Arab Dreams Deferred: Why Morsi's Foreign Policy Reeks Of The Past

Many across the Arab region believed Muslim Brotherhood leadership in Egypt was the path to a new unity to defy Israel and the U.S. in the region. A different reality is setting in.

Morsi with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
Morsi with US Defense Secretary Leon Panetta
Sara Khorshid*

CAIRO -Though the popularity of the Muslim Brotherhood and the president who hails from the organization declines among Egyptians, a significant segment of Arabs continue to believe in the movement. Their hope is that by ruling the region’s largest nation, the Brothers finally have the chance to achieve the “Arab dream” of defying “Western-Zionist hegemony” and altering the regional balance of power.

Many of us Egyptians, too, used to bet on the Brothers to achieve the dream of an independent and unified Arab world in which Egypt restored its glory.

But the reality is that they have let us down, and, bitterly but surely, we could let go of our long respect for the largest organized group in our country.

The Brothers themselves have practically proven that the reasons for which we respected them are no longer valid — definitely not at the domestic level, where they haven’t done much to lift the country from the dire situation in which the Hosni Mubarak regime left it. They even added insult to injury by feeding unprecedented division, striking deals with the remnants of the very regime that the revolution was meant to topple.

But also at the regional level, the Brotherhood’s zealous slogans of the past are getting reduced to empty words now that they are in power. Despite a number of gestures that President Mohamed Morsi made in his early weeks in office to symbolize that that he is breaking from his predecessor’s foreign policy course, a few months of his term have shown that there is no tangible change.

After raising expectations through his speeches at the Non-Aligned Movement summit in Tehran and the United Nations General Assembly, as well as his intense communication with Hamas early in his presidency, Morsi’s foreign policy came down to business as usual: Egypt still depends on support from the West and the Western-dominated International Monetary Fund and World Bank for the survival of its economy; it still honors the 1979 Egypt-Israel peace treaty, respects Camp David and the Oslo paradigm, and maintains diplomatic ties and security coordination with Israel; and its military, primarily dependent on the US$1.3 million annual aid it receives from the US, is maintaining its close relations with the American military.

Morsi and the Brothers are surrounded by a web of constraints that keeps them from formulating an independent foreign policy.

For example, they are believed to have made concessions to the military, as proven by the Brotherhood-sponsored Constitution, which institutionalizes privileges for the army, which, in turn, is keen on preserving the annual aid it receives from the US by committing to the peace treaty and the classic American-Israeli goal of “regional stability.”

Against this backdrop, it is not surprising that the US and Israel are now betting on Morsy to stop the smuggling of weapons into Gaza via the tunnels linking Egyptian Rafah with the strip. Moreover, in the wake of the attack on Egyptian forces in Sinai in August, “Egyptian-Israeli security coordination has reached levels unseen in many years,” as reported by the American website The Daily Beast. In this regard, Israeli newspaper Haaretz columnist Zvi Bar’el wrote, “If Morsi is fighting terrorism in Sinai, he is our brother. Whether or not he turns Egypt into a theocracy ... we no longer care.”

It's the economy, stupid

There are also the economic factors, which are tied to the Brotherhood’s interest in the upcoming parliamentary elections: Morsi is bound to try to appease a constituency angry over a deteriorating economy. He and the Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party are constantly speaking about aid packages they were promised from here or there, and the Egyptian economy under Morsi is as dependent on the West as it was during Mubarak’s reign.

“Besides,” as argued in a study by the German Institute for International Security Affairs, “functionaries such as Khairat al-Shater and Hassan Malek will be interested not only in the Brotherhood’s long-term electoral prospects, but also their own financial opportunities in cooperation with Western companies.”

Although all of this renders the Brotherhood unable to do good for the Arab world, many Arabs believe their justification: that their current dependent policies are limited to the short term, and they will change gradually, after they establish their power on a more solid ground.

But pro-Brotherhood Arabs need to realize that Egyptians are no longer ready to give a carte blanche to a ruler in the hope that he might prove to be good in the future.

Egyptians could have backed Morsi if he had come clean with them about the challenges hindering the achievement of their dreams, if he had engaged them in their country’s affairs. But instead, he and the Brothers engage in underground dynamics that fly in the face of the democratic principle of transparency, and speak of “foreign conspiracies” that the people are not eligible to know.

Arabs who believe in the Muslim Brotherhood need to understand that there are Egyptians who rather believe in the revolution.

The 2011 wave of Arab revolutions and uprisings has taught us to dismiss the long-respected regional order. Many of us outside Syria used to see Bashar al-Assad and Hassan Nasrallah as anti-Zionist heroes who dared to defy the Western-directed balance of power. But the Syrian revolution has helped us realize that the people of Syria are the real heroes.

We now know that a ruler whose people are miserable, disillusioned, suppressed and marginalized from the decisions he makes can never be externally victorious. Instead of clinging to the elderly Muslim Brotherhood and their elitist leadership, Arabs need to bet on the Egyptian people, the Egyptian youth of the revolution, the anonymous young men and women who will create a new regional order — and a new world order.

*Sara Khorshid is a columnist and journalist who covers Egypt and the region. She has published articles in The New York Times, The Guardian, The Huffington Post and several other media outlets.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!
food / travel

Town Annihilated In Spanish Civil War Now A Paranormal Attraction

Ghosts from Spain's murderous 1930s civil war are said to roam the ruins of Belchite. A growing number of tourists are intrigued and can book a special visit to the town.

A famous old village in Spain, this place was witness of a bloody fight in the Spanish civil war.
Paco Rodríguez

BELCHITE – Between August 24 and September 6, 1937, during the Spanish Civil War, the town of Belchite in northeastern Spain became a strategic objective for the forces of the Republican government, before their assault on the nearby city of Zaragoza. Belchite seemed a simple target, but its capture took longer than expected. More than 5,000 people died in 14 days of intense fighting, and the town was decimated, with almost half the town's 3,100 residents dying in the struggle.

The war annihilated centuries of village history. The town was never rebuilt, though a Pueblo Nuevo (or new town) was built by the old one. The streets remained deserted. Stray dogs were the only ones to venture into the weed-covered, pockmarked ruins. A sign written on one wall reads, "Old town, historic ruins." Graffitis scrawled on the doors of the Church of San Martín recall better times: "Old town of Belchite, youngsters no longer stroll your streets. The sound of the jotas our parents sang is gone."

Belchite became an open-air museum of the horror of the civil war of 1936-39, which left 300,000 dead and wounds that have yet to heal or, for some today, must remain exposed.

For many locals, the battle of Belchite has yet to end, judging by reports of paranormal incidents. Some insist they have heard the screams of falling soldiers, while others say the Count of Belchite wanders the streets, unable to find a resting place after his corpse was exhumed.

Haunting the filming of Baron Munchausen 

The journalist and researcher Carlos Bogdanich decided to find out whether such claims made any sense, and visited Belchite on a cold October evening in 1986. He went with a crew from the television program Cuarta Dimensión (Fourth Dimension). Toward dawn, he related, a force seemed to pull and control them for several hours. They moved as if someone were guiding them, unaware of what they were doing. He recalled later, "We went up the Clock Tower. We thought we'd go right to the top. The next day, when we saw what we had done, we couldn't believe it. We could have gotten ourselves killed, and still, something enticed us to do this."

The true sounds of war reappeared.

They didn't see anything strange. But listening back to the recordings, they discovered sounds that could be easily identified with the war: planes, bombs, tanks, shots or army songs. The mysterious recordings made a big noise at the time, in Spain and around the world.

The legend began to take off then and has yet to subside today. Another example of paranormal events took place in the town during the filming of Terry Gilliam's The Adventures of Baron Munchausen (1989). Some members of the film crew saw two women dressed in traditional clothes who vanished when approached.

Belchite's mysterious ambiance also inspired the Mexican filmmaker Guillermo del Toro, who shot parts of Pan's Labyrinth here; and Spain's Albert Boadella, who had his grotesque version of General Francisco Franco in Have a Good Trip, Your Excellency returns to Belchite.

Ruins of the village of Belchite, in Zaragoza, Spain


Tourists drawn to unexplainable phenomena 

Ordinary visitors have also encountered unusual situations. Currently, you can only visit Belchite at set times every day, with prior booking. More daring visitors can also visit at 10 p.m. on weekends.

Your ticket does not include a guaranteed paranormal experience, but many visitors insist strange things have happened to them. These include sudden changes of temperature or the strange feeling of being observed from a street corner or a window. Furthermore, such phenomena increase as evening falls, as if night brought the devastated town to life.

There are four zones where the experiences have been more intense: the Plaza de la Cruz, the mass grave, and the town's two churches. In fact, there are mass graves in all four spots, both from the Civil War and the plague epidemic that hit the area in the Middle Ages.

Whatever the truth of the accounts, Belchite has become one of the most visited sites in the province of Zaragoza in recent years. And regardless of ghosts, its streets were the setting of horrible acts and a history that should not be repeated. The streets of Belchite are the open wounds of a town that had to reinvent itself to go on living.

Keep up with the world. Break out of the bubble.
Sign up to our expressly international daily newsletter!