Thursday, 8 August 2013

'National Interests' and Egypt.

Almost all Western politicians, statesmen, envoys and diplomats repeat the same stocks phrases about getting democracy in Egypt 'back on track' after the coup and promoting 'dialogue' and 'inclusivity'. Lady Ashton of the EU and Senator John McCain are all singing from the same predictable songsheet.

But it looks unlikely to happen.

Confirmation that the Egyptian political elites are not willing to include the Muslim Brotherhood came today. The presidency said it "holds the Muslim Brotherhood completely responsible for the failure of these efforts, and for consequent events and developments relating to violations of the law and endangering public safety".

Only shortly before the Egyptian acting head of state, Adly Mansour, declared there would be no backing down in the face of Muslim Brotherhood street protests and sit-ins, British MP Crispin Blunt, however, tried to portray Western diplomacy as successful in persuading the Egyptian government of averting bloodshed.
'I believe the combined weight of US and EU opinion, trenchantly delivered to the Egyptian military, helped stay their hand. However all the ingredients for a bloody civil war remain. This disaster has been delayed, not averted.'
But the fact is that the Egyptian elites who ran the nation under Mubarak are as strong as they ever were. Moreover, despite prating about the need for democracy Western politicians have mostly only swung around to this since the Arab Spring of 2011.

The reason is that, even if Western figures believe that promoting democracy and resolving the conflict is in Western interests, they cannot enforce that on Egypt too much without endangering those interests. These are the strategic partnership with the Egyptian army, the arms deals, and energy security.

Hence politicians such as Blunt thus have an interest in minimising the way that the US and Britain both continued to shore up the 'deep state' in Egypt right up until the minute that the corrupt administration of Mubarak ran up against irate crowds fuelled by anger over high food prices, poverty and mismanagment,
'Order has been sustained in Egypt over at least the last three decades by police conduct which bears more hallmarks of Egypt's Ottoman heritage than an accountable criminal justice system'.
'Our national interests are absolutely engaged in Egypt, quite apart from the prospect of a horrifying humanitarian catastrophe in that country, which should concern us all'.
The power of the Egyptian army is bolstered by the $1.3 bn given to it annually by Washington to gain political leverage; with China and Russia competing for billions of dollars of arms contracts with the Egyptian military an arms race is now on.

The strategic interests that Washington has in Egypt, apart from lucrative arms deals, are wholly accepted by London. Ever since the Suez crisis on 1956 when Britain and France, along with Israel, invaded Egypt and were condemned and threatened with oil sanctions by the US, Britain has followed Washington's lead.

The US is committed to similar goals to that which Britain once had in Egypt. One is to prevent domestic political forces from threatening the security of the Suez Canal. After the end of the Yom Kippur War of 1973, the emphasis was upon upholding regional security' along with a peace treaty with Israel.

One reason the Egyptian army has been able not only to stage a military coup and threaten to eliminate pro-Morsi supporters is because it knows the West can and will not do anything to jeopardise the arms deals. With government cuts to arms spending in the West after 2008, these sales keep production going.

Moreover, as Michael Klare has emphasised, with the end of the Cold War and the onset of the Great New Game for control over oil and gas resources, rival powers as India, China and Russia are looking to tie in arms sales and the commercial benefits of this to more influence.
'Powerful nations, seeking additional allies, use such sales to win the allegiance of weaker states; weaker states, seeking to bolster their defenses, look to arms deals as a way to build ties with stronger countries, or even to play one suitor off another in pursuit of the most sophisticated arms available'.
When Blunt refers briefly to 'national interests' being 'absolutely engaged' he means retaining the West's strategic partnership not only with Egypt but with Israel and Saudi Arabia; the oil rich kingdom remains very hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood and does not want it to have any part in any Egyptian government.

The reason is because the Muslim Brotherhood has been a subversive force in Saudi Arabia. In the wake of the coup, the Egyptian army has continually emphasised the security threat from terrorists, especially in the Sinai Peninsula,  in order to curry financial and diplomatic support from the West and the Gulf states.

While Washington and London have every interest in not driving the Muslim Brotherhood underground, and creating a radical Islamist backlash capable of plunging Egypt and neighbouring lands into chaos, the coup is considered an a fait accompli and any means to prevent 'instability' is welcomed.

If preserving 'stability' means a measure of 'democratisation' then Britain is bound to support that so long as it does not affect its interests. However, the actions of the Egyptian army. and the brutality of the suppression of the protests cannot be completely blamed on Egypt's 'Ottoman heritage'.

On the contrary, Egypt's model of development dates back to the challenge to Ottoman rule posed by Mehemet Ali in 1805. Having been occupied first by France in 1798 and then, after the French were defeated, by Britain in 1801, military reformers set out to copy the West in order to modernise from above.

The Military Academy in Cairo was founded in 1811 when Mehemet Ali determined that Egypt should be rid of the old order and Ottoman domination. The new Khedive of Egypt in the nineteenth century was regarded an ally and defended as a bulwark of British interests from 1882 until 1914 followed by a monarch till 1952.

Despite Colonel Nasser's period ( 1954-1970 ), a brief interlude when the dictator moved close to the USSR, the Egyptian army has been viewed as essential to upholding Western strategic interests in the Middle East in the post-colonial period ( including the Suez Canal and oil and gas pipelines ).

If the security state that has existed for 'at least' three decades shows a continuity in current practices it is not with the 'Ottoman heritage' either under the Mubarak regime or since he was removed. It lies in having a history of reformer-authoritarians often backed by the Western powers.

The FBI were involved in training the Egyptian secret police who tortured opponents of the regime. A Wilikeak stated, 'the head of the Egyptian state security and investigative service (SSIS) thanked the US for “training opportunities” at the FBI academy in Quantico, Virginia.

The Egyptian army has been trained and backed by the US and Britain for decades to treat all Islamists as state enemies and to keep power out of their hands. That has little do with 'any Ottoman heritage', Unfortunately, it has much more to do with the training Egyptian army grandees got from the US and Britain.

The Egyptian army itself sees itself as a secular force above Egyptian society; Islamists have no real place in it and certainly should have none in the state. The police are also blatantly partisan. They were giving flowers and celebrating with anti-Morsi protesters in Cairo while those for Morsi got batons and bullets.

So the Egyptian army is part of the Egyptian security state no less than the police. The 'Ottoman heritage' is less evident than direct influence from the West. As the Washington Post reported shortly after the coup,( Ouster of Egypt’s Islamist president a product of army’s U.S. military training July 7 2013 )
'It is an esprit de corps nurtured by America. The U.S. has played host to hundreds of Egyptian officers at the Pentagon’s elite educational institutions such as the Army War College and the Naval Postgraduate School. The U.S. educates and trains about 1,000 Egyptian military personnel each year.
Gen. Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, Egypt’s supreme armed forces commander who engineered the ouster Wednesday of President Mohammed Morsi, attended the war college in Carlisle, Pa., in 2006. In the 1990s, he was a student at Britain’s prestigious Joint Services Command and Staff College.
Robert Springborg, who has taught Egyptian officers at the naval school in Monterey, Calif., calls the Egyptian military’s culture “the creation of a sense of superiority above civilians, reinforced by privilege.”
Egypt’s two, pre-Brotherhood presidents — Anwar Sadat and the now-imprisoned Hosni Mubarak — were products of military education. Sadat joined Col. Gamal Abdel Nasser's Free Officer Movement, which staged a coup 1952 against King Farouk. Mubarak led the air force under Sadat.
After the 1981 assassination of Sadat by Islamists inside the military, Mubarak worked to rid the ranks of such ideologues.
“I would thank Mubarak and, indeed before him, Sadat, Nasser and the British, to say nothing of Muhammad Ali,” Mr. Springborg said. “The tradition of the military at the core of the state is 200 years old.” ( my italics )
The Egyptian coup on July 3 and the use of populist alliances to promote authoritarian governments, represent the 'will of the people', reflects a recurrent feature In Egyptian history for 200 years. Western envoys have always tended to avert their gaze from the manner in which the army has crushed 'reactionaries'.

Blair is only the most obvious example of a Western advocate of top down 'reform' and 'modernisation'. His backing for technocratic elites and providing loans to them in return for economic concessions is put forth on the condition that Egypt moves firmly into the Western sphere of influence.

The obvious problem with this, if democracy really is going to be 'reintroduced', is that it presupposes the Muslim Brotherhood are going to be willing to work within any future constitutional framework laid down by 'usurping' authorities if the old regime remains largely in place. 

Moreover, with economic chaos and unaccountable 'deep state' elite power in place, the interim government is facing challenges from below by those who want an end both to that power and a movement towards an open democracy rather than one manipulated by Mubarak era appointees and the Muslim Brotherhood.

The next few months will be a test of whether the US and EU are genuinely interested in a functioning Arab constitutional democracy or whether they are going to choose an illusive 'stability' by giving tacit backing to a new era of authoritarian modernisers who rule through a rigged democracy.

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