Thursday,20 September, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)
Thursday,20 September, 2018
Issue 1178, (2 - 8 January 2014)

Ahram Weekly

The new regional interference

The Arab region is witnessing a new era of intervention, meddling and interference, working through religion in Egypt’s case held in check by the 30 June Revolution, writes Azmi Ashour

Al-Ahram Weekly

Was it a lifesaver for the leader of Turkey’s ruling Justice and Development Party (JDP) who could not believe his luck when he managed to scramble to safety from the waves of the Gezi Park protests and, moreover, just as he needed something to boost his legitimacy ahead of municipal and presidential elections around the corner in 2014, the campaigns for which would take place against the fraught circumstances in Turkey? Surely it was no coincidence that around that time Recep Tayyip Erdogan raised his hand in a four-finger salute that stood for Rabaa Al-Adaweya Square in Egypt. With this gesture, which acquired greater fame and symbolic power than any signs or slogans that the Muslim Brothers had ever conceived of, Erdogan gave the Egyptian Muslim Brothers a flag, an emblem, a symbol and a guide to use on every occasion. Simultaneously, he gave himself that much needed instrument to boost his legitimacy. And he made maximum use of it on those occasions in which he found it convenient to lash out at a sovereign state, spurning all rules and conventions of international diplomacy in the process.
But did this suit the situation in Egypt? In fact, Erdogan gave the Egyptians a gift without realising it. The “Rabaa hand” he subtly revealed the Muslim Brotherhood for what it was. Every time Muslim Brotherhood demonstrators raised it while ignoring the Egyptian flag they declared a non-Egyptian affiliation and showed an unfamiliar face, especially to the 25 January Revolution, in which the symbolism of the Egyptian flag prevailed above all.
Erdogan’s four-finger salute, reproduced on a yellow field, became the banner of the neo-Ottoman occupation of Egypt. Sadly, many of those Egyptians who raise this banner do not realise that they are serving powers abroad and promoting the interests of those powers over the interests of their own country. Just as Tehran had implanted Hizbullah in Lebanon to promote Iranian influence in Lebanon and the Levant, sowing the seeds for more ailment than recovery in a country that had just emerged frail and weary from many years of civil war, Erdogan had imagined, perhaps due to a mistaken assessment of circumstances in Egypt, that he could turn the Muslim Brotherhood into a Hizbullah-like arm that would serve to further Turkey’s interests in Egypt and elsewhere in the region.
Not that Erdogan was alone in such thinking. He had been preceded by Washington, which had believed that it could take advantage of the Muslim Brotherhood’s arrival to power and their thirst for hegemony and longing for international recognition to obtain gains that not even the former regime would concede. Whether or not they were fully aware that this was their designated role, the Muslim Brotherhood regime performed it perfectly, to the degree of making concessions that would compromise the security of the country it had pledged to govern and defend. More curious yet, the Muslim Brotherhood appeared willing to lend themselves as an instrument not just to such large international and regional powers as the US and Turkey but also to a tiny country no larger than one of Egypt’s major cities. But then, the Muslim Brotherhood regime was desperate for material support and in exchange for that it would carry out the agenda of that tiny country whose reasons for supporting the Muslim Brotherhood remains a mystery, especially given that it could well have become one of this organisation’s victims one day.
Just as the “Rabaa hand” exposed the foreign hands that are meddling in Egypt it revealed to the Egyptian people that the Muslim Brotherhood is a group that had infiltrated the Egyptian social fabric in a manner that bred terrorism and extremism. As an organisation, it was the sword that thrust radical ideas into society at a time that this society was experiencing a flourishing liberal democracy. I refer here to the first half of the 20th century, when there was multi-party plurality, a civil constitution, a monarch who reigned but did not govern, an elected prime minister, and the beginning of an educational and cultural rebirth that was the pride of the Middle East at the time. The organisation persisted in its campaign against the modernist awakening. Over the course of successive generations, its ideological indoctrination produced not scientists, doctors and engineers, but rather terrorist groups in various jihadist, takfiri and Salafi shades. What Egypt has been experiencing during the past six months is not so much a series of confrontations between the Egyptian state and the Muslim Brotherhood as it is a popular rejection of  and grassroots confrontation against  the Muslim Brotherhood and their supporters after discovering the clear links between them and the terrorist attacks that are reaping more and more innocent lives with every passing day and damaging an economy that is desperately struggling to recover.
The Arab region has entered a new phase of foreign exploitation of domestic circumstances to undermine and weaken the state. Regional powers find the absence of a strong state the best key to the expansion of their power and influence in other countries, and ideologies and ideological groups are now serving as their mallet of choice. Iran would not have been able to acquire the strength to challenge and defy major international powers had it not been for the collapse of the Iraqi state and the descent of Iraqi society into sectarian conflicts that claim hundreds of lives every day in tragic scenes that have continued unabated for a decade. Syria has launched the second Arab diaspora after the expulsion of the Palestinian people from Palestine. There are now four million Syrian refugees in neighbouring countries and more than 100,000 Syrians have been killed in the warfare in their country. The Syrian tragedy is not the product of foreign colonialism this time, but rather of a pernicious blend between regional interventions, the tenacity and brutality of an authoritarian regime, and the ability of this regime to play on international and regional power balances in the interests of securing its own perpetuity, even if at the expense of most of the Syrian people.
A scenario of this sort was in store for Egypt. It was put into motion and we are still feeling some of its repercussions, although it ran up against the wall created by the 30 June Revolution that worked to safeguard the prestige of the state and its institutions and forestall the descent into civil war engineered from abroad using domestic instruments.

The writer is managing editor of the quarterly journal Al-Demoqrateya published by Al-Ahram.

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