By: Haroon Siddiqui Columnist, Published on Sun Aug 18 2013
Toronto Star Aug 18, 2013
During the autocratic Hosni Mubarak era, Egyptian police and its hired thugs used to target women protesters, hijabis/niqabis in particular — taunting them, shoving them and groping them. In the post-Mubarak era, the army initiated virginity tests. The practice was defended by Gen. Abdel-Fattah el-Sissi, now the de facto head of state. Strangely, he is being applauded, among others, by liberals, including some women, for toppling the elected president, Mohammed Morsi, and crushing his supporters. Such is the hatred of the Muslim Brotherhood by its mostly secular opponents.
Muslim societies have always had divisions between the pious and the less observant. Persian and Urdu literature, poetry in particular, mocked the mullah, especially one who practised not what he preached. But the current secularist venom in Egypt is in a class all its own — Islamists are all “fascists,” “terrorists” and “conspirators” who must be “crushed,” “wiped out,” “decapitated.” The vilification is worse than that of western Islamophobes.
We have seen shades of this in Turkey, directed at Tayyip Erdogan, the “Islamist” prime minister, especially during recent protests in Istanbul.
The fault line has historic antecedents in colonized countries where a thin layer of westernized establishment was created to lord over the majority. In non-colonized Turkey and Iran, Islam and Muslim culture were crushed by pro-western dictators Kemal Ataturk and the first Shah. Both equated modernity with the suit, the hat and the high heel. Such “Westoxication” of the ruling elite, along with brutal repression backed by the West, contributed to the revival of Islam. Iran had its revolution, prompting the elite’s exodus into exile. Democratic Turkey has worked its way to an uneasy domestic equilibrium, and benefited from the recent rise of a new economic class, which is both religious and politically assertive. Egypt is yet to. Its “outs” and the “ins” are warring, having had no past experience of democracy.
Long-entrenched power brokers (the army, the security services, the judiciary, the bureaucracy, the crony capitalists, the Mubarak-era politicians) refused to accept the repeated electoral victories of the unwashed Islamists. More intriguing has been how the liberals wouldn’t concede defeat, either. They joined the old guard and have helped hand power back to the military. Either they have been naive or they prefer army rule to an elected Brotherhood government.
All this is cited by some in the West to argue against taking sides in this so-called Muslim versus Muslim battle. This is absurd. We should be on the side of democracy and the rule of law. Instead, Barack Obama and his allies have been playing both sides — and losing.
The U.S. and the EU reportedly knew the July 3 coup was coming. They did little to prevent it and accepted it upon arrival. Only when Morsi’s backers refused to give up protesting that the U.S. and the EU worked behind the scenes for a compromise — Morsi would be restored to the presidency but soon give way to a government of technocrats that would hold elections. But Sissi balked. He was bent on crushing the Brotherhood and perhaps paving the way to become president himself.
The U.S. has refused to cut off its $1.3 billion a year aid to the Egyptian army for two reasons: It wants to retain leverage and it considers the army as the guarantor of Arab-Israeli peace. Both premises are false.
King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and the other oil sheikhs have demonstrably more power in Cairo. The Obama administration has looked pathetically weak as Sissi has dismissed repeated pleas by John Kerry and Chuck Hagel.
Israel’s peace was not so much with Egyptians as with two dictators, Anwar Sadat and Mubarak — one of whom was assassinated, the other toppled. In Jordan, Israel has peace with the monarch, who’s barely hanging on to his gilded throne. Only democracy can guarantee long-term peace.
Stephen Harper has been ambivalent about democracy for Arabs. He could not even muster rhetorical outrage at the Egyptian army’s ferocious crackdown. While the world was reacting with fury (cutting off aid and pondering other sanctions), Harper and his Christian crusaders were selectively standing on guard for Christians of Egypt. John Baird extended “deepest sympathies” to the victims of “unconscionable” random attacks on Coptic and other churches.
We should worry about the Copts being targeted by some groups. But we must also worry deeply for Egyptian civilians being cut down by the state.