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The Machiavellian general and the false democrats

January 27, 2014 at 10:54 am

Legend has it that when the young Colonel Gaddafi first met Gamal Abdel Nasser he was told, “I see my youth in you.” The compliment went to the young Gaddafi’s head.

More than 40 years later, Mohamed Hassanein Heikal, the former editor of Al-Ahram Newspaper and Nasser’s chief propagandist, sold General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi the notion that he is another Nasser who could get rid of the Muslim Brotherhood just as the ex-president did in the 1950s and 60s. Already hypnotised by Heikal’s flattery, seeing his pictures carried around Tahrir Square along with Nasser’s removed whatever doubts Al-Sisi may have had. His gambit paid off for Heikal who, at the ripe old age of 90, now enjoys the dubious privilege of negotiating on Al-Sisi’s behalf, as highlighted by Aljazeera Arabic in September.

That fact notwithstanding, it should be noted that Heikal attracts catastrophes. He was close to Gaddafi, for example, who was murdered by vigilantes. In Egypt, Heikal’s name is infamous for being associated with Egypt’s defeat in the 1967 Six-Day War with Israel. He was not only Nasser’s confidant but also the primary propagandist who spread the notion that the Egyptian president would throw Israel into the sea. Instead, Nasser presided over the most humiliating defeat in Egypt’s history, at the end of which the entire Sinai Peninsula fell under Israeli occupation.

For Al-Sisi, Heikal’s negative associations didn’t take long to kick in. Within one week of the coup, on July 8, 2013, Al-Sisi’s soldiers gunned down 51 unarmed protesters as they prayed. Within another six weeks, on Aug. 14, 2013, his security forces stormed the Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda Squares and committed the largest massacre of civilians in modern Egyptian history.

General Al-Sisi has a credibility problem, in that he tends to promise something but does the opposite. As the New York Times reported, he kept telling President Morsi that he will be by his side to the end: “My neck before yours, Mr. President,” he is alleged to have said at the same time that he was plotting a coup against him; he over threw him shortly thereafter. Al-Sisi will apparently say practically anything to achieve his goal; for him, the end justifies the means.

The overwhelming evidence suggests that the Obama administration supported the coup covertly and overtly, and it refused to cut US aid (the reduction of the usual $3 billion by just $250m was a slap on the wrist). Secretary of State John Kerry asserted unequivocally that, “The [Egyptian] military was asked to intervene by millions and millions of people, all of whom were afraid of a descent into chaos… The military did not take over, to the best of our judgment.” Nevertheless, the Egyptian media turned the issue on its head and denounced the US ferociously and claimed that Obama supports the Brotherhood. This tactic was intended to tap into latent anti-Americanism thought to be common among most Arabs and Muslims for US bias against the Palestinians, and raise the profile of General Al-Sisi as a heroic figure who stared-down America.

The false democrats

The false democrats are Egypt’s liberal politicians who claim to support democracy, free elections, transparency, accountability, inclusiveness and the peaceful transfer of power. However, having failed to win power in the ballot box, they didn’t hesitate to turn around and destroy the very democratic system they claimed to support. Their belief in the democratic system is conditional; if they win, they are pro-democracy, but if they lose, they support the enemies of democracy. This is exactly what happened in Egypt.

The poster boys of the false democrats are Egypt’s three best known liberal politicians: Mohamed ElBaradei, the Noble Prize laureate; Amr Mousa, the former foreign minister; and Hamadeen Sabahi, a populist with wide following. All three ran for the presidency. They all lost but instead of working to strengthen the infant democratic transition in Egypt and improve their chances next time around, they conspired with the remnants of the old regime, overthrew the democratically-elected government, and threw the country back into the hands of the generals.

In a truly one-of-a-kind article headed “In Egypt, The Deep State Rises Again”, The Wall Street Journal exposed the horse-trading between the liberals, the Mubarak remnants and the generals. The most stunning thing about the whole episode is the casual way in which the crème de la crème of Egypt’s political class bargained away the country’s future. “Will you be with us again?” the trio’s top aides asked, not to secure democracy in Egypt but to overthrow a democratically-elected government. The generals responded positively on condition that the opposition could put enough people on the streets. The revelation that this horse-trading took place months before the coup completely discredits Al-Sisi’s assertion that he staged the coup as a “response” to the “spontaneous” demands of “millions” of Egyptians on the streets on June 30, 2013.

Winners and losers

Every political upheaval produces winners and losers. Even though the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt most definitely lost big time, its loss came about not through the ballot box but down the barrel of a gun. True losers in the current Egyptian context, therefore, are those who willingly made the wrong choices, contributed to the destruction and bloodshed in the country and placed themselves on what history will declare to be the wrong side.

The biggest winner by far from the overthrow of the Morsi government is Israel, because its favourite clients, the remnants of the Mubarak regime, completely restored their dominance of the Egyptian government. The only thing missing from the picture is Jamal Mubarak, Hosni Mubarak’s son, in the presidential palace. Even so, the remnants have done what the Mubarak regime did best: enhance Israeli security and put the pressure on the Palestinians. Israel has no misgivings about the policies of this new/old regime, which is why the Israelis and their friends are working so hard to ensure that US aid to the junta is maintained, regardless of the horrors inflicted on the people of Egypt by Al-Sisi.

The biggest loser in the crisis is without doubt General Abdel Fatah Al-Sisi who, within a spate of two months, has descended from a respected general into modern Egypt’s most murderous brute. He clearly has ambition for high office and the Mubarak remnants are salivating at the prospect of installing him in the presidency so that they can fleece the country for another 30 years. However, this is a pipe-dream. With the baggage he now carries and the blood on his hands, as well as his crippling character flaws, the chances of Al-Sisi becoming president or surviving in the post for long if he does get there are practically zero. In the unlikely event that he does take office, his ascent would be sudden, but so would his demise.

ElBaradei may have resigned from his post in the coup government but he didn’t divorce himself entirely from the Junta; he hasn’t condemned or spoke out against the crimes that Sisi and his henchmen are committing against the Egyptian people and his silence has destroyed whatever credibility he may have garnered from his resignation. He, Mousa and Sabahi are also big-time losers.

That the three conspired against Egyptian democracy is without doubt; now they have to grapple with the sad fact that all they achieved from overthrowing the democratically-elected president was to resurrect the Mubarak regime now headed by a murderous general, whose brutality makes Mubarak come across as a genuine statesman. The coup has failed, so whether this trio will now bail out to save themselves from inevitable prosecution or will remain on the sinking ship is entirely up to them. If democracy is ever restored in Egypt, and you can guarantee that it will be, their conspiracy against democracy will come back to haunt them. The line of attack that their political opponents will use against them is fairly predictable; with their pictures on posters, the caption will read: “They conspired with Mubarak remnants and plunged Egypt into bloodshed.” This will be enough to bury them for good; their political careers are finished.

For a definition of political suicide, look to the leaders of the Salafi Nour Party, a political party which had great potential. Its leaders committed the worst political suicide anyone could imagine; by conspiring against a democratically-elected president, and an Islamist one at that, the party leaders lost both worlds. They are not with the Islamists because they betrayed the Islamists; they cannot be with the liberals because liberals detest and despise the Salafis.

The sad story of the Saudi-allied Nour Party brings to mind a painful episode that happened in Muslim Spain. When the resurgent Spaniards were attempting to capture the city of Toledo, which served as the centre of Muslim learning and culture for over 300 years, a Muslim renegade who in the past had feuded with the ruler of Toledo saw an opening. He made an alliance with the Spaniards reasoning that if he helped the Spaniards capture the city, he could kill two birds with one stone: revenge against his Muslim nemesis and share the spoils. The city resisted but in the end the combined forces of the Spaniards and the Muslim renegade had their effect and Toledo fell. The Muslim renegade counted the minutes before receiving his share of the spoils. The victorious Spaniards held a huge celebration whereby the biggest mosque of Toledo was transformed into a church and the hapless Muslim renegade was made the guest of honour for its opening.

When the leaders of the Nour Party signed up to the coup against President Morsi they had thoughts similar to those of the Muslim renegade in Muslim Spain; they wanted to get one over the Brotherhood and share the spoils. Thus when Morsi was overthrown, the leaders of the Nour Party kept their ears to the ground expecting to receive that important call that would thrust them to prominence, possibly even in the government. The Mubarak remnants and the Junta had other ideas. They shut down Islamist TV networks, arrested and hunted down Islamist leaders, and massacred unarmed Islamists in the most gruesome fashion. Only when the blood of the massacred Islamists drenched the streets of Cairo, did the Salafi leaders cry, “It was a massacre!” True, it was a massacre. Unfortunately, it was a massacre that they helped to create.

The leaders of the United Arab Emirates and Kuwait are going to regret placing all their eggs in the illegitimate coup basket. However, it is the actions of the Saudi leaders that are most appalling. To shower billions of dollars on General Al-Sisi on the very day he gunned down 51 unarmed protesters as they knelt for the dawn prayer is shocking. To declare complete solidarity with him after his forces stormed and massacred their way across Rabaa Al-Adawiyya and Al-Nahda Squares is scandalous. To trample on all the norms of diplomacy and defiantly state, “Even if the Americans and the Europeans cut the aid from junta in Egypt, we will step in and cover all the shortfalls” raises many questions about the leadership in Riyadh.

When the wheel of history turns, as it must, and their disastrous actions come back to haunt them, the rulers of Saudi Arabia will have no one to blame but themselves.

Tamarod: The mask has fallen

Tamarod, the supposedly young revolutionary movement, is credited with two things:

  1. Collecting millions of signatures (22 million it is claimed) calling for the ousting of president Morsi.; and
  2. Inspiring millions of Egyptians to take to the streets on June 30, 2013.

Put aside for a moment the veracity of Tamarod’s claim about the numbers of signatures and people on the streets on June 30. As investigative journalist Max Blumenthal presented in this highly informative piece published on Aljazeera English, Tamarod’s numbers didn’t add up, and there couldn’t be found one single source in Egypt or outside Egypt to substantiate the numbers. Regardless of that, it is agreed that it was Tamarod that galvanised people and was responsible for the millions who took to the streets on June 30th. According to General Al-Sisi, it was the sheer number of people opposing Morsi that justified the overthrowing of a democratically-elected president. In other words, Tamarod was responsible for what the coup-plotters now call the June 30 Revolution.

The question is simple: what exactly is Tamarod? Who was behind it? Is it a movement of young idealist revolutionaries as its spokesperson maintained or something else?

The really good thing about the internet age is that everything that is hidden tends to come out in the open eventually. Every deception is exposed. That is exactly what happened to Tamarod which, it turned out, wasn’t a revolutionary movement at all, as its front-men claimed, but was a tool controlled, funded, organised and directed by Naguib Sawiris, the billionaire Mubarak loyalist, and other remnants of the Mubarak regime. Mr Sawiris has admitted that he was the power behind Tamarod. In this article written by Ben Hubbard and David Kirkpatrick and published in the New York Times on July 10, 2013, Sawiris actually boasted about the fact that he was the power behind Tamarod, saying “I am not ashamed of it”.

This means that Tamarod is/was a counter-revolutionary tool that was working on behalf of the remnants of the old regime. Thus when Al-Sisi was touting Tamarod and the people it galvanised as a justification for the overthrow of the elected president, his claim was a lie. He knew this, of course, as he started plotting the coup months before the Tamarod crowds came onto the streets; even, as The Wall Street Journal article referred to earlier revealed, before Tamarod appeared on the political scene. That is why Al-Sisi presented the remnants and the people they deceived as Revolutionaries who were against the Muslim Brotherhood. Now the truth is out.

Many Egyptian newspapers, including Al-Watan, one of the mouthpieces of the coup regime, reported on Aug. 9, 2013 that Tamarod will be given two seats in the 50 member committee in charge of drafting the constitution, and they were. Why? Tamarod presence in the committee is the greatest evidence of the bankruptcy of the coup and its leaders. When a fictitious organisation, concocted by the remnants of the Mubarak regime bankrolled by a billionaire, is entrusted to draft the nation’s constitution, it is a sign that the coup leaders are driving Egypt towards self-destruction.

The coup has failed

The success of the coup depended on certain assumptions, among them are

  • complete secrecy of the details of the conspiracy to overthrow Morsi;
  • complete secrecy about its participants; and
  • Morsi giving in to threats and ultimatums and leaving office quietly.
  • Had these three conditions materialised, the Junta would have taken over the country and that would have been the end of the Egyptian democracy. Unfortunately for the coup-plotters and fortunately for Egypt, the secret about the conspiracy is out. The participants are all known and, despite the pressure, the threats and ultimatums, Morsi simply refused to budge.

    Since none of the assumptions on which the success of the coup depended materialised, it can be said to have failed, spectacularly so. The fact that the coup-plotters resorted to massacring unarmed protesters on the streets of Cairo is the clearest evidence of their failure and the political bankruptcy of their leaders, who ran out of ideas if, that is, they had any to begin with. There is a sense of déjà vu; it’s the Mubarak regime all over again and you can’t expect new ideas from the regime that suffocated Egyptians for 30 years.

    If you think that this is bad enough for the coup-plotters, think again. Wait until the word gets around and the Egyptians themselves start to understand who the Tamarod group was and who was funding, organising and controlling it. The people of Egypt have been deceived and manipulated to support the overthrow of their own revolution to bring back the corrupt Mubarak regime. This was one of the most spectacular national deceptions in human history, one that would certainly be studied in all the major universities in the world as evidence of the power of propaganda and manipulation.


    No one knows where Egypt will go from here. If there is some sort of compromise, it will only be temporary. If there is more bloodshed, it will also be temporary. In the end, the Egyptians will wake up, and one of two things will happen:

    1. The other generals cognisant of the destruction inflicted on the country by Al-Sisi and the damage he has caused to the reputation of the Egyptian armed forces will get rid of Sisi and save the country; or
    2. The Egyptian people, realising that the Mubarak remnants overthrew their revolution will take the matter into their own hands, and stage the biggest protests ever seen to get rid of Al-Sisi and his henchmen once and for all.

    In the 1960s, 70s, 80s and 90s Turkish generals made overthrowing democratically-elected leaders and disregarding the will of the Turkish people their favourite activity. However, as soon as the Turks gained their freedom and cemented their democracy, the coup-addicted generals were hunted down, persecuted for their crimes and are now, in their old age, rotting in prison. The same thing will happen in Egypt, but much sooner. As soon as the Egyptian people restore their democracy, Al-Sisi and everyone else who participated in pushing the country into a political black hole, including those cowardly journalists and writers who were inciting and cheering the massacre of the innocents, will be accountable for their crimes. In this marvellous age of the internet, everyone will be confronted with his own record and justice will prevail.

    Ahmed Mohamed is a Canadian writer and an observer of Egyptian politics for almost 30 years.

    The views expressed in this article belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the editorial policy of Middle East Monitor.