Wednesday, January 24, 2007

An Egyptian liberal looks at an Iraq-Egypt parallel

Egyptian authorities arrested more Muslim Brotherhood members yesterday, continuing the regime's intensified campaign to intimidate and weaken the group. There was a lengthy analysis by Fahmy Howeydi recently in Asharq al-Awsat that helps to bring this into focus in conjunction with events in the Mideast region as a whole.

Having reviewed recent features, extent and implications of the Egyptian government's attack on the Muslim Brotherhood, the writer outlines three theories on why the government is doing this at the present time. (1) It could be to build justification for proposed constitutional amendments further limiting a variety of civil freedoms; (2) It could be specific to the Brotherhood, to weaken it ahead of expected regime-rollover in 2010, and to clip its wings following the Hamas election, the Hizbullah victory, and the election of Brotherhood affiliated persons in a number of other Arab countries recently; or (3) Possibly the aim is to push Egyptians to look for alternatives to the Brotherhood by casting this pall of terror over their activities.

This is all still speculation, the writer says, but two related points are crystal clear:
The first is that the door has been shut in the face of the Brotherhood, eliminating any prospect of its participation in the political life of Egypt at least until further notice [this is a group that has 88 members in parliament as a result of the recent election]. And the second is that the civil war that the country has witnessed for at least the last half-century, in which the government supports certain secularists on one side, with the Islamists on the other side--this war has become open and wide-ranging, for reasons that are known only to Allah. Both of these points are harmful to the country and offer no benefit whatsoever.
In the broader Mideast context, Howeydi makes this observation:
It is one of the paradoxes of our times that just when Iraq is slipping into a futile war between Shiia and Sunni, and there are repeated reports about a supposed Arab closing of the ranks, for the formation of a Sunni alliance to face the co-called Shiite crescent, and Egypt is a candidate to be a leading member of this--at the same time this "Sunni" Egypt is drifting into its own futile war, this one against political Islam, represented by the Muslim Brotherhood. It is as if we are facing two futile wars, one Shiia-Sunni of a sectarian character, and the other Sunni-Sunni, primarily of a political character.
With respect to the Egyptian regime's war against political Islam, Howeydi says it isn't even the specific threat to the Brotherhood that concerns him so much as the new campaign to limit the scope of political activity generally. And he offers a spirited nutshell version of the liberal-democratic creed about common strength and energy through diversity, concluding that even a problem like like normalization with Israel might actually be easier if the Brotherhood was in charge, given that one of their themes is "acceptance of the other"...

It is a statement with the strengths and weaknesses of liberalism. He underlines the common futility of both of these "futile wars" and shows how they both work to no common advantage. But he doesn't broach the question: how did this situation come about. What factors or forces common to the region are squeezing the political life out of Egypt? In this respect, the theme of "subservience to America to the point of exhaustion" broached by Abdulbari Atwan recently in an Egyptian paper has perhaps more resonance.


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