Egyptian Revolution Frozen in Its Tracks

Cross-posted from the Colorado Progressive Jewish News.

In the past, when he ruled Egypt with an iron hand with ample U.S. encouragement, support and financing, Hosni Mubarak repeatedly used the Islamic fundamentalist threat as blackmail against the Egyptian people, suggesting they only had two choices – either Mubarak or ‘the people of the book’ – Shari’a. Mubarak put himself forth as the lesser of two evils. He might have been authoritarian and corrupt as hell, but at least didn’t spout the politics of seventh century Islam. This played well enough in both Washington and Tel Aviv.

A year and a half after the Tahir Square uprising, the Egyptian military, the main source of political power in the country for the past sixty years, used its considerable power to offer the Egyptian people the same electoral non-choices they have had in the past. After all was said and done, these recent Egyptian elections mirrored the past: a Mubarak clone facing off against a representative of the Muslim Brotherhood’ all other choices – including the possibility of far reaching economic and political change – were ruled out.

This resulted in the election of Mohamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood candidate, to the presidency. With Morsi’s main opposition being the country’s former prime minister under Mubarak, Ahmed Shafik, Egyptians didn’t have much of a choice. All the other possible candidates, including some connected to the Tahrir Square uprising, were eliminated early on.

The Egyptian election results in many ways mirrored those for the Constituent Assembly in Tunisia where a supposedly ‘moderate’ Islamic Party, Ennahda, rode the path to electoral power on a combination of its own genuine suffering during the Ben Ali years and the promise of the ‘new face’ (more democratic) of their brand of political Islam. But most of all the Ennahda victory was a rejection of everything Ben Ali stood for and anyone even distantly associated with the old order got trounced in those elections, including some secular elements that had flirted, not very effectively, with nudging Ben Ali left.

So it was in Egypt.

If, given the narrow almost non-choices between a Muslim Brotherhood – with its long and enduring relationship with Saudi Wahhabism on the one hand and a carbon copy of Mubarak’s neo-liberal authoritarianism (who could be closer to the now disgraced Egyptian strongman than his former prime minister?) on the other, the Egyptian people, hoping for at least a minimal amount of change, rejected Mubarak and, given no other option, chose the Brotherhood candidate. There were reports that, had Ahmad Shafik won, angry riots would have erupted throughout the country. This just might have had something to do with the announced result.

From a distance, it appears that the military would have preferred a victory for the Mubarak man, Ahmed Shafik; this would have meant the smoothest and most predictable transition for them in the post Mubarek era. But Field Marshall Mohammed Hussein Tantawi, head of the Military Council that took power after Hosni Mubarak stepped down, knows that accommodation with Mohammed Morsi and the Brotherhood, is possible. The ‘Algerian Option’ ruled out, Egypt’s Military Council accepted – it seems after consultation with the usual international suspects – the Morsi-Muslim Brotherhood victory.

This is not much of a gamble on the Egyptian military’s part.

The military and an Islamic party co-exist – somewhat uneasily, but still – in Turkey, the country whose political history parallels that of Egypt in certain ways. Ennahda appears to be consolidating its hold in Tunisia. If Mubarak’s secularism stands in stark contrast to the Brotherhood’s Islamicism culturally, politically, their differences narrow considerably. Not to worry about a Brotherhood-led government moving to the left economically or strategically! Economically the new government will probably be even more open to World Bank and IMF structural adjustment like programs, privatization, opening Egypt to foreign economic control than in the past. As these economic policies were an essential part of the mix triggering the Egyptian rebellion in the first place, their intensification does not bode well for the country in the long run.

At the same time, expect few to no changes in Egyptian strategic policy. As it has since the 1979 Camp David Accords, the new Egyptian government will stay – albeit with a few symbolic gestures of little import towards Israel – within the U.S.-NATO strategic orbit. The slight breathing space given to Palestinians in Gaza will be the extent of the shift in their policy towards Israel.

Those Zionists in the U.S. and Israel, anxious at the prospect that the Camp David Accords will be abrogated, can breathe more easily. Won’t happen. And watch as Egypt, along with Tunisia, cooperates with the United States in Libya, Syria as they are re-integrated into the anti-Iranian alliance which drives U.S. and Israeli Middle East policy at present.

For the moment, the Egyptian Revolution is frozen in its tracks, its ruling class recovered and regrouped from the national uprising, its social activists arrested and tortured by the military, more than even in the past, its domestic and foreign policy frozen in old models. But this is not the end of the Egyptian Revolution, instead, it is just the beginning. Nasser’s shadow cannot be so easily snuffed out.