Four big things to know about Egypt in 2014

Middle East Forum

by Raymond Stock
Fox News
January 24, 2014

Egypt will continue to make much news in the New Year — as it has since the 2011 revolution that brought down longtime U.S. ally President Hosni Mubarak amid scenes of blood and jubilation in Tahrir Square and beyond.

As Egypt celebrates the third anniversary of that revolution’s launch on January 25th, the world’s oldest nation-state enters another phase in its volatile transition from Mubarak’s fading, sclerotic autocracy to a yet-uncertain future:

With all that in mind, here are four big things to know about Egypt in 2014.

1. EGYPTIANS SHOULD BE HEADING BACK TO THE POLLS SHORTLY. The overwhelming passage January 14-15 of an amended Constitution paves the way for new presidential and parliamentary elections soon, and legitimizes the ouster of former President Mohamed Morsi following the largest demonstrations in history last June 30.

This means that Egypt’s extremely popular military regime, headed by charismatic Minister of Defense General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, has turned a crucial corner in gaining international acceptance, after nearly seven months of physical attacks within Egypt, and of media and policy assaults from abroad.

Egypt's extremely popular military regime has turned a crucial corner in gaining international acceptance. Pictured, Egyptian Minister of Defense General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi bids farewell to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after a meeting in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. (Image source: U.S. State Department)

Egypt’s extremely popular military regime has turned a crucial corner in gaining international acceptance. Pictured, Egyptian Minister of Defense General Abdul Fatah Khalil al-Sisi bids farewell to U.S. Secretary of State John Kerry after a meeting in Cairo, Egypt, on November 3, 2013. (Image source: U.S. State Department)

2. TERRORISM AND DISSENT WILL CONTINUE TO TORTURE EGYPT. Despite this latest triumph of the majority’s will, the same destructive forces that have plagued the nation following the euphoria at Mubarak’s fall will likely keep eating away at Egypt’s social, political and economic fabric for the foreseeable future.

Friday, four explosions, including a suicide bombing that blew the facade off the seven-story State Security building downtown, have struck targets throughout Cairo, killing at least six and wounding more than 60 others.

President Barack Obama’s botched handling of the rollout of Egypt’s — and the Arab world’s –democracy, in which the U.S. backed Islamists over secular liberal forces throughout the region, means our alliance with Cairo is far less secure than it was during Mubarak’s nearly thirty years atop the pyramid of power in Egypt.

Mubarak told ABC’s Christiane Amanpour on February 3, 2011, that Obama “doesn’t understand Egyptian culture and what would happen if I step down now.”

Mubarak accurately warned that if he resigned abruptly, as he was pushed to do that February 11 by Obama and the military in response to protests, bringing to climax the Arab Spring, he would be followed by chaos and rule by the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), which Egypt now rightly calls a terrorist organization.

Chaos duly ensued, and the well-organized, deeply entrenched MB and its Salafi allies, after electoral victories, imposed an Islamist agenda on the country, eventually alienating almost the whole citizenry.

As Obama told CBS’s Steve Kroft during a joint interview with then-outgoing Secretary of State Hillary Clinton broadcast on “60 Minutes” January 27, 2013, at the height of the Islamists’ ascendancy, “You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there.”

Supporters of Mubarak’s successor, Mohamed Morsi, an MB hardliner, launched an armed insurgency when he was deposed on July 3, 2013 after only one year in power.

The MB’s violent protests will probably not go away, though they are shrinking at least for the moment, while some of the key secular liberal groups that helped bring down both Mubarak and Morsi are turning against the repressive military.

Turnout for the new Constitution — which strips away most of the Islamist provisions found in the previous one, rammed through by Morsi in December 2012, while placing the military leadership beyond civilian control– was officially a modest 38.6 percent, but with a “Yes” vote of 98.1 percent.

In actual numbers, almost 20 million voters backed the document, over eight million more than endorsed Morsi’s charter in December 2012, and roughly six million more than had voted for Morsi as president that May.

The MB and its Islamist allies, plus a few of the secular liberal groups that had opposed Mubarak, boycotted the vote, denouncing the crackdown on dissent under al-Sisi, a Bizarro World replay of the campaign against Morsi’s own Constitution.

The 2014 referendum’s success enables the widely-expected presidential candidacy of al-Sisi, a modern day pharaoh in a land that has known largely that kind of rule for the past five millennia.

Al-Sisi now runs Egypt through competent surrogates like Acting President Adly Mansour and Prime Minister Hazem al-Beblawy, though his glow may dim should he finally shed his uniform and govern directly as a civilian.

3 . EGYPT MAY BE JOINING A NUCLEAR ARMS RACE WITH IRAN WHILE REACHING OUT EVER MORE TO RUSSIA AND PERHAPS CHINA FOR ALTERNATIVES TO U.S. AID. This is happening as the Obama administration implements a toothless nuclear deal with radical Shiite Iran, alienating traditional Sunni allies like Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates.

In October 2013, Mansour announced a major expansion of Egypt’s sixty-year old advanced nuclear program, possibly with help from Russia, with which Cairo signed an alarming $2 billion arms deal in November.

That alliance-shifting switch was prompted by Obama’s decision last fall to suspend about a third of the annual $1.6 billion U.S. aid package to Egypt out of pique at al-Sisi’s crackdown on the MB, while the White House had increased aid to Morsi when he had muzzled and even murdered his own opposition, angering most Egyptians.

To calm these strategically dangerous waters, last week Congress voted to grant $1.52 billion in aid to Egypt for 2014 — but it is so hedged with conditions that no one can be sure if all or indeed any of it will actually go to Cairo, or assuage a single Egyptian after so many snubs if it does.

4. CHRISTIANS WILL STILL SUFFER BUT MAYBE NOT AS MUCH. Egypt’s long-persecuted Christian minority, wrongly blamed and physically targeted in a pogrom by the Islamists after Morsi’s fall, will find neither the same level of active persecution, nor — unfortunately — much more government protection than it did in the waning days of Mubarak, which were also marred by frequent acts of mayhem against them.

Nor will they probably receive any help from the White House, which shamefully has been almost completely silent on the ever-more intense, large-scale violence against Christians throughout the Middle East and Muslim world in recent years.

Yet despite the divisions that still wrack the country, we ought to thank al-Sisi and the Egyptian people for ending the reign of the falsely “moderate,” militantly anti-Western, anti-Christian, anti-Semitic, anti-female and anti-gay MB, that is allied with Al Qaeda and was using Egypt as a base to spread its influence and ideology.

For that service alone, Egypt today would be worth more than every penny it might yet see of the American taxpayers’ money–even if we cannot buy a genuine democracy in a land that has never known one.

Raymond Stock, a Shillman-Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and a former Assistant Professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University, spent twenty years in Egypt, and was deported by the Mubarak regime in 2010. He is writing a biography of 1988 Egyptian Nobel laureate in literature Naguib Mahfouz (1911-2006) for Farrar, Straus & Giroux, and is a prolific translator of his works, most recently “Before the Throne” (Anchor Books/Random House, July 2012).

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Islamist or Nationalist: Who is Egypt’s Mysterious New Pharaoh?

download (56)by Raymond Stock:

Egypt’s new de facto pharaoh, General Abdel-Fattah al-Sisi, is a man of mystery. Is he an Islamist, or a nationalist? Is he a person of high principle, or a lowly opportunist? And in a land which has known five thousand years of mainly centralized, one-man rule, with limited experience of democracy, when have we seen his type before, and where will he lead the troubled, ancient nation now?

These questions are crucial to knowing how the U.S. should react to al-Sisi’s removal of Egypt’s first “freely elected” president, Mohamed Morsi on July 3 in answer to overwhelmingly massive street protests demanding that he do so, and to the ongoing bloody crackdown on Morsi’s group, the Muslim Brotherhood (MB), that began on August 14. Citing the ongoing, actually two-way violence in Egypt, President Barack Obama’s administration has now suspended much of our annual $1.6 billion aid to the country, save for money needed to maintain security operations along the Israeli border in Sinai and to directly support the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty.

Earlier, the administration had stopped the scheduled delivery of four out of twenty F-16s to Egypt, cancelled the bi-annual “Bright Star” joint training exercises that had been set for September, and launched a review of the bi-lateral relationship. There has now been a delay in paying the final $585 million tranche of this year’s aid package, pending that review, according to an October 9 report by the global strategic analysis firm, Stratfor.

However, the administration has been careful not to classify Morsi’s removal a “coup,” which under U.S. law would require an immediate cut-off of all of our aid to Egypt. That assistance is vital to the U.S.’ favored access to the Suez Canal, maintenance of the 1979 Egypt-Israel Peace Treaty and crucial bi-lateral security cooperation against international terrorism. Nonetheless, the latest move puts the entire alliance at great risk, and plays into popular demands that Egypt switch to a more independent stance, or even adopt Russia as chief military supplier instead of the U.S., an idea made more enticing by Washington’s apparent weakness in surrendering its interests in Syria to Moscow, and its seeming haste to make concessions to Cairo’s post-MB regional antagonist in Tehran over the latter’s nuclear program.

Yet along with a number of key Congressional leaders and most of the mainstream media, Obama has been far more critical of al-Sisi and his use of force against a group that our government wrongly supported while in power under the illusion that it was “moderate,” than they have been of the violence and mayhem of the MB.

Meanwhile, the MB’s “peaceful demonstrators” have been busy burning scores of Christian churches and schools along with hundreds of Christian businesses while attacking other citizens, museums and public buildings, the police and the army, and waging an open war against the state in Sinai and around the country. As the total number of deaths in the past nearly two months of confrontations climbs toward the thousands, the MB clearly hopes to use its own “martyrs” (as both sides call their fallen) to generate sympathy for their unaltered goal of restoring Morsi to power. So far, however, it’s not working. Despite a surge in turnout at demonstrations it organized to coincide with the State’s grand celebrations of the 40th anniversary of the 1973 war on October 6, fewer and fewer people have been joining its protests, which have been tiny compared to the unprecedentedly-huge demonstrations against the Islamists.

THE SECRET THESIS

But what besides the obvious hard realities pushed al-Sisi to act when he did? What does he believe, and what does he want? A quiet man known for saying little and keeping his own counsel, in his year of study at the U.S. Army War College in 2006, al-Sisi produced a research paper or brief thesis on his views of Islam and the state. That document was first exposed by Robert Springborg, an expert on Egypt’s military, in a July 28 article in Foreign Affairs.

Springborg predicted that al-Sisi, who has sworn to swiftly restore democracy after a nine-month transition, intends to keep real power for himself. Furthermore, Springborg warned of his “Islamist agenda,” saying that he would not likely restore the “secular authoritarianism” practiced by Mubarak, but would install “a hybrid regime that would combine Islamism with militarism.” Intriguingly, though it holds no state secrets, the document was classified, and was only released under a Freedom of Information Act request by Judicial Watch on August 8.

In it, al-Sisi declares, “There is hope for democracy in the Middle East over the long term; however, it may not be a model that follows a Western Template” (sic). By that, al-Sisi makes plain, he means that Middle Eastern democracy must be based not on secularism, but on Islam.

However, in an August 16 profile of the previously obscure general published by The Daily Beast by Mike Giglio and Christopher Dickey, those who know al-Sisi (few of whom will talk much about him) say that he grew up in a family that was both religiously conservative—not radical—but extremely nationalistic. And indeed it is that sense of nationalism which seems to have had the upper hand in motivating the actions he’s taken thus far.

The chaos, economic calamity, and political upheaval that have rocked Egyptian society since a much more limited popular uprising against longtime president Hosni Mubarak resulted in Mubarak’s ouster by the military on February 11, 2011 (at Obama’s thinly-veiled urging the night before)—and which led in part to al-Sisi’s move against Morsi—have all been seen before.

Read more at Middle East Forum

On Mistaking Mohamed Mursi For His Mask

by Raymond Stock
Foreign Policy Research Institute
February 2013

“You know, when it comes to Egypt, I think, had it not been for the leadership we showed, you might have seen a different outcome there.” — President Barack Obama, “60 Minutes,” January 27, 2013

imagesCA6KQ9BHWith President Mohamed Mursi’s proclamation of a “new republic” on December 26, after the passage of a Constitution that turns Egypt into an Islamist-ruled, pseudo-democratic state, the “January 25th Revolution” came to a predictably disastrous (if still unstable) terminus. As momentous for world history as the 1979 Islamic Revolution in Iran (should it hold), it represents the formal—if not the final—victory for the Muslim Brotherhood (MB) in its 84-year struggle for power in the land of its birth. Indeed, 2012 will likely be remembered as the year that Islamists made the greatest gains in their quest for a new caliphate in the region. And without a drastic change of course by Washington, 2013 might surpass it by far in progress toward the same, seemingly inexorable end.

Egypt, the largest Arab state, the second largest recipient of U.S. military aid, and our second most important ally in the Middle East, is now in the hands of a hostile regime—an elected one at that—which we continue to treat as a friendly one. Even if the sudden outburst of uncontrolled violence along the Suez Canal since January 26—coupled with escalating political and economic tumult in Cairo and elsewhere—leads to a new military coup, it would likely be managed by the MB from behind the scenes. The irony and the implications are equally devastating. This new reality threatens not only traditional U.S. foreign policy goals of stability in the oil-rich Middle East and security for Israel, but also America’s declared support for democracy in the Arab world. Moreover, the fruits of Islamist “democracy,” should it survive, are catastrophic to the people of Egypt, the region and beyond.

How did all this happen? And what role did the U.S. play?

Excellent piece on the revolution in Egypt and the role Barack Obama has played in it. Read it all at Middle East Forum

Also see Ryan Mauro’s interview of Raymond Stock: Egypt Expert: Morsi Confidently Fooling West at RadicalIslam.org

Raymond Stock

Raymond Stock

Raymond Stock is a Shillman/Ginsburg Writing Fellow at the Middle East Forum and former Visiting Assistant Professor of Arabic and Middle East Studies at Drew University. He has a Ph.D. in Near Eastern Languages and Civilizations from the University of Pennsylvania.Stock lived in Egypt for 20 years and was detained at Cairo Airport in December 2010 and deported back to the U.S. due to his 2009 Foreign Policy Magazine article criticizing then-Egyptian Culture Minister for his policies and anti-Semitism.

He is currently working on a biography of Egyptian Nobel laureate in literature, Naguib Mahfouz.

Raymond Stock: The Arab Spring & Egypt’s Nuclear Weapons Program: