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Avnery: Cry, Beloved Country

August 23rd, 2013 · 4 Comments · "Arab Spring", Egypt, Middle East

Uri Avnery
August 24, 2013

Cry, Beloved Country

I DIDN’T want to write this article, but I had to.

I love Egypt. I love the Egyptian people. I have spent some of the happiest days of my life there.

My heart bleeds when I think of Egypt. And these days I think about Egypt all the time.

I cannot remain silent when I see what is happening there, an hour’s flight from my home.

LET’S PUT on the table right from the beginning what’s happening there now.

Egypt has fallen into the hands of a brutal, merciless military dictatorship, pure and simple.

Not on the way to democracy. Not a temporary transition regime. Not anything like it.

Like the locusts of old, the military officers have fallen upon the land.  They are not likely ever to give it up voluntarily.

Even before, the Egyptian military had enormous assets and privileges. They control vast corporations, are free of any oversight and live off the fat of a skinny land.

Now they control everything. Why should they give it up?

Those who believe that they will do so, of their own free will, should have their head examined.

IT IS enough to look at the pictures. What do they remind us of?

This row of over-decorated, beribboned, well-fed generals who have never fought a war, with their gold-braided, ostentatious peaked hats – where have we seen them before?

In the Greece of the colonels? The Chile of Pinochet? The Argentina of the torturers? Any of a dozen other South-American states? The Congo of Mobutu?

All these generals look the same. The frozen faces. The self-confidence. The total belief that they are the only guardians of the nation. The total belief that all their opponents are traitors who must be caught, imprisoned, tortured, killed.

Poor Egypt.

HOW DID this come about? How did a glorious revolution turn into this disgusting spectacle?

How did the millions of happy people, who had liberated themselves from a brutal dictatorship, who had breathed the first heady whiffs of liberty, who had turned Liberation Square (that’s what Tahrir means) into a beacon of hope for all mankind, slide into this dismal situation?

In the beginning, it seemed that they did all the right things. It was easy to embrace the Arab Spring. They reached out to each other, secular and religious stood together and dared the forces of the aging dictator. The army seemed to support and protect them.

But the fatal faults were already obvious, as we pointed out at the time. Faults that were not particularly Egyptian. They were common to all the recent popular movements for democracy, liberty and social justice throughout the world, including Israel.

These are the faults of a generation brought up on the “social media”, the immediacy of the internet, the effortlessness of instant mass communication. These fostered a sense of empowerment without effort, of the ability to change things without the arduous process of mass-organization, political power-building, of ideology, of leadership, of parties. A happy and anarchistic attitude that, alas, cannot stand up against real power.

When democracy came for a glorious moment and fair elections were in the offing, this whole amorphous mass of young people were faced with a force that had all they themselves lacked: organization, discipline, ideology, leadership, experience, cohesion.

The Muslim Brotherhood.

THE BROTHERHOOD and its Islamist allies easily won the free, fair and

democratic elections against the motley anarchic field of secular and   liberal groups and personalities. This has happened before in other Arab countries, such as Algeria and Palestine.

The Islamic Arab masses are not fanatical, but basically religious (as are the Jews who came to Israel from Arab countries.)  Voting for the first time in free elections, they tend to vote for religious parties, though they are by no means fundamentalist.

The wise thing for the brotherhood to do was to reach out to other parties, including secular and liberal ones, and lay the foundation for a robust, inclusive democratic regime. This would have been to their own advantage in the long run.

At the beginning it seemed that Mohamed Morsi, the freely elected president, would do so. But he soon changed course, using his democratic powers to change the constitution, exclude everybody else and start to establish the sole domination of his movement.

That was unwise, but understandable. After many decades of suffering from state persecution, including imprisonment, systematic torture and even executions, the movement was thirsty for power. Once it got hold of it, it could not restrain itself. It tried to gobble up everything.

THAT WAS especially unwise, because the brotherhood regime was sitting next to a crocodile, which only seemed to be asleep, as crocodiles often do.

At the beginning of his reign, Morsi drove out the old generals, who had served under Hosni Mubarak. He was applauded. But this just replaced the old, tired crocodile with a young and very hungry one.

It is difficult to guess what was going on in the military mind at the time. The generals sacrificed Mubarak, who was one of them, in order to protect themselves. They became the darling of the people, especially the young, secular, liberal people. “The army and the people are one!” – How nice. How naïve. How utterly inane.

It is quite clear now that during the Morsi months, the generals were waiting for their opportunity. When Morsi made his fatal mistakes and announced that he was going to change the constitution – they pounced.

All military juntas like to pose, in the beginning, as the saviors of democracy.

Abd-al-Fatah al-Sisi does not have an exciting ideology, as did Gamal Abd-al-Nasser (pan-Arabism) when he carried out his bloodless coup in 1952. He has no vision like Anwar al-Sadat (peace), the dictator who inherited power. He was not the anointed heir of his predecessor, sworn to continue his vision, as was Hosni Mubarak. He is a military dictator, pure and simple (or rather, not so pure and not so simple).

ARE WE Israelis to blame? The Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan, says so. It’s all the making of Israel. We engineered the Egyptian coup.

Very flattering, But, I’m afraid, slightly exaggerated.

True, the Israeli establishment is afraid of an Islamic Arab world. It detests the Muslim Brotherhood, the mother of Hamas and other Islamic movements which are committed to fighting Israel. It enjoys a cosy relationship with the Egyptian military.

If the Egyptian generals had asked their Israeli colleagues and friends for advice on the coup, the Israelis would have promised them their enthusiastic support. But there is nothing much they could have done about it.

Except one thing. It is Israel that has assured the Egyptian military for decades its annual big US aid package. Using its control of the US Congress, Israel has prevented the termination of this grant through all these years. At this moment, the huge Israeli power-machine in the US is busy ensuring the continuation of the 1.3 billion or so of US aid to the generals. But this is not crucial, since the Arab Gulf oligarchies are ready to finance the generals to the hilt.

What is crucial for the generals is American political and military support. There cannot be the slightest doubt that before acting, the generals asked for American permission, and that this support was readily given.

The US president does not really direct American policy. He can make beautiful speeches, elevating democracy to divine status, but he cannot do much about it. Policy is made by a political-economic-military complex, for which he is just the figurehead.

This complex does not care a damn for “American Values”. It serves American (and its own) interests. A military dictatorship in Egypt serves these interests – as it does the perceived interests of Israel.

DOES IT really serve them? Perhaps in the short run. But an enduring civil war – on the ground or under ground – will ruin Egypt’s shaky economy and drive away crucial investors and tourists. Military dictatorships are notably incompetent administrations. In a few months or years this dictatorship will crumble – as have all other military dictatorships in the world.

Until that day, I shall weep for Egypt.

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4 Comments so far ↓

  • Sarah Roche-Mahdi

    heartbreaking words of truth and wisdom from this wonderful mensh.

  • Poo

    It’s a pity that Avnery could not stick with his original feelings. An unwritten Avnery article is one less that I might find myself reading. He should take his alleged bleeding heart to Egypt and try to assist them if he cares so much. He’s certainly of little help to Israel.

    He could start with something simple like the Egyptian claim that the Mossad was responsible for a wave of shark attacks in 2010. He has no love for the Mossad but I am sure even he does not blame them for shark attacks. After that first step he could brush up on democracy and how it works and does not work. That might help his beloved Egyptians too. In fact it would help both he and the Egyptians since neither seems to have any working knowledge of democracy and how it is to function. It is not just about elections. If it were, Russia and China would be shining examples. It is more about how democratically a government conducts itself once elected. It is more about how a people are allowed to conduct their every day lives under an equitable set of laws and values.
    Democracy is a rather delicate process and rarely perfect. It can best be measured by its progress toward the goal rather than its position at any one moment. It is a moving thing and rarely quick. None of the famed world democracies (United Kingdom, USA or even wee us in the north) have got it right yet, but we are all getting there. Some days are better than others for sure.

    There are 3 basic forms of democracies Mr. Avnery should know about before he speaks with the Egyptians: direct, presidential and parliamentary. Powers are normally separated between the legislative (usually 2 chambers), executive power (government and administration) and judicial power (courts). Out of all this, a constitution must evolve which protects minorities and religions from persecution among other civil guarantees like freedom of speech and the rights of a free media. Laws are debated openly by all parties and passed by the parliament or congress or whatever you choose to call it. It is not in the name but in the free flowing operation. By now Avnery, the generals and the Brotherhood should be able to see where they went wrong.
    There are, of course, free elections open to all political parties. However, when you run for President you cannot govern like a Pharaoh or a dictator. Democracies have rules about such things as they do about the military which is to report to government and not play an active role in the economy other than by the purchase of military equipment and then only under the auspices of the parliament, congress or whatever. The Egyptian army, as I have mentioned before, always controlled as much as 40% of the economy (probably more now) and all the best villas on the ocean. This is not news and if Avnery spent so much wonderful time in Egypt he should have known this, not just lately but from his very first visit. The trouble is, I suspect, he sees only the like minded and, with such tunnel vision is blithely unaware of what is happening around him.

    Avnery starts out so well in this article but cannot help himself from quickly falling back on his traditional bugaboos. If it is not Israel’s fault then it must be the Americans. It is actually better when it is both! He should be a climate change alarmist then he would know every morning when he woke up that regardless of the weather, climate change was responsible and we are doomed. To his credit and imagination, he chooses the more difficult course and blames everything on Israel and the U.S.A.

    The course of liberty, democracy and freedom never runs through an army anywhere, least of all in Egypt. The course runs through the people, their constitution, their system of laws and their government and above all else, their shared values. In Egypt, the military is an economic empire unto itself far removed from the everyday activities of a regular army. They have complexes, villages, social clubs and commercial products ranging from flat-screen televisions, refrigerators and cars in over 35 factories and companies. They are not subject to any Parliamentary scrutiny, one of the first rules in any true democracy. In effect, the military is an unaudited company. The Egyptian military is likely the largest employer in the country owning as it does not only restaurants but football grounds as well. Much of the work force is made up of conscripts who are paid well below the average wage. The military is profitable and it is not just from manufactured goods. The military also provides management services to private industry such as petrol stations. They are huge land owners and it has proven very lucrative for them as they have entered into many joint ventures with construction companies to build resorts and other commercial complexes. I have mentioned all this before but it is even more important now with the military in complete if not dictatorial control. Everyone should know this. I doubt all Egyptians do.

    To become a true democracy or anything resembling one, will require the transparency of Egyptian institutions including the military who would be forced to disclose its business dealings, privileges, subsidies, tax breaks, real estate holdings and the rest.

    Avnery also missed the last Great War fought by those brave, sun glass wearing, bemedalled generals in 1977. It was a border clash with Libya. I wonder how they amassed all those medals since then. It has been 36 years.

    Egypt did not fall into the hands of a military dictatorship, it started down that path with the so called Arab Spring which some of us felt was far better named the Arab Winter or Christian Winter. As surely as summer follows spring, next comes fall and finally winter. One has to be careful with the selection of analogies. Seasons change.

    “The millions of happy people,” he referred to reminded me of a protest that occurred last week about an hour from here. The modern protests in North America are, as we all know, about exposure and strictly for the media. Reporters make a quick pass through the crowd, photograph a few slogans and interview 1 or 2 of those most foaming at the mouth. It makes for ‘good’ news, photo ops and high light reels.

    The small protest I speak of was in aid of those against the reversal of an oil pipeline called Line 9. The pipeline currently ships OPEC oil from east to west in Canada. The proposal is to reverse it and ship Alberta oil from the west to east.

    One diligent reporter stayed on to question a number of protesters. He soon learned that most had no knowledge of the pipeline in question. Many were surprised to discover that it had been in operation since the 1970s without incident. The concept of a pipeline full of Saudi and Algerian oil, OPEC crude, operating in Canada was confusing to them. Once told the real story, many chose to oppose Saudi oil as well. One woman, however, claimed to prefer it because it was “sweet oil,” like sugar water and better for the environment. Many pretended not to use any oil at all so one can only assume they live somewhere in tents and never drive anywhere with anyone.

    It turns out, however upon further review, that many of these protesters were ‘professionals.’ How does one qualify for that? They simply go from town to town, never using oil of course, in support of the cause of the day (Occupy, Idle No More, anti-GMO food, G8, G20, whatever). They had no need to know about the pipeline or anything else for that matter. They just like protesting. “Its fun” as one protester told me so many years ago in Paris.
    Don’t get me wrong, I am sure that most of those in Tahrir (Liberation) Square were and are enthusiastic and dedicated believers in their cause. But it was never a “glorious revolution” as Avnery would have you believe. It was and continues to be a riot of the naïve, the thrill seekers, rapists and thugs not one of which with any idea of how to build a country or in procession of the work ethic required to achieve it. And in behind, plotting and planning the carnage against Coptic Christians, their churches and assorted other opponents, like innocent women in the Square and else where sit the Muslim Brotherhood and the Salafists who are considered too radical for the radical Brothers. Mind you, the military has some plotters of their own, several in fact, plus lots of guns. None are willing to sit down and weld a compromise that would also include secularists and those of a more liberal persuasion. It’s a mess and likely to get much worse.

    Avnery is almost right about the young and their Social Media. But he is as wrong to confuse misspelled contact for communication as are the young. But they are young and they will learn although one despairs as to where they will pick up the work ethic and organizational skills required. Still, they used to say those of us brought up on TV would never be able to do it either. They were about half right, I figure. If I’m half right now there should be enough skilled young people to either fix things or make them operate more efficiently. One thing is for sure. It won’t be me. I’m old. I have to have confidence in the young no matter how unrealistically entitled they are and how impoverished their economic philosophies may be. An “anarchistic attitude” whether it be happy or sad cannot stand up against anything for long.

    Democracy was sadly never there for those in Tahrir Square. It was simply a word, a lofty, inspirational word, a fine rallying cry but so misunderstood and far too much work to ever achieve. The Muslim Brotherhood and the Military knew that. Neither are strangers to the game. They have faced off before. It was only a matter of time until they would again. As someone who has spent so much time in Egypt, Avnery should know that.

    Like I said, elections are but one piece of the democratic puzzle. As a stand alone feature they readily mask tyranny and often do. Mohamed Morsi wanted to be a Pharaoh. He also wanted to institute Sharia Law. Neither were on the ballot nor were they part of his electoral platform. The military, being the only other organization in the country, waited. Now, it is the Brothers who wait. Democracy is as far off for Egypt as it is for Russia and China, probably further. Those 2 countries at least have viable economies of their own. After a violent upheaval, they could recover. In the end, the market will out as it always does. In Egypt, the tourists are gone and it will take years, perhaps decades to get them all back. What economy they have left is controlled by the military. Its either them or the Brotherhood, doesn’t look promising to me. Think Syria, where even France is now calling for “outside powers” to respond “with force.” Hollande is low in the polls. I guess he is flexing his muscles. I can hear Edith Piaf now. But what about a civil war in Egypt, is it possible? There are many “outside powers” with interests there too. Yipes!

    The Israeli government is right to hold the Islamic Arab world at a respectful arm’s length. That is the world that, for the most part, denies Israel’s existence and constantly threatens its annihilation. As the Mother and Father of Hamas and assorted other ‘rocketeers’, Israel is naturally wary of the Muslim Brotherhood.

    The relationship with the Egyptian military has evolved, not into “cozy” but rather into self-preservation and accommodation, sort of like a marriage of convenience. The Egyptian military, knowing it cannot win any war with Israel, chooses not to fight one but rather attempts to prevent it by patrolling the border. There have been many jihadist attacks and killings there. It is in neither Egypt’s nor Israel’s best interest to allow hostilities to nurture and grow there.

    Both governments, particularly their military, receive great gobs of borrowed money from the U.S. tax payer. If they fight, one would lose the support and Egypt knows who that would be. Clue: It’s not Israel.

    If the Egyptian generals asked anybody for advice, which I seriously doubt, they would have been told the same thing around the world, “Make it quick and have an election soon.” Truth be told, knowing the sieve like atmosphere around Washington it is unlikely they would have been told a thing until after the fact. (There are over 5,000,000 Americans with a Security or High Security clearance. The caliber of just 2 of them has been much in the news lately.) The Egyptian generals have been planning since the first rumor of the alleged Arab Spring arose. Any American or Israeli general unaware of that should have been sacked or treated to whatever it is one does to a dumb general.

    I suppose my own parliament is under the control of Israel too as we are strong supporters of Israel. This is a classic example of the paucity of Avnery’s thinking. To disagree with him is to simply be wrong, a criminal or crazy. There exists no other possible excuse, certainly none that includes his error. Somehow, in his mind, the Republicans and Democrats are marching arm in arm singing Hatikvah in and about the Congress while Obama and his aides dance a Hora around the Oval Office. This clearly sends a strong message to the Canadian Parliament where the ruling Conservatives get along oh so well with the NDP (socialists) and the Liberals (liberals) in opposition. These Israelis are good. It makes me wonder what Avnery’s take on the grassy knoll or the moon landing might be.

    He might be on to something with the U.S. president. It is true he does make beautiful speeches but they are primarily for the pleasure of his own ears. Did one of those speeches decide on what a coup is and what it is not? Did one of them help decide who was a “good rebel” in Syria and who was not? 18 months go by and are any of the “good rebels” armed? Are they still even alive? Assad hears these speeches as does General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi and Iran’s Ayatollah Ali Khamenei. They laugh. They sure don’t quiver in their well polished boots. Actually, I’m not sure the Ayatollah wears boots but if he does you can bet they’re polished. But they all know Obama pontificates and then he dithers. He likes “red lines.” They look good on a map. He just seems not to know what to do when a combatant or ‘coupster’ crosses one. Obama’s “red line” on Syria’s use of chemical and biological weapons is certainly flexible, if nothing else. When Assad used sarin and chlorine gas, Obama said he had only been referring to a “systematic” use of such weapons. Spraying on civilians here and there like so many apple trees doesn’t count. In fact, he would come down harder if they sprayed DDT on their apple trees. Apparently, Obama’s big worry was if the weapons were to fall into the wrong hands. In Assad’s hands they are apparently okay and on the right side of the “red line.” Assad, of course knew this all along. Obama was bluffing and playing for a time when all would be fine, over and well out of mind. Bravo Legacy! Good luck to the people in Tahrir Square. Mind you, they’ve heard the speeches too. They don’t count on Obama for much. Who in the Middle East really does except those cashing the cheques?

    In the end, you cannot keep on blaming Bush for everything, not after 5 years including 4 years of Clinton racking up more flying points than anyone in history. Obama himself said he would “own it” after 2 years but then he says a lot of things and that was “only” the economy. Foreign relations are important sure but you can say what you want as long as it sounds good. Foreigners don’t vote.

    The fact is the Middle East is in a mess and the 100,000 or 200,000 dead people or whatever the total ends to be up is on Obama. That is his legacy and other than Avnery, no one believes these are on orders from Israel. Israelis make decisions not speeches. They have stuck to their red lines. Israel has bombed Syria three times in order to stop the flow of arms to Hezbollah in Lebanon. That’s how you define a “red line.” In the real world outside Obama’s Oval class room it means “or else.” Oh I know he okayed the long overdue shooting of Osama bin Mohammed bin Awad bin Laden. Congratulations, now please tell me who wouldn’t have aside from Bill Clinton who, when offered the opportunity said, “Where will he be tomorrow?”

    As for the Turkish Prime Minister, Recep Tayyip Erdogan and his “proof” of Israel’s involvement in the overthrow of Morsi, better he should furnish some proof of his own grip on sanity. I think I may have found the source of the “shark attack” claims in Egypt. It was Erdogan. But hey, he has his own problems, lots of them including Syrian refugees and the prospect of war spilling over his borders. In many ways, the situation in Turkey is not dissimilar to that of Egypt except the Turkish economy is working despite inequalities. Erdogan was democratically elected and popular. After his election, he became dictatorial. Sound familiar?

    In May, protests erupted in Taksim Square and thousands of demonstrators filled the streets of Istanbul. The uprising soon spread to other cities. What began as a peaceful sit-in to protest the destruction of Gezi Park, developed into full anti-government riots. Erdogan is naturally fearful that Turkey will become Egypt. The military is restive with some in the security forces leaning towards defection.

    The ‘document’, the “proof” Erdogan refers to is a video taken at Tel Aviv University in 2011. It depicts a conversation between Tzipi Livni, then the head of the opposition and today the Justice Minister of Israel and French-Jewish intellectual Bernard-Henri Lévy. I leave to those interested to Google and decide if this in any way represents the government of Israel. It is an opinion piece and in some ways a good one but hardly government policy. Bernard-Henri Lévy is, after all a bit of a media hound and a salon dwelling gad fly.

    Erdogan, who is anti-Israel and openly anti-Semitic, needs a fall guy. He needs a distraction for his people as well as himself. In politics sometimes pointing the finger works. Israel does quite nicely as it always does for him. I mean, he has also accused Israel for the political unrest in his own country. He has compared Zionism to fascism. He continually blames Israel for what he calls the ‘genocide of Palestinians.’ His feverish comments have been condemned by governments far and wide including the White House as “offensive, unsubstantiated, and wrong.”

    Dictators like Erdogan, Morsi and General Abdel-Fatah el-Sissi live in a fantasy world of privilege believing themselves to be all powerful and beyond question. They accept no blame. Ultimately, their ignorance and corruption harms the economy. Then they are deposed, sometimes violently.

    One hopes that Avnery will go to Egypt and explain the concept of democracy to the generals and the Brotherhood. Start with the sharks. It’s a good ice breaker. And remember, its not all Israel’s fault or Bush’s or even Obama’s. Start with a clean slate. Sometimes the truth is there in the morning, in the mirror when you shave. Get all the leaders in the bathroom together one morning. Who knows, it might work.

  • Rochelle Owens

    The original sin of Uri Avnery
    — Anti-Zionism

    The Words of
    Rav Yehoshua Du Four and Martin Luther King
    __ Justice and Peace

  • Ian Keenan

    Avnery doesn’t know much about the North African protest movements if he feels they are lacking in effort. There are countless political parties in Egypt and movements of the past few years that have been tenaciously and carefully organized. This is obviously like blaming the Soviet clampdown after the Prague Spring on the activists because they weren’t trying hard enough. The military has the money, the weapons, and the media.

    Arduousness is judging the impact of overthrowing Mubarak after successive stages of struggle, during which this is a setback. Avnery himself hsays the military dictatorship can’t hold.

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