others in the Gulf with medieval mindsets, to the tune of an estimated US $ 12 billion, and secretly encouraged by the Islamo-phobic US (despite its opportunistic alliance with Al Qaeda in Syria) and the EU, ex-Presidents Mubarak and Morsi were allowed to languish in jail while the new strongman al-Sisi consolidated his position.

Stability was the watchword as the Army stole the clothes of the revolutionaries pledging “freedom” and “social justice” – the slogans of the 2011 revolution. The Muslim Brotherhood was banned and 528 of its members sentenced to death. US-based Democracy International and the European Union's Election Observation Mission, who were among the election monitors, released preliminary reports that criticized the current political climate and its impact on the outcome of the election. President Carter was more direct in saying  "I am gravely concerned that Egypt's democratic transition has faltered."

All the while Israel has remained the winner as the Arab world continues to self-destruct. Now the only positive sign of Palestinian resistance to the systematic consolidation of occupied Palestinian territory with daily evictions of Palestinians and the construction of Israeli settlements is the unity government between Hamas and Al Fatah grudgingly accepted even by the US. Isolated, Israel has mounted a fierce opposition to this and rejected all talks on Palestine. The tragedy is that the only country that could have provided credible leadership for the Arabs to support the Palestinians was Egypt. That opportunity is lost for the moment as Egypt tries to refurbish her credentials.

After his election victory, Sisi tried to reaffirm his democratic intentions severing his connections with past military dictatorships. He said: “We know that some people fear a return to the past, but this will not happen, there is no going back and we will move forward.” Since Tahrir Square was the vortex of the aspirations of Egypt’s youth it is relevant to cite the 2010 Human Development Report of the UNDP on Youth in Egypt. According to that Report, Egypt’s youth can be a formidable force for development if conditions are put in place for an inclusive society where all young Egyptians feel valued and are afforded opportunities to learn well, find decent work, have a voice, engage productively in the community, afford marriage, and establish their own homes. That is unlikely to happen with al-Sisi.

Restrictive political and legal context

The US-based Carter Centre, in a report issued recently, expressed concerns about "the restrictive political and legal context surrounding Egypt’s electoral process, the lack of a genuinely competitive campaign environment, and the deep political polarization that threatens the country’s transition". That context is highlighted by the trial of three Al Jazeera English journalists – Baher Mohamed, Peter Greste and Mohammed Fahmy – who have been imprisoned since December 2013 on charges of broadcasting false news and providing a platform to the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood. An international campaign is on to secure their release. Al Jazeera is the widely influential Qatar based TV network and the prosecution of the journalists must be viewed in the context of the Saudi-Qatar rivalry in the Middle East.

It is understandable that Egypt’s current leaders do not want the religious extremism of the Muslim Brotherhood especially with minorities like the Coptic Christians who comprise 10% of the population. However policies of repression will not help especially in the declining economic conditions the country faces. It will also affect the international initiatives that depended on Egypt for leadership.

The NAM, the G77 and non nuclear weapon states in the NPT regime are crying for leadership at this juncture of international affairs. Modi of India alone cannot fill the vacuum of leadership in the Global South. Samir Amin, distinguished Egyptian economist and author of the “centre-periphery” thesis who heads an African think-tank in Dakar, Senegal, recently wrote imploring the NAM to reinvent itself.

Drawing lessons from the past he wrote: “We have the right to choose our own path of development. The powers that were and are the beneficiaries of the existing order should accept to adjust themselves to the requirements of our development. The adjustment must be mutual, not unilateral. That is, it is not the weak who have to adjust to the strong, but rather the strong need to adjust to the needs of the weak…. We reject the tenets of globalization that are currently in place.”

In the context of disarmament Egypt led the charge in 2010 which helped NAM to achieve a strong Final Declaration at the NPT Review Conference emphasizing the need for progress in the Middle East as a Weapons of Mass destruction free Zone. With the next conference due in 2015 the NAM are leaderless to protest over inaction on this issue caused by Israeli obstructionism.

Jayantha Dhanapala is currently President of the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize recipient the Pugwash Conferences on Science & World Affairs, a former UN Under-Secretary-General and a former Ambassador of Sri Lanka. [IDN-InDepthNews – June 7, 2014]

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