Geopolitics

Egypt's Army Is The Enemy - A View From Turkey

The problem all along, this Turkish writer argues, has been the Egyptian Army. And its takedown of the Muslim Brotherhood will only breed extremist terrorists.

Egyptian Army soldiers
Egyptian Army soldiers
Ahmet Insel

-Analysis-

ISTANBUL — Former dictator Hosni Mubarak ruled Egypt amid a state of emergency for more than 30 years, and now after a two-year break, the Egyptian Army has returned the country to this state again. Army General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi, who effectively rules the country, was determined to take this step — which may well poise Egypt for a long-term and partial civil war or, at a minimum, to the kinds of assassinations, attacks and mass arrests that characterized the period from 1992 to 1998.

The operation to empty the two squares occupied by supporters of President Mohamed Morsi, ousted after mass demonstrations in July, has turned into a total massacre. The price of the so-called “cleaning operation” has been hundreds of lives, even among the security forces. Armed clashes occurred not only in Cairo but in many other Egyptian cities where there was backlash after Morsi’s fall and arrest. The Muslim Brotherhood and the supporters of their allies attacked Copt and Christian churches in many cities and torched them. The army, on the other hand, is hunting down Muslim Brotherhood sympathizers here and there.

Interim Egyptian Prime Minister Hazem Al Beblawi has had a much different reaction than Turkish Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who characterized the bloodshed as state-sponsored terrorism. Al Beblawi said the police practiced “legendary heroism” when emptying the squares, claiming the police acted “with extreme caution.”

Ironically, his justification for the army operation was very similar to Erdogan’s during the recent civil unrest in Turkey. “No respectful state would allow two of its squares to be occupied by thousands of demonstrators for a month and a half,” Beblawi said.

ElBaradei was late

Although the interim prime minister claimed the means of violence and a subsequent state of emergency were “necessary steps for free elections to be uphold,” it is much more likely that Egypt is in for a long-term state of emergency. The prime minister remained loyal to the army’s road map, since it is the army that gave him power in the first place. He said the government is determined to hold the elections by the beginning of 2014, but nobody believes Egypt will be free and secure enough for elections in a few months’ time.

This second intervention of the Egyptian Army was also a blow to so-called liberals such as Mohamed ElBaradei, who had been looking for a third way between the army and the Muslim Brotherhood before the massacre. These circles have already lost a lot of credibility by beating around the bush and not calling a coup a coup, accepting cabinet positions — that of vice president in Elbaradei’s case. Now, as ElBaradei already has, other liberals will have to resign and share responsibility for the massacre. ElBaradei’s resignation as the state of emergency was being declared was a necessary move to save his own dignity but perhaps too late to save his political future.

A state of Muslim Brotherhood

A segment of Egyptians today supports the army against the Muslim Brotherhood. The Copt, or Christian, Egyptians and the Copt Church are foremost among these because they are the natural targets of the Muslim Brotherhood and other more radical jihadist organizations. Just as some Syrian Christians regard the Baas Party and the dictatorship of Bashar Al-Assad the lesser of two evils, these people perceive the Egyptian Army as the last chance for their security.

Their worries were justified when Copt churches and buildings were targeted, alongside government buildings and security forces, during last week’s demonstrations. A segment of the urban middle class has similar worries and is also on the army’s side. Moreover, since the Muslim Brothers favored their own and alienated the secularist middle class during the one-year-long Morsi rule, they perceive the army as a way to preserve their economic status and way of life.

But these segments of society are insufficient to form the majority in Egypt. On the other hand, the Muslim Brotherhood may regain its prestige, which it lost during the yearlong rule by its clumsiness, patronizing attitude and rush to create a state of Muslim Brotherhood. The mass arrests and killings may have given them a sympathetic edge, but it will be very hard for them to reorganize, for a few years at least. The space they will leave will be filled by other organizations, many of which might be more radical. In short, there will be enough “terrorists” and “terrorist actions” to prolong the state of emergency indefinitely.

The Western world that today condemns the army’s violent actions in clearing the squares will find itself siding with the army tomorrow — when assassins and suicide bombers attack the Copts, a small group or tourists who dared to visit Egypt, or the army and the police directly.

Four days after the army toppled Morsi, I wrote an article saying the monarch had dismissed the vizier. The monarch — that is, the Egyptian Army — took down Morsi, the vizier, when its property was in danger. Now we have entered a period of direct military rule just like the year that followed Hosni Mubarak’s ouster. The coalition around the army and its supporters is mostly dissolved. The Egyptian Army will be the target of the social opposition and the demand for democracy from now on. This means targeting virtually the whole of Egypt and the better part of its economy.

I wrote a month ago that a revolution is a radical exit from absolute monarchies, dictatorships and totalitarian regimes — the end of a financial-social regime and the start of another. Therefore, the revolution in Egypt is continuing. The claim I made at the end of that article is much more valid today: “The ultimate step of this revolution is the dethroning of the real monarch the army.” Will this revolution give birth to a democracy in the short term? There is no guarantee of that. The result mostly will depend on the evolution of the Muslim Brotherhood.

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Geopolitics

Iran-Saudi Arabia Rivalry May Be Set To Ease, Or Get Much Worse

The Saudis may be awaiting the outcome of Iran's nuclear talks with the West, to see whether Tehran will moderate its regional policies, or lash out like never before.

Military parade in Tehran, Iran, on Oct. 3

-Analysis-

LONDON — The Iranian Foreign Ministry spokesman Saeed Khatibzadeh said earlier this month that Iranian and Saudi negotiators had so far had four rounds of "continuous" talks, though both sides had agreed to keep them private. The talks are to ease fraught relations between Iran's radical Shia regime and the Saudi kingdom, a key Western ally in the Middle East.

Iran's Foreign Minister Hossein Amirabdollahian has said that the talks were going in the right direction, while an Iranian trade official was recently hopeful these might even allow trade opportunities for Iranian businessmen in Saudi Arabia. As the broadcaster France 24 observed separately, it will take more than positive signals to heal a five-year-rift and decades of mutual suspicions.


Agence France-Presse news agency, meanwhile, has cited an unnamed French diplomat as saying that Saudi Arabia wants to end its costly discord with Tehran. The sides may already have agreed to reopen consular offices. For Saudi Arabia, the costs include its war on Iran-backed Houthis rebels fighting an UN-recognized government in next-door Yemen.

The role of the nuclear pact

Bilateral relations were severed in January 2016, after regime militiamen stormed the Saudi embassy in Tehran. Amirabdollahian was then the deputy foreign minister for Arab affairs. In 2019, he told the website Iranian Diplomacy that Saudi Arabia had taken measures vis-a-vis Iran's nuclear pact with the world powers.

It's unlikely Ali Khamenei will tolerate the Saudi kingdom's rising power in the region.

He said "the Saudis' insane conduct toward [the pact] led them to conclude that they must prevent [its implementation] in a peaceful environment ... I think the Saudis are quite deluded, and their delusion consists in thinking that Trump is an opportunity for them to place themselves on the path of conflict with the Islamic Republic while relying on Trump." He meant the administration led by the U.S. President Donald J.Trump, which was hostile to Iran's regime. This, he said, "is not how we view Saudi Arabia. I think Yemen should have been a big lesson for the Saudis."

The minister was effectively admitting the Houthis were the Islamic Republic's tool for getting back at Saudi Arabia.

Yet in the past two years, both sides have taken steps to improve relations, without firm results as yet. Nor is the situation likely to change this time.

Photo of Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei in 2020

commons.wikimedia.org

Riyadh's warming relations with Israel

Iran's former ambassador in Lebanon, Ahmad Dastmalchian, told the ILNA news agency in Tehran that Saudi Arabia is doing Israel's bidding in the region, and has "entrusted its national security, and life and death to Tel Aviv." Riyadh, he said, had been financing a good many "security and political projects in the region," or acting as a "logistical supplier."

The United States, said Dastmalchian, has "in turn tried to provide intelligence and security backing, while Israel has simply followed its own interests in all this."

Furthermore, it seems unlikely Iran's Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei will tolerate, even in this weak period of his leadership, the kingdom's rising power in the region and beyond, and especially its financial clout. He is usually disparaging when he speaks of Riyadh's princely rulers. In 2017, he compared them to "dairy cows," saying, "the idiots think that by giving money and aid, they can attract the goodwill of Islam's enemies."

Iranian regime officials are hopeful of moving toward better diplomatic ties and a reopening of embassies. Yet the balance of power between the sides began to change in Riyadh's favor years ago. For the kingdom's power has shifted from relying mostly on arms, to economic and political clout. The countries might have had peaceful relations before in considerably quieter, and more equitable, conditions than today's acute clash of interests.

For if nuclear talks break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive.

Beyond this, the Abraham Accord or reconciliation of Arab states and Israel has been possible thanks to the green light that the Saudis gave their regional partners, and it is a considerable political and ideological defeat for the Islamic Republic.

Assuming all Houthis follow Tehran's instructions — and they may not — improved ties may curb attacks on Saudi interests and aid its economy. Tehran will also benefit from no longer having to support them. Unlike Iran's regime, the Saudis are not pressed for cash or resources and could even offer the Houthis a better deal. Presently, they may consider it more convenient to keep the softer approach toward Tehran.

For if nuclear talks with the West break down, Iran's regime may become more aggressive, and as experience has shown, tensions often prompt a renewal of missile or drone attacks on the Saudis, on tankers and on foreign shipping. Riyadh must have a way of keeping the Tehran regime quiet, in a distinctly unquiet time.

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