Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Current issue | Issue 1223, (27 November - 3 December 2014)
Tuesday,17 July, 2018
Issue 1223, (27 November - 3 December 2014)

Ahram Weekly


Al-Ahram Weekly

Parallel reality

The fastest way to wreck a state is to promote a parallel image of that state, then reinforce the image so as to supplant the original one.

This was the tactic most preferred by political Islam as it surged across the region in the aftermath of the Arab Spring.

It is no secret that political Islam has been groomed to take over this region, a task to which it rose with exceptional zeal, benefitting from the political vacuum left by the collapse of authoritarian regimes. With secular and moderate groups weakened by years of despotic rule, the Islamists had no difficulty acceding to power.

But even then, they wanted to change the rules of the game. It wasn’t enough to rise to power. What they really wanted was to supplant the traditional nation state with a parallel apparatus completely under their control. Parallel police, parallel army, and parallel judiciary: once these were in place, it would be difficult to go back to the normal rotation of power. The Islamists weren’t content to win elections. They wanted to make sure that their power would remain unchallenged, and they proceeded to do so by creating a state within the state.

Years of restrictions on all political activities gave the well-organised and well-funded Islamists a head start in the post-revolutionary climate. But what they did from then on was to undermine the standard political process through which they rose to eminence.
Many now question the prudence of the forced dispersal of the twin sit-ins of Rabaa and Nahda, a move that was taken belatedly on 14 August 2013.

The sit-ins were meant to blackmail the government into letting the Muslim Brotherhood back in power, or at least negotiating a compromise with it.

The strategy adopted by Washington, the EU, Turkey and Qatar was to keep encouraging the protesters as a way of pressuring the government into reintegrating the Muslim Brotherhood into political life.

For weeks, the sit-ins continued, with protestors refusing to compromise, not on an interim president, not on a new constitution, not on a new legislative body. Short of reinstating a president that brought the country to its knees and was a step away from dividing the army, there was nothing to satisfy the pro-Muslim Brotherhood protestors.

Meanwhile, the Islamists were busy creating a state within the state, with militias to supplant the army and police, with their continued harassment of the judiciary and the media. Their tactics of supplanting the state may have been inspired by the teachings of Sayed Qotb, but they were shocking to the general public.

Even before 30 June 2013, Islamist outfits run by the Muslim Brotherhood or allied with it were challenging the state every step of the way.

The Brotherhood, even while in power, didn’t trust the workings of the government and schemed to undermine the state apparatus of which it should have been the guardian.

The tactics of the Muslim Brotherhood recalled that of Hamas, whose challenge to the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organisation) led to a lasting rift in Palestinian ranks.
With Khairat Al-Shater and Mohamed Al-Beltagui working behind the scenes, the Muslim Brotherhood was busy setting up its own militia, as an insurance against possible unrest. Hazem Abu Ismail, who was close to Al-Shater, had his gangs run wild in Cairo. And Assem Abdel-Maged and Tarek Al-Zomor, both unrepentant militants, were about to follow suit.

The assault on the state’s judiciary was steady and furious, with the State Council, the High Constitutional Court, and the Public Prosecutor Office all threatened or besieged by the Brotherhood’s zealous supporters.

Even as the Muslim Brotherhood supreme guide declared journalists to be “pharaoh’s sorcerers”, gangs were already camped out in Media City, assaulting and terrorising key journalists and broadcasters.

At one point, the Muslim Brotherhood contemplated an assault on the Republican Guard headquarters, in the hope of releasing ousted President Mohamed Morsi from custody. The assault failed, but had it succeeded there is no knowing what could have happened. In one scenario, Morsi would have appeared in Rabaa to announce the dismissal of his defence minister, Abdel-Fattah Al-Sisi, and chief of staff, Sedki Sobhi.

A move of this sort could have split the army in half — a terrible fate and one that many of the Muslim Brotherhood’s foreign supporters wouldn’t have minded.

It was around this time that Western diplomats led by Catherine Ashton, the EU foreign policy chief, advised Egyptian politicians against breaking up the Rabaa gathering, a request the government rightly ignored.

Only one man in the government seemed to adopt the Western point of view. Mohamed Al-Baradei, deputy president at the time, saw the Egyptian debacle as one that could lend itself to negotiations and compromise. His approach could have led to the internationalising of the Egyptian situation, and the eventual return of the Muslim Brotherhood to the political scene.

At one point, Al-Baradei is said to have struck a deal with Al-Nour Party. According to the deal, Al-Baradei would become prime minister and one of Al-Nour’s members would become vice president.
The deal was announced on 5 June 2013 by Salah Abdel-Maaboud, a key figure in Al-Nour. Al-Baradei never denied the claim, but shortly afterwards left his post.

As the Rabaa and Nahda sit-ins dragged on, diplomats in Doha, Washington, Ankara and Brussels hoped that the Egyptian government would give in to blackmail and eventually restore the Muslim Brotherhood to power. This wasn’t to happen.

The dispersal of the twin sit-ins may have been late, and it was marred with tactical errors, but it had to be done. Had the protests continued, the chances of the Muslim Brotherhood rallying would have been greater. And the state within the state that we saw in the last months of Brotherhood rule would have sprung back into action.

Casualties are regrettable, but when it is matter of keeping the country together, tough calls have to be made. The life of compatriots is precious, but the threat to the country’s integrity, if not survival, would have been too great otherwise.

The Muslim Brotherhood and their followers chose to challenge the state. They chose to create their own state within the state, and they were aborted. Their rank and file paid a heavy price as a result, while their leaders scrambled to the safety of luxury hotels in Doha and Ankara.

The same game is being played out across the region: Hamas in Palestine, Hizbullah in Lebanon, the Houthis in Yemen, and the armed Islamist outfits of Libya.

The Islamists continue to bank on the repression, poverty, ignorance, and the intellectual and political void — the legacy of years of totalitarianism. But their promise is not one of freedom and democracy, but of power at any price.

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