The Arabs, apartheid South Africa and Israel

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)

By Khaled Diab

Reactions to apartheid South Africa differed across the Arab world and were coloured both by anti-colonial solidarity and the Arab-Israeli conflict.

Nelson Mandela with troops from the Algerian Liberation Army. Photo: www.sahistory.org.za

Nelson Mandela with troops from the Algerian Liberation Army. Photo: www.sahistory.org.za

Friday 27 December 2013

Like just about everywhere else, the death of Nelson Mandela triggered passionate responses across the Arab world. “Men and women everywhere feel they have lost someone very close to them,” said the respected international diplomat and peace envoy Lakhdar Brahimi.

“Humanity has lost its greatest son,” tweeted former IAEA chief, prominent anti-Mubarak opponent and short-lived transitional vice-president Mohamed ElBaradei, himself also the winner of a Nobel peace prize.

Egypt even took the extraordinary measure of announcing three days of national mourning to mark the great man’s death. Algerian president Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika went a step further and ordered eight days of national mourning during which all flags were to be flown at half-mast.

Unlike in the West, however, Arab sentiment and sympathy towards Nelson Mandela stretch back decades, back to the days he was a radical rebel and not yet a hallowed peacemaker – some Arabs even prefer that Mandela of yesteryear.

Previous generations of Arabs saw in the long and bitter struggle against apartheid and its precursors in South Africa – spearheaded by the African National Congress (ANC) – the reflection of their own plight under the boot of European colonialism and imperialism. This was particularly the case in North Africa, which also felt a sense of African solidarity.

According to Mandela himself, who admired Algeria’s long battle for independence, the situation in French Algeria most closely paralleled that of South Africa.

In this light, it is unsurprising that the ANC received training, funds and support from Algeria. In 1961, during his clandestine Africa tour after which he was arrested, Nelson Mandela spent time with the Algerian Liberation Army and the rebels of the National Liberation Front in Algeria.

Although Mandela was impressed by what he saw, even back then he realised that “there was no point in trying to overthrow the apartheid regime; the ANC had to force them to the negotiating table.”

Algeria also provided the ANC with constant diplomatic support, such as helping spearhead the pan-African charge against apartheid South Africa. For instance, Abdel-Aziz Bouteflika, when he was president of the UN General Assembly in 1974, ruled that South Africa could not participate in its proceedings.

And Algeria was there right to the end. For example, Lakhdar Ibrahimi was the UN Special Envoy for South Africa and monitored the transition to democracy. Ibrahimi is also a member of The Elders, a group of world leaders founded by Mandela to promote global peace.

Nasser’s Egypt also provided the ANC with strong support, in its multiple roles as a member of the United Nations, the Arab League, the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the Non-Aligned Movement. Although Egypt did not shut down the South African embassy in Cairo until May 1961, the Egyptian capital hosted offices for the ANC from the late 1950s.

Mandela’s time in Egypt clearly impressed him, both in cultural and historic terms, but also for the new regime’s efforts to develop the country. “President Nasser had an impressive programme of economic development based on African socialism,” he wrote in his unpublished memoirs written on Robben Island.

Solidarity was not one way either, and the ANC supported Egypt whenever it could. In Egypt’s hour of need during the Suez Crisis, known as the Tripartite Aggression in Arabic, the ANC said: “We pledge our solidarity with the Egyptian people and are confident that the people of Africa will not allow themselves to be used against their fellow Africans in any predatory war.”

Showing early signs of his conciliatory humanism and inclusiveness, Mandela spoke up and lobbied robustly in 1962 against strong sub-Saharan African opposition to the entry of North Africa to the Pan-African Freedom Movement for East and Central Africa (PAFMECA), which became the Organisation for African Unity (OAU) and eventually evolved into today’s African Union.

“An aspect that particularly disturbed me was the attitude of most delegates in the PAFMECSA area to visitors from West Africa and the Arab countries,” Mandela recalled. “The whole issue upset me and I felt I could not keep quiet.”

“The trouble Nelson is that in North Africa you have Africans who are not Africans,” one delegate yelled out, not without justification. Nevertheless, Mandela carried the day and paved the way to Egypt, Algeria and the rest of North Africa to become full members of the African club.

It should be pointed out that the Arab world was not uniform in its stance towards apartheid. North Africa and the secular, revolutionary states were generally more sympathetic to the ANC than the conservative monarchist regimes, which feared that the contagion of radical socialist politics would spread within their own borders.

Moreover, some corners of the Arab world, namely some countries in the Gulf, still lived under the dark shadow of perhaps the worst form of apartheid: slavery. Saudi Arabia, for instance, did not abolish slavery until 1962, and only under immense pressure from Egypt’s then-unrivalled propaganda apparatus.

This may in part explain the Saudi regime’s ambivalent attitude towards apartheid and how Riyadh was quite happy to supply South Africa with oil until the oil embargo which accompanied the 1973 war with Israel forced its hand. This may have not lasted long, however, as there is some evidence to suggest that Saudi became South Africa’s leading supplier during the sanctions-busting secret trade of the 1980s.

That said, Saudi Arabia, despite its contradictions, also deserves credit for being among the first nations to push for international action against the apartheid regime. It was, for instance, a co-signatory of a 1952 letter to the UN Secretary-General asking for South Africa’s apartheid policies to be placed on the General Assembly’s agenda.

In addition to anti-colonial solidarity, many Arabs saw South Africa through the prism of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, drawing parallels between the two. This remains the case, as the rest of the region, the general view goes, has gained its independence but the Palestinians continue to live under occupation and subjugation. While this is sadly true, this overlooks the fact that there are others who remain deprived of their right to self-determination, such as the Kurds and Sahrawis.

The ANC and Mandela’s sympathy for the Palestinian cause has won them many Arab hearts and minds, as illustrated by the genuine sense of grief felt across Palestine at Mandela’s passing.

However, what both Palestinians and Israeli critics of Mandela do not seem to realise  is that the great reconciler’s solidarity with the Palestinian struggle did not equate to hostility towards Israelis. “I always thought it unrealistic to ignore the existence of Israel and maintained that the Jewish people are as entitled as any other nation in the world to have their own national home,” Mandela reflected on Robben Island.

Beyond the Holy Land, South Africa’s experience continues to resonate and remains relevant. As Arabs struggle against dictatorship, Mandela stands as a shining example of a liberation leader who not only established a largely functioning democracy but also stepped down graciously, in stark contrast to the Arab model of leader-for-life or until revolution strikes.

Despite post-apartheid South Africa’s many imperfections, this rainbow nation also provides our bitterly divided region with an inspiring model of reconciliation and healing.

Follow Khaled Diab on Twitter.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 19 December 2013.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 10.0/10 (1 vote cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

Egypt’s false state of security

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Wael Eskandar

Handing Egypt’s security services a licence to repress the Muslim Brotherhood will return us to the police state the revolution worked to overthrow.

Friday 16 August 2013

There is a real problem with the forcible dispersal of Muslim Brotherhood sit-ins, both the heavily armed encapment of Nahda and the lightly armed one at Raba’a al-Adawiya. One can argue that it is immoral to kill over 500 people, or that armed protests using unarmed protesters as human shields is despicable or that the unprovoked attacks on security personnel is reprehensible. But putting aside moral issues, real problems persist.

The trouble is using force without much thought to the problem at hand. That is what stood out in the Mubarak era and what we are witnessing a return to. Security solutions rarely work to solve a problem without a political course of action to back it up. The Muslim Brotherhood leaders are stubborn. They did not listen to anyone when in power, never listened to reason when out of power, alienated their allies and rarely if ever kept their word. They made negotiations near impossible. But that’s all the more reason why dealing with them needed to be smarter.

This path will only mean further empowerment of the police. When extremist groups are pushed into hiding, the police will use that as an excuse to collect data, interrogate, torture, abuse. The people, blessing the crackdown, will gladly accept. The crackdown has already radicalised many of the supporters of the deposed president. The appointment of retired generals as governors means the state has opted for a security solution instead of a political one.

State Security now has an excuse to meddle in our affairs, again in the interest of national security. Egyptians will be asked to support their government in whatever decisions they take because there is a real threat from Islamists. Anyone who criticises the government can be accused of supporting Islamists. Will anyone care?

The path is a dangerous one. There is reason to believe that the brutal Mubarak police force will return to its practices, namely that the police force itself has not changed in anyway, never reformed, and never held to account.

There will always be the rhetoric of “What choice did they have?’ , “Was there another way?”, “You can never have negotiated with them”.

Police could have put a plan in place to protect the churches that were attacked as a backlash to the dispersal. Police could have only targeted armed personnel. But the police have not been reformed or trained and, in effect, the army brought in a butcher to do a heart surgeon’s job.

The Muslim Brotherhood is handing back the police their licence to act with brutality, but so are all the other Egyptians sponsoring the impunity of security forces. They have criticised ElBaradie for turning his back on this path. In reality, there is no role for a politician in a state that chooses a security solution to every problem.

The question of whether we will return to a police state full of political incompetence and brute force is an important one. Is there any revolutionary fervour left in the people not to accept this route? Or have they been drained through all the blood and the failed attempts at starting something that looks closer to a democracy?

The blessing of a security solution by the people is worrying. The persistence of the problem of Brotherhood supporters will only sustain the need for a continuing security solution. It is uncertain how long such a state can be suspended, or what it would take not to travel down that path of a police state. Maybe it will take another act of brutal injustice by the police for people to change course. Who knows how many Khaled Saids, Jikas or Guindys it will take for us to get back on the right course of a revolution that was primarily triggered by police brutality.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +3 (from 3 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

From the Chronikles: My plan for a democratic Egypt

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

With the right president, Egypt could rid itself of nepotism and inequality to become a prosperous and egalitarian society.

Wednesday 23 May 2012 (first published Sunday 17 January 2010)

This article was written a year before the revolution erupted in Egypt and envisioned the then fantastical notion that Mubarak would be convinced to step aside in 2011 and allow free and fair elections to choose his successor. With that in mind, I dreamed of what I would do as president to fix Egypt, and much of my imaginary programme is still relevant: limiting the powers of the presidency, rooting out nepotism and corruption, addressing the issue of sectarian strife, promoting greater economic justice, slashing military spending, abolishing conscription and spending more on education and research. So, I am republishing this now as my modest advice to Egypt’s next president.

While in most countries, even the most democratic, becoming president or prime minister is a far-fetched dream for almost everyone, in Egypt, the prospect exists mostly in the realm of fantasy. In the six or so decades since the 1952 revolution, Egypt has had just four leaders, none of whom were elected – at least not in free and fair elections.

The current president, Hosni Mubarak, has held the top seat for the past three decades or so. This means that the majority of Egyptians, given the country’s “youth bulge”, have known no other leader.

Next year, Mubarak’s current term will end and, given his age and health, most Egyptians don’t expect him to seek a sixth term. Egyptians dream of massive positive change in 2011, fear terrible instability and disruption, and some might even settle for “business as usual” in the form of Mubarak’s son, Gamal – at least for a few years.

Reform-minded Egyptians hope that Mubarak will step aside honourably and take the unprecedented step of calling free and fair elections to find a replacement. The most popular potential candidate at the moment is former IAEA chief and Nobel peace laureate Mohamed el-Baradei, despite the fact that he has lived and worked outside Egypt for decades.

el-Baradei’s popularity is not only a sign of his international standing but also indicates the Egyptian regime’s unofficial policy of engineering the political landscape so that Mubarak appears to be the only show in town. Personally, I fear that, rather than undergo a democratic rebirth, Egypt will either get a second Mubarak or a period of instability until another dictator takes the helm, though I doubt that Islamists are ready in the wings to take over. Nevertheless, I cannot help but hold out hope that 2011 will mark the birth of true Egyptian democracy.

Upon taking office, and to avoid the temptations of power that have led so many initially well-meaning Egyptian leaders astray, I would probably begin with strengthening and shoring up Egypt’s institutions, from the parliament to the judiciary, to ensure an effective separation and balance of powers. But top-down reforms can, at best, only play the role of a catalyst, and not bring about lasting change in themselves. In order to harness Egypt’s massive grassroots potential, I would end the culture of fear and intimidation – at least, the state-sponsored side of this – that keeps Egyptians down.

I would strive to remove all the unconstitutional and undemocratic laws, such as those hindering freedom of expression and conscience, and dismantle Egypt’s enormous police and state security apparatus.

In order to counteract and reverse growing religious fundamentalism and communal strife I would dig up the roots, rather than chop violently away at the outgrowth. A fish rots from the head down, so it is important to launch a serious campaign to root out corruption, first from the highest echelons of society.

More generally, it is essential to challenge the widespread practice of wasta – which permeates all levels of society and causes widespread cynicism and disenchantment – by strictly enforcing the rule of law, without making exceptions for the well-connected. This will be no mean feat, given how deeply ingrained the notion is, but if Egypt is to become a true meritocracy it is a crucial battle that must be won.

Then there’s the economy, which is often erroneously viewed as somehow separate from society. Seeking political and social justice is meaningless if their economic counterpart continues to be denied – in fact, rather than more growth, Egypt needs more economic justice. Egypt’s economy needs not only to continue to develop, but to do so sustainably and equitably.

In a country where economic inequality has grown to chronic proportions, the chasm between the have-alls and the have-nots needs desperately to be bridged. This should be done through a fair, effective and enforced progressive taxation system, as well as the reinstatement and further development of the country’s dismantled social safety net and concerted government investment directed at stimulating Egypt’s impoverished rural hinterland and neglected south.

This requires not just internal reform but also a revamping of the global economic system to make it fairer for developing countries. In addition, the strong arm with which the US-led west imposes its hegemony could foil such efforts if my “pinko” reforms are deemed somehow to be antagonist to US interests in the region.

In parallel with promoting economic justice, competitiveness also needs to be stimulated in order to generate the necessary wealth to boost everyone’s well-being. This requires robust and enforceable regulations that level out the economic playing field and weed out the de facto monopolies and cartels that plague the Egyptian economy, as well as reforming the country’s bloated and inefficient bureaucracy.

One reason why superstition reigns and people hark back to a mythical and glorious past is because they feel they lack a future. To give the coming generations a sense of purpose and to allow current generations to build a better future, I would slash military spending and abolish conscription, then use the released resources to invest heavily in education and scientific research.

Of course, I realise that my vision is but a dream untainted by political realities. Even a well-meaning, democratically elected president would have his or her work cut out simply steering Egypt away from the rocks towards which it is currently heading. The kind of transformation I dream of cannot be implemented by any one leader but will take generations of patient and careful change. But with the right political and civil leadership, Egypt can reinvent itself as a prosperous, modern and egalitarian society.

 

This article first appeared in The Guardian‘s Comment is Free section on 17 January 2010.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

Egypt’s general discontent

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

As millions of Egyptians cast their first democratic vote in decades, recent upheavals confirm that Egypt’s military is the biggest threat to freedom.

Wednesday 30 November 2011

Ahmed Harara is a walking metaphor for the Egyptian revolution. During the struggle to topple the former dictator Hosni Mubarak, he was blinded in one eye by a shotgun pellet fired by riot police. In the latest uprising against Egypt’s “transitional” rulers, the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF), Harara lost his second eye, again to shotgun pellets. Now blinded in both eyes, the brave activist has returned to Tahrir square and a hero’s welcome.

Like Harara, the Egyptian people metaphorically lost one eye in their fight against Mubarak and the other in their struggle against the generals who replaced him. Nevertheless, they are still drawn by the alluring light of freedom at the end of the tunnel.

Just as the Egyptian revolution seemed to be running out of steam, the recent crackdown, which has left dozens dead and hundreds injured, has re-galvanised protesters, triggering what some have referred to as “Revolution II”. Egyptians are outraged and defiant. They are outraged that the self-appointed guardians of their revolution have bitten the hand of peace and trust the people of Egypt had extended to them. One furious Egyptian journalist even likened the army’s betrayal of the revolution to a therapist re-raping a rape victim.

The renewed vigour of the protests culminated last weekend with the “Last Chance Friday” rally on Tahrir square, where hundreds of thousands defiantly refused to be placated by the army’s apology for the recent violence. They called for Monday’s parliamentary elections to be postponed and demanded that SCAF and its freshly minted transitional prime minister, long-time Mubarak loyalist Kamal el-Ganzouri, step down in favour of a “national salvation government” headed by Egyptian Nobel peace laureate Mohamed Elbardei.

Needless to say, this all fell on deaf ears and the generals decided to go ahead with the elections despite the widespread sense of anger and protest. “We will not allow troublemakers to meddle in these elections,” Egypt’s de facto leader, Field Marshall Mohamed Hussein Tantawi, warned ominously.

This general air of hostility towards the generals is a far cry from the chants of “the army and the people are a single hand” which resonated across Egypt back in February when SCAF persuaded an intransigent Mubarak to fall on his sword.

“SCAF’s first contact with the Egyptian people was a military salute to the revolution’s martyrs. This, together with the fact that the army did not visibly shoot at the protesters, portrayed SCAF as heroes,” recalls Aida Seif el-Dawla, the prominent human rights activist and founder of the Nadim Centre for the Psychological Rehabilitation of Victims of Violence.

Despite this mood of optimism, sceptics, including myself, warned from the start that SCAF is the villain, rather than the hero, of the piece who, in a bid to save the body of the regime, unceremoniously decapitated it. And following a brief honeymoon period, millions of Egyptians soon saw SCAF’s true face behind the mask of conciliation. Despite some improvements, the generals’ performance since February has confirmed that the army, after six decades on Egypt’s throne, has no intention of ceding power.

Activists, journalists and ordinary citizens I have spoken to catalogue a long list of abuses and errors which SCAF has committed in the nine months or so since Mubarak’s downfall. These include trying to load the dice of reform in their own favour, endemic human rights abuses, such as the summary military trials of thousands of activists and critics, alleged backroom deals with the Muslim Brotherhood, not to mention the apparent attempt to use ‘divide and rule’ tactics by stoking divisions within the opposition, or by fuelling religious tension and class hatred.

“The biggest mistake the generals made was to choose to spearhead the counterrevolution and abort all meaningful change,” observes Wael Eskandar, a young Egyptian journalist and blogger. “Another mistake was not delivering on most of the promises they’ve made. That lost them credibility.”

But speaking of “mistakes” and “errors” would suggest good intentions but bad execution, which is far from the reality of the situation. “SCAF didn’t make any ‘mistakes’,” reflects Seif el-Dawla sceptically. “They simply lost patience and removed the mask of ‘protecting the revolution’, exposing their ugly, violent face.”

Karim Medhat Ennarah, a young activist who has been involved with the 6 April Youth Movement, which is widely credited as being one of the main driving forces behind the revolution, agrees: “I think they intended to make a mess of the transitional period to create a sense of panic among the population that would give them the excuse they needed to put the brakes on any kind of institutional reform.”

However, the generals, like Mubarak before them, did miscalculate the Egyptian people’s resolve and determination to see change. “They thought they could neutralise the population’s raw anger. They failed to realise that they are not totally in control of all the different factors,” notes Ennarah.

While surprising and bewildering, SCAF’s unimaginative, if somewhat more skilful, use of its former boss’s tactics is hardly surprising given that the generals are led by one of Mubarak’s most loyal sidekicks, in close coordination with members of the former ruling party and big business, as well as the army’s “sponsors” in Washington.

“SCAF is just part of the old regime… It is following the same blueprint,” says Gihan Abou Zeid, an Egyptian activist and feminist who is working on a book about the women who took part in the revolution. Abou Zeid points to SCAF’s extensive control of the transitional government and its tight control of information as evidence of this.

It is far too early to speculate on the eventual results of the parliamentary elections, which started on Monday to massive turnouts and are scheduled to take a marathon four months. However, one outcome seems certain, unless the direct democracy of the Egyptian streets changes matters: like Egypt’s experiment with liberal democracy in the years prior to the 1952 revolution, this parliament will be a toothless talking shop behind which Egypt’s uncrowned khaki kings can take political cover.

“SCAF will never allow any real democracy,” is Eskandar’s gloomy forecast. “What they want is false layers of legitimacy for Egyptians to direct their anger at.”

The generals also have designs on running the future Egypt like invisible puppeteers. “Those who want elections hope that SCAF will leave after the elections. To my knowledge, no military regime left through elections,” says Seif el-Dawla. She notes that “SCAF has already announced that no civilian president will appoint the minister of defence or the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces.” This would protect the army’s ample cookie jar for the generals and their subordinates and keep it out of the reach of the greedy, ungrateful hands of the public.

With Egyptian democracy caught by the army in a pincer movement, where to from here?

“The best way forward for Egypt is to get honest people into power and end SCAF’s reign,” concludes Eskandar. “To achieve this, we must either have a civilian presidential council with names that Egyptians can trust, or we can have a transitional government with real powers.”

But calls for the army’s immediate return to the barracks worry some. “SCAF leaving now will create a void,” believes Abou Zeid. “We no longer trust the ministry of the interior to be the backbone of our internal security and stability. The people don’t have any source of protection except for the armed forces.”

However, the army’s recent use of excessive violence against protesters has left Egyptians seething, with many comparing the military unfavourably to the police and state security thugs who attacked protesters at the start of the revolution.

This has led many to harden their position towards SCAF. “I urge the international community to boycott SCAF,” says Sabah Hamamou, a journalist with the state-owned al-Ahram newspaper, who also calls for international supervision of Egypt’s parliamentary and presidential elections. One way to do this without hurting ordinary Egyptians is for the United States to turn off its substantial military aid pipe to Egypt, suggests an “ordinary” Egyptian, Ahmed Mansour, who works as a consultant.

So, what can be done to foil SCAF’s plans to retain Egypt as its political fiefdom?

Since SCAF refuses to give Egyptians a proper representative democracy with true authority, Egyptians must continue to exercise their street version of direct democracy until their demands are met. Although the revolution has cost Egyptians a great deal of blood, sweat, tears and hardship, returning to ‘business as usual’ would make all these losses, at least in part, futile.

But can the revolution sustain the monumental pace it has so far maintained? Well, every day, Egyptians defy expectations with their appetite for freedom, from regularly taking to the streets to queuing for hours outside polling stations. Many activists and observers expect Egyptians to continue doing so.

“I don’t think this is the final phase of the revolution,” predicts Seif el-Dawla. “The workers have not joined yet, and their participation was crucial in February.”

This article was first published by the Institute for War and Peace Reporting on 29 November 2011.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

Islamist-driven democracy is not a snowball in hell

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)

By Osama Diab 

Islamists are not all Osama bin Laden and secularists are not all Atatürk . They can work together to achieve democracy.

Friday 28 October 2011

After the announcement of Libya’s transitional leader Mustafa Abdul Jalil that the country will be embracing Islamic law and the victory of the moderate Islamist an-Nahda party in the Tunisian parliamentary elections and the expectation of a similar result next month in Egypt’s parliamentary elections, secularists not just need to accept the fact that Islamists will be part of the region’s political future, they actually might be at the forefront of shaping it.

Secularists should not panic though, as being at the political forefront during this difficult transition to democracy might be more of a curse than a blessing. Likewise, to make up for their lack of experience in handling such historical responsibilities, Islamists should start learning a lesson or two from recent events in the region and also lessons from the broader historical context. There are many facts that – if realised – could actually turn Islamists from a feared group of religious fanatics into a force pushing for more civil liberties.

Firstly, the realisation that the current political demographics that seem to be on their side are not eternal. The number of political parties and ideologies that once seemed invincible and now only exist in history books are numerous. Nazism, Fascism, Communism and even regional political movements like Arab Nationalism, were all once sweeping ideologies in certain historical and regional contexts. The systematic mistreatment of citizens, human rights violations and restriction on freedoms is what accelerated the demise of these ideologies.

If Islamists don’t push for more civil rights, their power might be unsustainable and short-lived. The revolutions across the Arab world were not for or against specific ideologies; they were rebellions against abuse, corruption and dictatorship.

Islamists should not be deceived by the support of their core ideological followers. This support is not necessarily unconditional. For example, even though Egypt’s Hosni Mubarak imposed a relatively secular regime and fought a fierce battle with Islamist groups, that didn’t stop millions of pro-democracy secularists from revolting against him. Similarly, former Tunisian president Zien el-Abidine Ben Ali also presented himself as the last defence line against fanatical Islamists, yet hundreds of thousands of Tunisian secularists preferred the risk of ending up with an elected Islamist regime to Ben Ali’s secular dictatorship.

Even within the realm of Islamism, many young Muslim Brotherhood members have rebelled against their old guard and conservative leaders, and decided to join and form other – often secular – parties.

Ruling by Islam is not the ultimate protection either. The Ottoman Empire, which was the Caliphate of Islam and stretched over three continents and more than 15 countries until the early 20th century, was dismantled by the progressive Young Turks laying the foundation for what had later become the secular Republic of Turkey.

This year’s uprisings against some of the cruellest military dictatorships in the region show that no regime, regardless of its material strength, is immune to popular revolts. Amidst this appetite for protest and political activity, it will be increasingly hard for any group, including Islamists, to practise absolute power and disregard the needs of the majority and the rights of the minorities.

Unlike many other secularists, I wouldn’t be quick to announce the clinical death of democracy before it is even born just because a religious conservative party, which has even expressed its commitment to secular democracy, has won a 40% relative majority in the Tunisian parliament. Islamism is an umbrella term that covers a wide variety of thought. Self-described Islamists include many highly educated academics, and widely disagree over fundamental issues even among themselves. The portrayal of an Islamist as a one-dimensional evil fanatic inspired by the Taliban is just a simplistic, lazy and inaccurate view.

Islamists are not all Osama bin Laden, and sharing some of the legislative power with them doesn’t necessarily put democracy at risk if they learn to understand the rules of the democratic game. Secularists need to be there fighting against and with Islamists to achieve democracy in the next parliamentary and presidential elections, and Islamists need to understand that a secular government and institutions that respect human rights regardless of religion, gender, political affiliation, etc. is the only guarantee for the stability and sustainability of the political process as a whole and a safeguard for Islamists as an integral part of this process.

The moderate and progressive views of some Islamists was the reason why Karim Medhat Ennarah, a devoted, left-wing human rights activist, decided to support the former senior Brotherhood member Abdelmoniem Aboul Fotouh: “I have always had a lot of respect for Aboul Fotouh, despite my disagreements with the Muslim Brotherhood. He’s had a reputable career as an opposition figure, most notably his work with the Arab Doctors Federation and his efforts to break the siege on Gaza.”

Ennarah beleivesAboul Fotouh has expressed progressive views on issues relating to personal and religious liberties and is more proactive on the ground and among the people than Mohamed Elbaradei, a liberal opposition leader and a potential presidential candidate whom Ennarah previously supported.

I have vowed to never resist democratic change just because ‘I’ think its outcome might be unfavourable. This is not at all a call for secularists to raise the white flag without a fight. An Islamist victory in next month’s Egyptian elections is not yet a foregone conclusion. Secularists should fight the parliamentary battle fiercely, yet peacefully and gracefully, and act as a lobbying power for more democratic gains in the future even if parliament does become dominated by Islamists.
“I don’t know if Islamists can be a threat to pluralism if they were in power. There are so many uncertainties surrounding them,” says Ennarah. “But I do know, however, that wholesale exclusion of a political group that has the support of a significant percentage of the population is a much more tangible threat to pluralism.”

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 9.0/10 (1 vote cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

Hostility to the West may shape Egyptian politics

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Osama Diab

Islamists and Arab Socialists share a history of clashing with foreign influences.

Thursday 9 June 2011

Egypt has been moving fast with its plan to ‘modernise’ its economy, ever since the 1992 economic reform programme aimed at deregulating the market. This plan, encouraged by the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank, privatised public sector entities and carried out legal, tax and administrative reform to make the country friendlier to both local and foreign investors. Since then, ruthless, corrupt capitalism has been imposed on a poor nation that only managed to put food on the table with the help of socialist policies, such as subsidised food and energy, and free education.

It wasn’t just neo-liberal economic policies that were imposed on the people by an unelected regime. Relative secularism and friendship with Israel and the US were also introduced, against the will of many of the people. Egypt was named in 2009 by Gallup as the most religious country on the planet, but its regime was relatively secular and was engaged in a fierce battle with Egypt ‘s Islamist groups.

With the 25 January revolution, Egyptians revolted against 30 years of Hosni Mubarak’s rule which left behind a dire economic situation and a very poor human rights record. Now, in the aftermath, Egyptians seem to relate mainly to two political groups or ideologies that better meet their religious and socialist standards. The first is Islamism; the second is the Arab Socialism inspired by former president Gamal Abdel Nasser’s ideology, calling for Arab unity, socialist economics and promoting anti-imperialism.

Despite these ideologies sitting on opposite ends on Egypt’s political spectrum – with Islamists representing the religious right and Arab Socialists the secular left – they still have a lot in common.

The fact that both groups have traditionally and historically collided with the West could help both sides score a few political points amidst increasing xenophobia. This is caused by a repetitive state-run media narrative that foreign elements, attempting to destabilise Egypt, were behind the chaos caused during the revolution.

On top of this media rhetoric, many Egyptians realise that their strategic geographic location at the intersection of the world’s three major continents is a great asset, but could also be a great curse. This leaves them with a constant sense that danger is always around the corner. This is fed by the reality that Egypt, throughout its history, was occupied by successive colonial powers from the Romans through to the Arabs, the Ottomans and the Brits.

Even though Egyptian xenophobia has traditionally been directed towards Israel, the US and the West, it has now grown to include new names, such as Iran, Saudi Arabia and Qatar. What is more, it includes certain Egyptian political groups who are perceived as arms for these powers. This leaves many in Egypt fearing their own shadow.

This narrative was also abused internally by leaders who wanted to gain a heroic status as Egypt’s guardians against the ambitions of colonial powers. The only political groups that are able to thrive in this atmosphere of mistrust are ones who actually promote it; again, Islamists and Arab Socialists who constantly accuse the West of being at war with Islam and the Arab world respectively.

Political groups, or figures that lack this history of clashing with the West, are accused of collaboration. A senior position in an international organisation or even a PhD from a foreign university could now be enough to destroy a politician’s career in Egypt .

Mohamed ElBaradei, the former chief of the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) and Nobel Peace Prize winner, is suffering from such accusations prior to his presedential campaign. This is due to the false idea that he gave the US the green light to invade Iraq when he led the IAEA. Amr Hamzawi, a young and vibrant Egyptian politician and human rights activist who received both his master’s degree and PhD in Europe and is currently the Middle East research director at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, is seen at best by many cautious people as “too foreign” or “too Western”, if not actually serving a foreign agenda.

Blaming anything and everything on foreign powers did not appear to heal Egypt’s serious wounds after the 1952 military coup, which eventually replaced a monarchy with a totalitarian socialist republican regime. There is no reason to think why it might now.

By managing to overthrow a regime that was a friend of the US and Israel, Egyptians have proved that they can defeat all conspiracy theories and achieve impossible heights if they put their differences and divisions aside. However, Egyptians will find it very hard to achieve stability, democracy and economic prosperity if they don’t stop conveniently blaming all their problems on factors taking place beyond the country’s borders.

In order to build a healthy democracy in Egypt, we will have to work closely with international organisations, allow foreign as well as local media to report freely, stop accusing politicians of serving a covert agenda, integrate ourselves with the rest of the democratic world, and most importantly, ensure minorities have equal rights.

One would hope that this state of extreme cultural and political paranoia is only a short-term result of the severe shocks Egypt has been suffering lately. An age-old tourism industry and traces of what was once a melting pot for people from diverse cultural and religious backgrounds can potentially put Egypt on the path to democracy and prosperity – if Egyptians abandon these obsolete ideas about foreign agendas and treason.

This article was first published in the New Statesman on 2 June 2011. Republished here with the author’s consent. © Osama Diab. All rights reserved.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

Should Egypt’s next president be old guard or vanguard?

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

 By Khaled Diab

Amr Moussa is very popular with Egyptians, but should Egyptians play it safe with the best of the old guard or choose someone from the vanguard.

Saturday 12 March 2011

After years in the political wilderness heading up the glorified talking shop known as the Arab League, Amr Moussa is back on the national scene in Egypt. Following weeks of public speculation and private deliberation, the popular and charismatic one-time foreign minister has announced his intention to run for Egypt’s recently vacated top job.

“I am ready to nominate myself for the presidency. I see this as a duty and a responsibility,” he told the independent Egyptian daily al-Masry al-Youm.

Long slated as a possible replacement for Hosni Mubarak by opposition figures seeking a bridge to democracy, Moussa’s candidacy seems to chime with the public mood. A recent poll revealed that almost half of Egyptians support the idea of him becoming Egypt’s next president.

Although the vast majority of Egyptians aspire to transparency and good governance, the instability of recent weeks has created a certain amount of anxiety and apprehension, leading many to cite their immediate priorities as being “political stability” and “security for the masses”.

And as my wife argued in a debate in which I expressed my doubts about Moussa’s credentials, the Arab League chief and former foreign minister could well be the best candidate to engineer a stable transition to democracy.

Although he is a member of the old guard, Moussa somehow kept himself immune to the rampant corruption and rot which surrounded him, and his decade at the Arab League has kept him at a safe distance from one of the most unpopular governments in Egypt’s recent history, the so-called “businessmen’s cabinet” of ousted prime minister Ahmed Nazif.

During his decade-long tenure as foreign minister (1991-2001), Moussa was indisputably the most popular politician in Egypt and he was even described by Time magazine as “perhaps the most adored public servant in the Arab world”.

And in a country where public servants act like masters and are generally despised, being popular is a rare commodity indeed. So rare, in fact, that many Egyptians strongly believe Amr Moussa was “kicked upstairs” to the Arab League by Mubarak who was envious of and feared his popularity.

On a personal level, Moussa exudes charisma and gravitas, as I experienced on the one occasion I was in the same room as him, and has both the refinement of the polished career diplomat and a natural “common touch” – two hugely important ingredients for success, according to Rudyard Kipling. As foreign minister, he was admired for his dexterous management of Egypt’s international relations, particularly with the Arab world, and his perceived straight talking on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

Despite his obvious strengths, I cannot help but conclude that Moussa’s weaknesses are far more troubling. Although he never personally indulged in the excesses of the former regime, he has been and remains a Mubarak loyalist.

While opposition figures have risked life and limb, or at least their reputations and security, to push for reform, Moussa has never openly criticised the old regime nor was he involved in any meaningful manner in the revolution. During the 18 days it took to topple Mubarak, Moussa sounded more like Catherine Ashton expressing the EU’s dithering position when he urged all sides “to show restraint”, rather than a possible people’s choice as their future leader.

Moussa as president could well provide the stable bridge to democracy that his supporters desire, and he has reassuringly suggested that he would only serve a single term: “The coming president of Egypt, whoever he is, must, in my opinion, stay for one term only … to lead the process of reform and put the country on the road to stability.”

Nevertheless, there is the chance, though he is not popular with the army, that his popularity with the people and loyalty to the past would be used by the military to provide a democratic facade without real democracy.

Personally, I would back Amr Moussa as transitional president if the presidency was stripped of its power and transformed into a ceremonial position to provide Egypt with a unifying figure during its democratic transformation and a recognisable face to the outside world. But Moussa himself is opposed to Egypt becoming a full parliamentary democracy, at least for the time being.

Well, if not Amr Moussa, then who? Other names doing the rounds include former IAEA chief Mohamed ElBaradei and the head of the al-Ghad party Ayman Nour. Though neither are popular candidates according to the poll cited above, ElBaradei has the advantage of being a non-partisan figure around whom the opposition have rallied, especially prior to the revolution, while Nour is young and has the credibility of having been at the forefront of Egypt’s struggle for democracy which landed him in jail for having dared to run against Mubarak in the 2005 elections.

On the downside, after decades walking the corridors of international diplomacy, ElBaradei is something of a “Johnny-come-lately”, while many Egyptians fear that Nour and his liberal party will continue the neoliberal economic policies that have aggravated inequalities in Egypt.

Who will become Egypt’s next president will, hopefully, be for all Egyptians to decide later this year. But with the range of established political figures being so uninspiring and in the spirit of the fundamental change awakened by the revolution, the conditions for running should be so eased that the young leaders of the revolution and even unknown citizens with well thought out platforms can run and perhaps become the next president.

Some view the absence of clear presidential candidates as a problem which, at some levels, it is. But if Egyptians choose someone to lead them who is not part of the political class, then they may just create a true “government of the people, by the people, for the people” – and perhaps even reinvent democracy itself.

This column appeared in the Guardian newspaper’s Comment is Free section on 233 March 2011. Read the full discussion here.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

Freedom from fear

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Khaled Diab

The Egyptian revolution could usher in freedom to the Middle East, but Arabs and Israelis must break free of the chains of prejudice, history and fear.

Saturday 19 February 2011

Millions of Egyptians have accomplished what many thought was improbable: They defied their dictator and won. After three decades as Egypt’s uncontested leader, Hosni Mubarak’s downfall has understandably been cause for euphoria and celebration in Egypt and across the Arab world.

Egyptians have made history. But now, they need to ensure that this revolution does not become a footnote in their history.

While the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions have inspired ordinary Arabs everywhere, they have been largely met with trepidation and fear in Israel. But as a wave of hope and empowerment begins to ripple through the Arab world, it would be a shame and a grave mistake to continue in ‘business-as-usual’ mode on the Arab-Israeli front.

The changing Middle Eastern landscape is a wake-up call to both sides to transform what were once two competing nationalisms (pan-Arab and Zionist ) into complementary ones. The first step toward achieving this is to acknowledge that not everything is the other side’s fault.

Nevertheless, Israelis worry that rather than heralding the dawn of democracy next door, the unfolding revolution marks the sunset of secularism. The frenzied analogies fixate on Iran and 1979, and assume that the Muslim Brotherhood will spearhead a counterrevolution and orchestrate a theocratic takeover of Egypt.

Though I despise the stifling impact of the Muslim Brotherhood on Egyptian society, I doubt this scenario. While the Iranian and Egyptian revolutions share a common denominator in that both were popular revolts against Western-backed despots that took the world by surprise, there are numerous vital differences between them.

One of the most critical is that Egypt has no ‘cult’ religious revolutionary figure like Ayatollah Khomeini. The nearest to a ‘face’ that the Egyptian revolution has is Mohamed ElBaradei, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, seasoned international diplomat and avowed secularist. The only thing the two men share in common is that they returned home to lead something that they didn’t start.

In addition, the Egyptian Sunni clergy – which has long been subservient to the secular authorities – is generally not involved in politics and is not held in the same kind of awe as its Shi’ite counterpart, which was politicized.

As for the Muslim Brotherhood, it was not only a latecomer to the revolution, but is also largely made up of conservative and rather grey laymen who tend to be drawn from the ranks of professionals, i.e. doctors, lawyers and engineers.

Moreover, Egypt today is not Iran circa 1979. The revolution comes at a time when Egypt, which has long had close contact with the West, has had almost two centuries of modernising and secularising experience.

Of course, Israeli fears stem not from whether or not Egypt will become a theocracy – as a friendly theocracy would, I imagine, be all right – but from whether or not the new order will be more hostile to an Israel feeling isolated and insecure.

The Muslim Brotherhood is probably the most hostile party to Israel. However, suspicion, distrust, dislike and fear of Israel cut across party lines, both out of sympathy for the plight of the Palestinians and out of the humiliation Israel has heaped on the wider Arab world. This probably means that the cold Egyptian-Israeli peace will become frostier.

Nevertheless, pragmatism is likely to prevail, and I don’t think any likely Egyptian government would risk reneging on the peace agreement. The army has already demonstrated this with its statement that Egypt will respect all its foreign agreements.

For Israel, the Tunisian and Egyptian revolutions should be taken not as a threat but as an opportunity. Israelis need to realise that the road to their security lies not through Cairo, but through Jerusalem, the West Bank and Gaza.

As the Palestine Papers and before them the Oslo Accords clearly demonstrate, along with Israel’s non-reaction to the Arab Peace Initiative, Israeli intransigence, founded on military might and superpower sponsorship, is no substitute for justice. Authority built on oppression, as Mubarak found out, inevitably crumbles.

Following the revolution, Egyptians would be justified in keeping their economic distance from Israel, but they need to stop cold-shouldering Israelis, because this fuels the popular fear that Arabs are not after peace with Israel, but its defeat and destruction by any means possible. The only way to allay these worries and build the necessary popular groundswell for peace is to engage in a direct, grass-roots conversation and dialogue.

The Egyptian revolution could usher in an era of freedom in the Middle East. But for it to do so, Arabs and Israelis must break free of the chains of prejudice, history and fear.

This article first appeared in Haaretz on 15 February 2011. It was commissioned and distributed by the Common Ground News Service.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

Egyptian government fears a Facebook revolution

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Osama Diab

Talk of banning Facebook is only the surface of a greater crackdown on independent media by an insecure government.

2 November 2010

Many Egyptians, in what is still a police state, regard Facebook as a safe haven where they can campaign and express their opinions freely. But that could soon change following a crackdown by the authorities against various types of media.

In Egypt, many opposition movements have either started or grown significantly on Facebook, most notably the 6th April Youth Movement and the national campaign to support Nobel peace prize winner Mohamed ElBaradei as a presidential candidate.

Understanding the impact Facebook now has on Egypt’s political life, the Egyptian TV’s most popular talk show, Masr el-Nahrda (Egypt Today), suggested banning Facebook or passing a law to regulate Facebook activities in Egypt.

The show’s host, Mona el-Sharkawy, and her two guests heavily criticised Facebook and warned viewers against its evil and how it can be used by intelligence apparatuses all over the world to gather secret information about target countries.

Gamal Mokhtar, a technology expert and a guest on the show, said that Facebook has definitely revealed itself as a political tool used by foreign powers to obtain secret information about certain countries.

“We need to prevent problems, strikes and vandalism in the country by regulating it,” said the technology expert. el-Sharkawy also cited the 6 April Youth Movement as an example of how Facebook can be used destructively. She claimed (on no factual basis) that members of the group, which started on Facebook, had destroyed Tahrir Square in Cairo during one of their protests.

This comes at a time when a crackdown on independent media is under way in Egypt ahead of both parliamentary and presidential elections. Ibrahim Eissa, the former editor of the al-Dustour independent newspaper, predicted a crackdown on the internet following the attack on many other media outlets.

“Perhaps soon we’ll see urgent legislation to snuff out Egyptians’ freedom of expression on the internet. And several understandings will be arrived at with representatives of the western media in Egypt,” Eissa wrote two days before he was dismissed from his post as al-Dostour‘s editor-in-chief.

Many other notable figures critical of the regime’s violations were also recently stopped from doing their jobs. Prominent political analyst Hamdi Qandeel and the internationally renowned novelist Alaa ElAswany have both had their columns in al-Shorouk newspaper removed.

Other pre-election measures have included stopping the broadcasting of four independent satellite channels and putting restrictions on the mass sending of mobile text messages (a practice widely used for campaigning by opposition movements in Egypt).

The recent media crackdown – and the talk of “regulating” Facebook in Egypt – is an indicator that the regime does not have the slightest intention of playing the political game fairly and freely. The crackdown is fed by the regime’s insecurity as it loses public support. With such lack of popularity, the regime has to choose between losing and cheating – and losing doesn’t sound like a viable option.

It won’t be surprising if the government tries to link some criminal incidents with the use of Facebook in order to gain support for regulation – for example, by making it a crime to start a political group on Facebook.

Worried by the fact that the state TV is only a tool for delivering the government’s message and that criticism of Facebook was probably not an arbitrarily chosen topic, a Facebook group entitled “together to stop the ban of Facebook in Egypt” has started campaigning and attracted more than 10,000 members in just a few days.

The suggestion of a ban on Facebook shows the regime is worried of any medium that shows real trends and statistics in Egypt, which they have no control over. It’s also because the regime is definitely losing the Facebook numbers game; it’s hard to imagine that Mokhtar would have still suggested control over the social network if it was President Hosni Mubarak who got a quarter of a million fans on his page rather than ElBaradei.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free section on 21 October 2010. Read the related discussion. Reprinted here with the author’s permission. © Osama Diab. All rights reserved.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0 (from 0 votes)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts

‘Collaborator!’ – a charge that has plagued Egypt

 
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)

By Osama Diab

Egyptians are routinely accused of being in league with foreign forces, from the US to Iran, but this propaganda is wearing thin.

15 September 2010

In the centuries after Egypt’s last native ruler, Nectanebus II, was driven out by the Persians, Egypt was conquered and occupied by almost every major colonial power. It was only in 1952 that General Mohamed Naguib’s successful military coup managed to overthrow the monarch, ending British influence and restoring sovereignty to the land of Egypt.

Almost 60 years later, this colonial legacy still haunts the country. Opponents of political and social change bank on a deep-seated fear of foreign influence to tighten their grip on power by accusing everyone who promotes an alternative to them of collaboration.

The “treason” card can be used against anyone and everyone. According to Egyptian conspiracy theorists, liberal politicians are probably American agents with a western agenda. Similarly, Islamists are accused of getting orders from Iran, Hamas, Hezbollah, or all of the above.

Mohamed ElBaradei, former director of International Agency for Atomic Energy and potential presidential candidate, is supposedly both an Iranian and American agent. Ayman Nour, a liberal Egyptian politician who was jailed for what many believe was the “crime” of challenging Mubarak in the 2005 presidential elections, is America’s boy in Egypt.

A ruling National Democratic party MP, Hassan Nashat al-Kassas, who was condemned by human rights organisations for calling on the police to shoot pro-reform demonstrators, said during a parliamentary discussion last year on medical aid to Gaza (in Arabic): “I used to believe that we have a patriotic opposition. However, it turned out that they only work for the interest of Egypt’s enemies.”

Likewise, Muslim preacher, Khaled Abdallah, attacked ElBaradei by also accusing him of collaboration. He implied that he is applying a pro-American and anti-Islamist agenda. He also warned people against supporting ElBaradei because by doing so they would be fighting God and His messenger. He asked his audience to refuse to recognise anyone who “arrives on the back of American tanks”.

Ironically, ElBaradei has long been attacked by many in the US and Israel for being too lenient with Iran. The US was also the only country to oppose a third term for ElBaradei as the head of the IAEA due to his position on the war in Iraq.

After portraying ElBaradei as a hero for years after winning the Nobel peace prize, Egyptian state-run media launched a smear campaign questioning his loyalty to the motherland once he appeared to challenge the 29-year-rule of Mubarak. A state-run newspaper falsely accused him of holding Swedish nationality a few days after he announced he might run for presidency under certain conditions. State-run media were also trying to wrongfully promote the idea that he gave the green light to America to invade Iraq. Pro-government newspapers printed the same photo of him with the US ambassador over and over again to enforce that impression.

What is more, Egypt’s government always tries to give the impression that an alliance made up of Qatar (represented by the al-Jazeera TV network), Iran, Hezbollah, and Hamas are trying to destabilise the country.

Destabilising a country would certainly need local agents. It is clear al-Kassas’s remark about the opposition implies that members of the Muslim Brotherhood, the main opposition bloc in Egypt’s parliament, are being recruited by the Iranian alliance.

Needless to say, trying to associate alternative thought with danger is a strategy long used by religious conservatives to prevent social change and by authoritarian regimes who want to preserve the political status quo. More alarmingly, this fear has also infected many progressive liberals in Egypt and in the west who are also afraid that change now might be more of a regressive step.

But it is hard to believe that finger-pointing can be sustained as a long-term strategy. It may have worked in the past because it was easier to deceive people who were less exposed to the outside world or those who didn’t have easy access to information. But now, with a globally integrated economy, more disposable income and technological advancement, more people in Egypt are joining the global world and its information revolution.

Therefore, this classic propaganda technique is failing, and hundreds of thousands of Egyptians are already advocating change. One tenth of Egypt’s Facebook population are members on ElBaradei’s Facebook group supporting him as an alternative to President Mubarak. Almost a million Egyptians have signed a petition supporting ElBaradei’s seven requirements for political reform in a clear sign that more Egyptians are willing to take risks for the sake of change.

This column appeared in The Guardian Unlimited’s Comment is Free section on 8 September 2010. Read the related discussion. Reprinted here with the author’s permission. © Osama Diab. All rights reserved.

VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: 0.0/10 (0 votes cast)
VN:F [1.9.22_1171]
Rating: +1 (from 1 vote)
Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Related posts