Egyptians Seek Change Across GCC
Pity those confused liberals. By the very nature of their chemistry, it is seldom possible for them to have a strong organisation of their own, with the result that there is a tendency to piggyback or to ride pillion on stronger groups, including those whose philosophies and policies are very different from a liberal worldview. In 1978-79, it was the support that Ayatollah Khomeini received from Iranian liberals which allowed the founder of the Khomeinist school of theology (a close cousin to Wahabbism) to usurp power in Tehran at the close of 1979. The network of liberal Iranian nationals within Europe ensured that Khomeini’s message got transmitted to cities across Iran, while they assured opinion leaders in Europe that the fiery cleric would disappear into a seminary in Qom once the Shah of Iran got toppled.
As it turned out, it was Abolhassan Bani-Sadr and other Europeanised liberals who were removed from positions of authority in post-Pahlavi Iran. Ayatollah Khomeini used Saddam Hussein’s invasion of Iran to his advantage, instituting under the cloak of wartime necessity a regime far more authoritarian and brutal than that of the Pahlavis, in the process sending his former allies, the liberals, to prison, exile or to irrelevance. Fast forward to Egypt in 2011, where once again liberals joined hands with religious groups—mainly Wahabbi—to demonstrate against Hosni Mubarak. In fact, the Muslim Brotherhood was extremely cautious in the beginning, not wanting to once again be at the receiving end of a regime crackdown. It was only after the fall of Mubarak became certain that the Brotherhood joined hands with liberals to continue the waves of street protest so comprehenively documented by the three international channels that most backed the “Arab Spring”, BBC, CNN and Al Jazeera.
However, the fact that it was at best tepid in its opposition to Mubarak, especially during the dictator’s final days in office, it was the Muslim Brotherhood which gained the most from subsequent events. With strong—albeit silent—backing from NATO capitals, the Brotherhood established itself as the new ruling group in Egypt. As in the case of Iran during 1979, within weeks of occupying the Presidential Palace in the form of faithful follower of Brotherhood principles Mohammad Morsi, the liberals of Egypt were cast aside. Indeed, their most prominent representative, Mohammad el Baradei, has now been officially charged with being a “Zionist agent”, a charge so ridiculous that it exposes the nature of Brotherhood rule in Egypt. Had the remnants of the Mubarak era rallied behind El Baradei rather than seek to install their own man in the Presidential Palace in the elections which followed the fall of the old regime, the situation in Egypt might have been different. However, the former IAEA chief—a person whom this columnist admires, let it be admitted—committed the same mistake that so many liberal leaders have in the past, of seeking to embrace those who are ideological foes in order to confront an immediate enemy.
Back in the 1920s, in Germany, who can forget the way in which the German Communist Party made the Social Democrats their worst enemy, in the process sparing and indeed assisting the Nazi Party led by Adolf Hitler. While there was much within the Mubarak era that was condemnable, there were strands that were worthy of support, such as the commitment to secular values. During the years when Gamal Abdel Nasser, Anwar Sadat and finally Hosni Mubarak were in office, there was no discrimination against the Coptic Christian community in Egypt, a situation that has changed since 2011. Throughout that year and well into the next, El Baradei sought common ground with the Muslim Brotherhood, only to be discarded once they no longer needed him. Too late, he and other liberals have understood the fundamentally authoritarian nature of the political vision of the Muslim Brotherhood.
Egypt is a country with a cultural tradition second to none. Its people have a civilisation that goes back nearly seven millenia. Most of the population adopts the true values of Islam, which are mercy, compassion and tolerance. However, there is an organised minority which subscribes to the Wahabbi faith, and these days—thanks largely to the backing that they have received from NATO capitals—it is the Wahabbis who are steadily replacing Mubarak-era appointees across key positions in Egypt. The way in which the proposed constitution has been drawn up, by a body that is not at all representative of the diversity of opinion which characterises the vibrant Egyptian people, indicates that the country is in for a long period of instability. The power grab by the Muslim Brotherhood, which seeks to impose a constitution and a governance system of its choice, reveals the lack of a commiment to the pluralism which is at the heart of a genuine democracy. Of course, the US, the UK, France and other self-proclaimed champions of democracy fully back Morsi, the more so after he ensured that Bibi Netanyahu was given an escape route from his messy intervention in Gaza. NATO has once again ignored the liberals who ought to have been its partners, the same way as it did in Afghanistan, in Libya, in Syria and in theatres across the world. The centuries-old alliance between Wahabbis and the West still holds, despite a few tremors caused by 9/11.
Across the GCC, Egyptian Wahabbi communities have become active, seeking to persuade other Arabs to follow in their own path, of ensuring fundamental changes in local governance structures. In every GCC city, whether it be Riyadh or Doha or Kuwait or Sharjah, it is possible to see Egyptians arguing energetically with other Arabs, touting the benefits of change. The Egyptian diaspora across the GCC has within its composition more Wahabbis than liberals, and as a consequence, the former are seeking to be change agents across the region, persuading local populations to shed their reticence about politics. However, it is not clear that such efforts at generating political change will succeed. In many parts of the GCC—certainly in countries such as Qatar, Abu Dhabi or Kuwait—the local populations are well looked after by their rulers, and are consequently resistant to suggestions that they seek Egypt-model change.