Monday, 19 August 2013

Egypt's complicit liberals

As the military massacres and carnage intensify in Egypt, glaring questions about Egyptian liberals are being side-stepped by the West and its modulating media.

As previously asked, when is a coup not a coup? Answer: when it's the military overthrow of an elected government by Egyptian forces funded and supported by the US.

To which can now be added: when is a massacre not a massacre? Same answer: when, as reported by the BBC and other Western media, it's described only as a 'crackdown' by that Egyptian military.

And a further such question on the theme of selective liberal responses: when is 'necessary intervention' and the arming of Islamists not seen as a good idea? Answer: when, unlike Syria, those arms would be going to Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood (MB), a force which the US, Saudi Arabia and Israel are now cohesively lined up against.

How telling that there's no emergency Western calls this time to arm and support those being crushed. Islamic fundamentalists in Syria, al Qaeda amongst them, can be tooled-up for more killing, but not, apparently, the MB in Egypt.

And to any who cite the 'double-standards' of those who don't 'conscientiously' back the Syrian 'rebels' against the Syrian government, yet denounce the Egyptian military government's killing of Egypt's MB Islamists, the answer is quite clear: no solution to either conflict can ever be explored or realised through more guns and violence.

While, like divided Syrians, divided Egyptians shed their blood, military elites and their external backers keep the power.

One elementary thing that will, hopefully, be learned by proto-revolutionaries in Egypt or elsewhere is never to trust, or partake in 'expedient alliances' with, the military. That is the most disastrous consequence and lesson of the Egyptian revolution and coup.

The principal problem is not the MB, it's militarism and the deepening militarisation of Egypt's political problems.

One should always ask, cui bono? Who benefits? Whose interests are most likely to prevail? The seemingly obvious answer here: the generals and the deep oppressive state they have always sought to uphold. 

Yet, in facilitating this domination, key sections of the liberal class, notably the National Salvation Front, have made quisling, and what amount to anti-revolutionary, accommodations with the military and remnants of the old regime order (felool) for the purposes of crushing the MB.

It's a propaganda trap which the Western-backed military establishment has ably used in diverting hate away from them and towards their fellow Egyptians. As neatly captured by one alert Egyptian:
"My greatest fear seems to have come true," the activist says. "The Egyptians no longer see the authorities as their opponents. The enemy is now those Egyptians with other views."
Infected by this "hate virus", much of the liberal class have sought to rationalise their endorsement of the military and how they supposedly saw its 'hired role' in promoting a 'post-MB' Egypt. As detailed by Issandr El Amrani:
In this vision, a gradual transformation of the country could take place while preserving political stability through the armed forces. It would be negotiated and hard-fought, as so many democratic transitions in other parts of the world have been, but the old order would need the talent and competence of a new technocratic, and ultimately political, class to deliver and improve governance. Their hope was that the Islamists would understand that they had lost this round, and that they could be managed somehow while a new more liberal order emerged. This, in essence, was what Mohamed ElBaradei and other liberals bought into on July 3, no doubt earnestly, and what so many other outside of formal politics fervently hoped for: not the revolution radicals want, but a wiser, more tolerant, order in the country.
Unfortunately, among the broad liberal camp in Egypt, those who entertained such hopes are in a minority. Even among the National Salvation Front, as its obscene statement praising the police today showed, most appear to have relished the opportunity to crush the Muslim Brothers and appeared to believe that other Islamists could simply choose to be crushed alongside it, kowtow to the new order, or be pushed back into quietism. It appears that much of the business and traditional elite – represented politically by the Free Egyptians and the Wafd Party among others – falls into that category. They are joined by the security establishment, or deep state if you prefer.

Over the last week there was much talk of divisions between this segment and those symbolically important liberal members of the government, such as ElBaradei, over whether or not to negotiate with the Brothers or break their sit-ins. The camp that eventually won does not just believe that the Brothers are not worth negotiating with. They want to encourage it in its provocative sectarian discourse, its supporters desire for violence, and the push as much as the Islamist camp as possible into being outlaws. Those who nurture such eradicateur sentiment do not so much actually want to physically eradicate all Islamists as to provoke them into a situation where their political existence will be eradicated because they will have opted for violence.
The tactical thinking of General al-Sisi, unquestionably given the nod by America - and despite Washington's facial 'denunciations' of the killing - has been to unleash enough violence against the MB to encourage its own respondent violence, thus upgrading the 'terrorist threat' and permitting an even greater state offensive.

As owner of up to half the Egyptian economy, al-Sisi's and the military elites' primary loyalty is to itself and its US sponsors, not - as in the fanciful notions of Egyptian liberals and the propaganda they've indulged - to the people.

In return, whatever their public 'concerns', Obama and the US war machine's entrenched support is for al-Sisi and that same military, simply by the sheer weight of advantages the US, and West at large, enjoys from that arrangement - including facilitation of US aircraft carriers and safe military passage to effect other regional wars.

Contrary to Guardian-type claims of a 'rudderless US' perspective, the consistent, tactical imperative of America has been the retention of a strongarm miltary force still able to contain both the MB and any more progressive movement.

Cautiously late to the revolution, Morsi and the MB were never part of that demand for serious change. That became definitively clear in coming to office. 

Nor were they any friend of the Palestinians, even their would-be Hamas associates in Gaza. Thus, we saw how Morsi immediately sided-up to Israel and Washington as he filled in Gaza's tunnels.

But the demonizing of Palestinians has been a continuous feature of the Egyptian regime, from Mubarak to Morsi and always including a punitive military. The increasing scapegoating of Palestinians is part of the same divert and control message being peddled against the MB.

As headlining all across the Egyptian media, the Brotherhood is now the 'foremost terrorist threat'. Again, which set of forces benefit from that kind of fear factor? Do Egyptians really believe that once the MB have been purged and outlawed the military will hand power over to the people?

Are Egyptian liberals and those parts of the left who have gone along with this 'strategic alignment' naive or complicit? Any useful answer to this might address the sectoral and intellectual detachment of that class from the poorest mass of Egyptian society. 

Moreover, as noted by John Rees in a fine indictment of the liberal class and wider analysis of the situation, there is no reactionary equivalence between the MB and the Egyptian military. The latter, holding all the vital armoury, is the primary power and force to be resisted by all if any revolution is to be seriously advanced.

Again, as Rees, Fisk, Milne and others assert, none of this castigation of the military and its manipulations should be read as endorsement of the MB, a deeply vindictive, neoliberal and collaborating force which Egyptians were entitled to oppose.

Yet, the military and liberal portrayal of the MB as some monolithic religious-imposing entity conveniently obscures the much more factional and strategic currents of the organisation, a movement that has been both the subject of intense repression and ready to assert its own repressive hand.

Nor, as widely claimed, is it true that, while calling for Morsi's removal, the mass of Egyptians supported the violent coup and massacres in order to overthrow him. Expect that 'support' to diminish further as more Egyptians come to realise the propaganda deceit and Faustian pact they've been party to, most likely as the military turn against them.

The crucial task of any populist revolutionary movement now is urgent re-engagement of progressive MB elements, not the MB's persecution and extinction.   
Permanent removal of the MB only gives the military state even more reason to stay strong and powerful as a 'vanguard' against their 'terrorist intent'. Trying to ban and erase a body with such diverse and conflicting faces, representing not just Islamic ideals but many implicitly leftist ones, can only serve the military's calculating checks. 

Beyond any secularist fear of Islamic fundamentalism, Egypt's liberals and the disastrous violence they've helped unleash reflect a wider problem of liberal support for militarist interventionism. From Western rationalisations of Nato assaults on Iraq and Libya to the tortuous 'pragmatics' we're seeing in Egypt, liberal voices have been used as 'ethical sirens' for militarist criminality.  

If the resort to violence in Egypt has always been the prerogative of an old state-preserving military, the encouragement of that killing in false promotion of a 'new state order' lies just as deeply now with its complicit liberals.  

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