Sunday, June 24, 2012

Dispatches From Cairo: Ms. Clinton, Kindly Butt Out

Lauren Unger-Geoffroy

A protester in Cairo’s Tahrir Square in May displays
a shoe sole covered with pictures of Egyptian and Israeli
and other foreign officials or former officials, including
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
CAIRO—Since Tuesday, Egypt has suffered a hot spell that produced a record number of heatstroke victims, including me and two friends. But the weather has not stopped supporters of the two presidential election “winners” from holding victory celebrations. Nor has it stopped Egyptians from wondering whether the ousted President Hosni Mubarak is clinically dead, fully dead, alive and conscious, or alive but unconscious, and whether he had a heart attack or a stroke or had fallen in a bathtub. The volleys of bullshit have been heavy as journalists rush back and forth in pursuit of the stories.

Lots of jokes have hit the social networks. A couple of examples:

—“Egypt has two living presidents, no parliament, one dictator, one invalid constitution, and one president both dead and alive.”

—“All Egyptians are happy today. Those who are for [presidential candidate Mohamed] Morsi are happy because he has won. Those who are for [presidential candidate Ahmed] Shafiq are happy because he won. Those who hated Mubarak are happy because he is dead. Those who loved Mubarak are happy because he is alive.”

Music blared and cars victory-honked Friday night as huge numbers flocked again to Tahrir Square to demonstrate against the ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, and to celebrate hints that the SCAF might agree to allow the presidency to go to the opposition candidate, the Muslim Brotherhood’s Morsi.

Good, Alhamdulillah, if that happens, for such a decision by the SCAF would probably avoid a military massacre of thousands stemming from massive public protests. The people will not accept Shafiq as president, nor will they believe any vote count that has him as winner of last weekend’s election.

A pro-Morsi chant heard in Tahrir Square since last Tuesday night: “If [the SCAF] want to be Syria, we’ll give them Libya!” The ominous meaning is that civil war will sweep Egypt if the SCAF’s candidate is awarded the presidency in the face of a challenged vote and that the regime will be swept away.

Khairat el-Shater, the leading strategist of the Muslim Brotherhood, warned before the final round of the presidential election: “Egypt can make its transition to a new order the easy way, or the hard way.” Despite the regime-run national media’s relentless psychological warfare against the Muslim Brotherhood, it is now nearly impossible for the military to take the presidency.

In a statement issued Friday, the SCAF warned against failure to implement court decisions and confirmed the constitutional declaration that it issued earlier in a bid to restrict presidential power. Key words in the new statement were “legitimacy,” “law,” “legal” and “constitutional.” Well played, very well played.

I took in all this information through a haze of dizziness caused by 105-degree heat. I tried not to faint, which was difficult after I read about U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton seeming to assert a right to insinuate the United States into the Egyptian election and its outcome. The military must transfer power to the true winner of the election, Clinton said Wednesday. “We think that it is imperative that the military fulfill its promise to the Egyptian people to turn power over to the legitimate winner,” she said in Washington, D.C. She went on to call the developments in Egypt “clearly troubling.”

“The military has to assume an appropriate role which is not to interfere with, dominate or try to subvert the constitutional authority,” Clinton said. It was a warning.

The obvious wrongdoings of the SCAF notwithstanding, the U.S. must not tell Egypt how it should conduct its affairs. Whatever became of the notion of national sovereignty?

In Egypt it is a cultural commonality to say you will do a thing at a certain time and then delay for a long while. This is why Egyptians are not alarmed by the SCAF’s stalling for time before working out a solution to the election crisis. It is also culturally forgivable for people to lie to “protect themselves” or “not offend,” conditions subject to flexible interpretation.

Even in view of this, it’s clear that Egypt could explode. The situation is aggravated by the U.S. interference, the Israeli military’s alleged positioning of forces near the border, a fuel shortage, internal religious conflict, international disagreement over Iran, and other matters.

As my father, in his cynical wisdom, used to say, “The stock market, like history, like all destiny, follows a line of possible causes and effects as if you put a chicken’s feet in ink and let it walk across the possible outcomes. That is the story of destiny.” So we will see. 

It is not surprising that much of the American press has fallen into the misconception that the Egyptian majority wants the Muslim Brotherhood, and that MB supporters somehow (and this is ironic) represent democracy. However, it must be understood that the Brotherhood backers now occupying Tahrir Square have a common front with democracy-seeking revolutionaries; it is a simple case of “my enemy’s enemy is my ally.” There is no way for liberals and Islamic fundamentalists to happily co-exist in a state run by the Muslim Brotherhood.

In spite of its questionable tactics—such as buying votes and granting positions on the now-disbanded Islamist-run constitutional committee in exchange for political favors—I admire the Muslim Brotherhood, especially its impressive international strength and the depth of its conviction, loyalty and vision.

The power behind the throne in a Muslim Brotherhood-controlled government would be Khairat Shater, a brilliant businessman and much-imprisoned MB leader who was disqualified as a presidential candidate before the preliminary election and replaced by the virtually unknown Mohamed Morsi. Shater’s goals as a Brotherhood leader are to bring about a global Islam of the purest kind through strict laws and religious observance. The type of Egypt he hopes for would not contain the free choice, free expression and many other rights championed by the liberals.

On the brink of a confrontation between military fascism and religious fascism, Western powers are turning the tide through their support of religious movements such as the Muslim Brotherhood. Understandably but myopically, the U.S. thinks that fueling the Islamic trend is the winning formula. U.S. political strategists believe that a Sunni movement would serve as a bulwark against Iranian Shiite movements. But this is the same type of wrongheaded thinking that led to the Western-backed overthrow of Iranian Prime Minister Mohammad Mosaddegh back in the early 1950s.

The only common desire of all Egyptians right now is that the United States keep out of the current problems. The world does not see the U.S. as a protector of democracy in Egypt; it sees the U.S. as attempting to decide the outcome by supporting Morsi before the show is even over, in a misguided attempt to extract Egyptian promises in regard to Israel. This is a big mistake.

In a thinly veiled strategy to keep the U.S. at the center of power in Egypt, Clinton appears to be trying to nurture a U.S. friendship with the Muslim Brotherhood whether or not that is in the best interests of the Egyptian people
Meanwhile, those Shafiq supporters who would exchange the revolution and a future freedom from the corruption of the old regime for their own stability tremble between fear and confidence as the SCAF says, in effect, to Egyptians: “We know what is best for you and we will do it. We have the power. Trust us and obey.”

The SCAF’s fateful announcement of who is the winner of the presidential election—promised and delayed so many times—is expected to come Sunday. It will be received with much emotion.

It’s hot hot hot in the desert, even for the people who have lived here for thousands of years. But we all understand the expression “Out of the frying pan and into the fire.”

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