Tuesday, December 22, 2015

Prof. Khaled Abou El Fadl of UCLA on Egypt

Prof. Khaled Abou El Fadl teaches at UCLA and is known as a serious scholar on the affairs of the Middle East. How does he see the power grab of Sisi in his native Egypt? Here are some excerpts that are worth reading from his various essays:
 Written right after the military coup, Dr. El Fadl, asks: "So, what do we know about the coup and the circumstances surrounding it?

We know that Abdel Fattah El Sisi was an American-trained officer with friendly ties in the Pentagon. Eventually, it was widely reported that he and United States Secretary of Defence Chuck Hagel got along quite well. The New York Times reported that El Sisi has enjoyed close ties with the Israelis from the time he served as the head of military intelligence, and that El Sisi and his colleagues cleared the coup with the Israelis and obtained their support before the coup was executed. In fact, when Senator Rand Paul, a Republican from Kentucky, proposed a bill halting aid to Egypt because of the coup, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) sent a letter dated 31 July 2013, opposing such a measure. Ultimately, the bill was defeated 86 to 13 on the same day. Prince Bandar bin Sultan played a major, although not yet fully known, role in setting up the coup. He flew to the capitals of several Western countries weeks before the coup, urging them to support a takeover by the military. Other than the well-known aid package to Egypt of $5 billion weeks after the coup, King Abdullah made an unusually blunt public statement in which he called upon all Muslims to support the Egyptian army in its heroic fight against the terrorism of the Muslim Brotherhood. The United Arab Emirates, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia pledged money that far exceeds the aid Egypt receives from the United States and the European Union combined, in the event that the United States and the European Union might attempt to punish the Egyptian army by cutting off aid. The Israelis and the UAE repeatedly assured El Sisi that, regardless of how tough John Kerry or John McCain might sound, when all was said and done they would not cut off aid, and even if they did, the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia would more than cover it. Meanwhile, Abdullah bin Zayed al-Nahyan, the UAE Foreign Minister, intervened on behalf of El Sisi urging the United States not to cut off aid, even after the toll of those killed and arrested kept rising. What brings all of these parties together? Was it just a knee jerk reaction to the Muslim Brotherhood? Not quite. The Brotherhood did try to tread carefully and accommodate the military in a number of ways. However, it is the trail of money that provides the best evidence.

The Brotherhood tried to enter into several business relationships that would have challenged the economic interests of the military, and even attempted numerous under-the-table corrupt deals with investors from Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the UAE, as well as some other Gulf countries. The Brotherhood succeeded in entering into agreements with Turkey, China and India. This caused the anger among the ranks of the wealthy generals to begin exploding like fireworks, to the point that the military showed up on numerous television channels denouncing, and even demonizing, these deals as disastrous. The reasons given were not just unconvincing, but bordered on the neurotic.

El Sisi himself spoke frankly about the role that these deals played in his coup decision. In November 2012, he tried to get President Mohamed Morsi to understand by giving him the military's strategic outlook, which incidentally focused heavily on maintaining the ongoing commercial ties with Saudi Arabia, the UAE and Kuwait, while steering away from Turkey and Iran, and approaching China only after getting the consent of the United States to any substantial investment. When Morsi did not give El Sisi the response he hoped for, by El Sisi's own admission, the military stopped talking to the elected President in March of 2013. According to El Sisi, he realized that the problem needed a solution of a different kind."

The full text of this article can be viewed by clicking here.

In another article he goes to the details of failure or bankruptcy of Egypt's secular intellectuals, which played a demonic role to bring down Morsi's legitimate government.

"The military coup, even if it came in response to widespread grievances, is a fatal blow to the Egyptian Revolution. It is a fatal blow because it reaffirmed the politics of the old guardians in Egypt. It confirmed the traditional polarized, mutually exclusivist and equally supremacist politics that has prevailed, not only in Egypt, but throughout the Middle East since the colonial era. Unfortunately, the military coup and the return of the repressive security forces in Egypt came as a natural conclusion to the elasticity of the claims of legitimacy made by so many parties after the revolution.

But more than anything else, it is the Egyptian secular intelligentsia and the revolutionaries themselves that forced the revolution to commit suicide. This secular intelligentsia - not only in Egypt, but also in the Arab world in general - has locked the region into a near perpetual circle of self-defeatism because they appear incapable of understanding that nothing kills lofty ideas quite like the pragmatic hypocrisy of their bearers...
Why did the Egyptian secular intelligentsia betray their revolution? Why have they fallen into such profound and blatant contradictions such that they killed the infant revolution? To answer this question we must go back in time and understand what can be described as the time honoured traditions of Egyptian politics.

Long before the military coup, the secular intelligentsia and some of their revolutionary partners destined the revolution to a painful suicide by indulging in what has now become an often-repeated offense. They imagined themselves as the one and only true possessors of legitimacy, not because they represent the sovereign will but because they and they alone possess the civilizational and intellectual values necessary for a progressive order in which true democracy, unhampered by reactionary forces, can be achieved.

Since the age of colonialism, legitimacy has become an elastic word that is exploited to invent and repress history; to construct and de-construct identity; and to uphold and deny rights. Legitimacy is possessed by no one but claimed by everyone, and it is enforced only through sheer power. In the absence of a transparent and accountable civil process, those who believe that they are the de facto possessors of legitimacy massacre in cold blood, torture, maim and commit every possible offense in the name of defending the existing legitimacy.

Since the age of colonialism, legitimacy has become an elastic word that is exploited to invent and repress history; to construct and de-construct identity; and to uphold and deny rights.

It is paradoxical, but very telling, that long before the military coup, the secular intelligentsia, whether on the right or left, adopted and promoted the claim that the Islamists were brought into power by the United States to implement an American agenda in the region. According to countless published articles and intellectuals appearing on privately owned television stations, the Muslim Brotherhood was but a pawn for American interests in the region...
 Typically, this Westernized intelligentsia was thoroughly grounded in post-renaissance European thought, but knew precious little about the pre-colonial Islamic epistemic tradition. Indeed, this intelligentsia saw their own native tradition largely through Western eyes. In other words, what they understood or believed about Islamic history and thought came largely from the writings of Western orientalists. Even to this day, the general outlook of the secular intelligentsia - their understanding of the progression, trajectory, contributions and the very worth of the Islamic tradition is derived practically exclusively from the writings of Western scholars on Islam.

In the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, the secular intelligentsia played a critical role in translating orientalist literature into Arabic and taught these sources in urban universities throughout Egypt. As such, they acted as a persistent bridge to transplanting and transforming Western views of Islamic history and thought to an internalized self-view in the consciousness of the urbanized elite.

Typically, the Westernized intelligentsia was thoroughly grounded in post-renaissance European thought, but knew precious little about the pre-colonial Islamic epistemic tradition. Indeed, this intelligentsia saw their own native tradition largely through Western eyes....
A very significant number of Egyptian intellectuals, such as Hussein Haykal, saw religion as a private and personal matter that should play no normative role in the public sphere. In reality, however, religion was not excluded from the public sphere, but it was allowed to exist only within the narrow space allowed it by the Arab secular state. The secular state created officially sanctioned podiums for religion and, in effect, created an official state religion that rubber-stamped and legitimated state politics. At the same time, this state-sponsored religion lost its legitimacy on the ground as the clergy of Azhar became salaried employees of the state. With the domestication of the native Azhari clergy, critical Islamic thought drifted into stale apologetics that placated and satisfied only the most uninspired and unchallenging intellects. This helps explain the powerful symbolism invoked when El-Sissi placed the Shaykh of al-Azhar and the Pope of the Coptic Church on either side of him when he announced his coup.

The 1967 defeat and the rise of Saudi funded Wahhabi-Salafi movements in the 1970s heralded the death of pan-Arab nationalism, and challenged the privileged status of the Westernized Egyptian intelligentsia. While intellectually unsophisticated, Wahhabi-Salafi movements achieved something that the Westernized intelligentsia was no longer capable of doing - to appeal to and galvanize the masses.
After the cooptation of the scholars of Azhar by the state, and the death of the pan-Arab socialist dream, what captured the imagination of the masses was the impassioned rhetoric of the Islamic groups who recalled in the imagination of their audiences a time of glory when Muslims were powerful and respected, and when justice reigned.

The uncomfortable truth is that the Westernized intelligentsia continued to rely on the repressive state to continue in a privileged status. While Islamic groups appealed to the masses on the street by embracing many of their social and economic problems and by capturing their imagination with the promise of a regained glory, the secular intelligentsia had a very different path.

Over four decades the secular intelligentsia relied on the praetorian state to placate and repress the Islamists. But embracing the evolving language of the age, this intelligentsia adopted the Western language of democracy, pluralism, civil society and human rights. While failing to understand or engage the aspirations of the masses, the secular intelligentsia adopted an increasingly elitist and even supremacist attitude towards Islamists. They borrowed the language of modernity, postmodernity, globalization and the international community as a self-assuring and self-congratulatory discourse about their own ability to understand the complexity of the modern world, to rise up to the challenges of the globalization, and to move Egyptian society towards development and progress. Meanwhile, the gap between the rich and poor grew ever larger, and the economic problems of Egypt became more complicated.

The secularist and Islamist discourses grew ever more polarized... The irony is that both parties spoke the language of democracy and civil rights, and both continued to believe that they represented the true and legitimate public good. In the name of democracy, Islamists won elections and in the name of democracy the secular intelligentsia continued to rely on the repressive state as their guarantor against the reactionary Islamist forces.

The uncomfortable truth is that the Westernized intelligentsia continued to rely on the repressive state to continue in a privileged status...  Most of the secular intelligentsia became clientele of the state in which they played the role of the loyal opposition. Their measured and domesticated opposition legitimated the repressive state apparatus that had become increasingly savage and brutal...
The Islamists won the referendum of 19 March 2011 with 77 percent of the vote. The parliamentary elections of 28 November 2011 was a landslide in favour of the Islamists with the Brotherhood winning 43.3 percent and other Islamic alliances winning 25 percent. The Shura Council elections were also a landslide win with the Brotherhood capturing 58.3 percent and al-Nour 25 percent of the popular vote... President Muhammed Morsi was still able to eek out a narrow victory of 51.7 percent against Shafiq's 48.3 percent. The presidential elections presented the secular intelligentsia with a stark choice: they could support the old order or they could swallow the bitter pill of supporting an Islamist candidate...
Egypt is the only purported democracy where it is a criminal offense to criticize the military or judiciary and it is impossible to penetrate through the veil of immunity behind which corruption takes place.

Although the Islamists were able to pass the New Egyptian Constitution by a 63.8 percent vote on 25 December 2012, this was the last straw. The old regime with its unholy and somewhat psychotic alliances returned. The secular intelligentsia once again manned all of the podiums provided by the privately owned media, the SCC (Supreme Constitutional Court) kept rejecting draft after draft of the revised electoral that was intended to save the Shura Council from being dissolved, and the military started negotiating with Washington, D.C. to remove Morsi from power.

The guardians of truth, the military and judiciary, needed to reset the revolution on its proper course by undoing the results of all six elections and by turning over the revolution to its rightful owners - the rightful owners being the possessors of the secular truth, that religion has no role in the public sphere, and that the masses need to be shepherded into a democracy.

Most importantly, in my view, panicking from the new breed of democratic Islam, the Saudis waged a campaign of economic sabotage against Morsi's government causing repeated power outages and gasoline shortages all over Egypt. And, they opened their coffers to numerous writers and journalists for waging an incessant and sometimes irrational campaign against the Brotherhood...
The guardians of truth needed to reset the revolution on its proper course by undoing the results of all six elections and by turning over the revolution to its rightful owners - the rightful owners being the possessors of the secular truth, that religion has no role in the public sphere, and that the masses need to be shepherded into a democracy rather than be treated as true sovereign agents...
Indeed, it does appear that they are determined to repeat history once again. By celebrating the coup of 2013, just as they celebrated the coup of 1952, the Egyptian secular intelligentsia demonstrated that they have learned nothing."

You can read the full text by clicking here.

Sisi, the new pharaoh, now rules Egypt. He wants to domesticate religion and seems to have the aspirations of the old Pharaoh. Only that his true victims are no longer Bani Israel but Muslims who practice Islam. Thus, it was no surprise that in 2013 soon after the coup, his forces have killed so many civilians, and continues to do so with impunity.
Prof. Abou El Fadl writes, "A recent image coming from Egypt shows a large group of people praying in the city of Arish, and suddenly, as they lie on the ground, prostrate, the security forces unleash a volley of live bullets at them, injuring and killing several people. Still more recently, security forces shot into a group of people as they prostrated in prayer at dawn in Cairo, killing at least thirty and wounding hundreds. In these instances, the great Egyptian democratic revolutionaries are not offended or outraged. They are shockingly and shamelessly silent."
He bemoans, "What has been dealt a deathblow after the Egyptian coup is moderate Islamism. What has been dealt a deathblow and has become a stale joke is the idea of human rights in Egypt. The so-called liberal secularists have once again showed themselves to be more than willing to forget about lofty principles when it comes to checkmating their Islamist opponents...
So who emerges as the winner in Egypt? The people? I don’t think so. After the coup, hundreds of people have been injured, killed and imprisoned and many, many more are yet to come. Force begets force and despotism has a remarkable way of perpetuating itself, like a lethal cancer. The military, as always, emerges with its traditional privileges and powers intact. The horrendously savage security forces of Egypt emerge as winners...
Perhaps some have noticed that one faction of Islamists refused to support Morsi. It is the same faction that is adored by Saudi Arabia, and the same faction that produced Bin Laden. Saudi Arabia did everything it could to undermine a government that believes Islam can be reconciled with democracy. But the Islamists that have emerged unscathed and that will continue thrive are Wahhabi Muslims who do not believe in democracy and do not believe in civil and human rights."

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