Archive for Muslim Brotherhood

Secularists vs. Theocrats in Egypt!

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , , on July 12, 2013 by playthell

fl26egypt

                       A Muslim Imam and Colonel Nasser

 Can Egyptians Avoid Civil War?

The present Egyptian crisis, in which 51 people have been killed in the last few days and threatens to rip the nation apart, was sparked by events growing out of the last election a year ago, yet it has deep roots in the nation’s modern history, harkening back to the founding of Egypt as an independent nation in the middle of the last century.  At best it is old wine in new bottles. Hence the issues that have moved the nation to the brink of what increasingly looks like a brewing Civil War represent a persistent theme in the political history of Egypt over the last 61 years: The struggle between the secularists, represented by military strong men, and the Theocrats in the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is only when viewed from this perspective that the present conflict can be understood. Since the middle of the 20th century the Egyptians have gone through three major struggles in an attempt to forge an independent modern nation state.  First there was the movement for national independence from British protectorate status, secondly there was the struggle for a more equitable society, and finally there was the struggle against a takeover of the country by Islamic extremist, who were represented by the Muslim Brotherhood.

During the anti-colonial struggle to overthrow the government of King Forouk, Colonel Abdel Gamel Nasser, a secular nationalist soldier trained in the art of war at Sandhurst, England’s elite military academy, enlisted the Muslim Brotherhood in the fight.  In 1952 he led a group of military men called the “Free Officers” that overthrew the Farouk regime and set up the Revolutionary Command Council, which was headed by Major General Muhammad Naguib.  But Nasser removed him from office two years later and declared himself Prime Minister.  In 1956 he was elected President of a new single party socialist government, whose constitution was also approved in the election, both by 98% of the vote

At first all was well, as both the secular nationalists and the Muslim Brotherhood wanted to put an end to foreign domination, however when Egypt emerged as an independent nation the radical differences in their vision of the ideal society came to the fore and would eventually lead to open conflict.  Things got so bad the Muslim Brotherhood tried to assassinate Colonel Nasser, and he in return imprisoned their leading theologian Sayeed Guthb, author of the massive thirty volume theological exegesis “In the Shade of the Koran,” which along with Sayeed’s single volume treatise Milestones underpins the theology of the modern Jihad.

In 1966, Sayeed’s opposition to the secular Egyptian government, which inspired Islamic fanatics to attempt another assassination of Colonel Nasser, resulted in Nasser’s decision to send the militant Muslims an unmistakable message and hung Sayeed Guthb – who remained an unrepentant fanatic to the end, kissing the scaffold just before the put the noose around his neck.  This initiated a protracted struggle between the Secularist government and fanatical theocrats who want to establish Islamic Sharia law in Egypt that persists as I write.

This is why Egypt has been governed by a succession of secular military strong men over the last fifty years, and they kept the Muslim Brotherhood in check.  However it was not an easy task.  Colonel Anwar Sadat, who succeeded Colonel Nasser, was the first Arab leader to sign a peace treaty with Israel.  He was assassinated by an Islamic fundamentalist as he sat on a reviewing stand during a military parade and he was followed by Colonel Honsi Mubarak, who ruled Egypt for the next 30 years, until he was driven from office by the recent uprisings and put on trial for crimes against the Egyptian people.  The first multi-party elections in Egyptian history were held last year and Mohammad Morsi, who was backed by the Muslim Brotherhood, was elected.  A year later he was deposed and placed under house arrest by the by the military…to many observers it looks like de ja vu.

Sayeed Guthb

Saayd Guthb

Militant Theologian Hung by Nasser

Anwar Sadat

Anwar Sadat

Assassinated by a Muslim fundamentalist

However a closer look will reveal some important differences.  In 1952 the military overthrew a universally hated regime and held power, until the military leader was confirmed by a vote in a one party election four years later. In 2012 the military forced one of its own to step down as a result of a mass uprising of the Egyptian people.

The present takeover occurred after Mohamad Morsi was elected in a multi-party election in which many of the people who voted for Morsi vehemently disagreed with the decision of the military to depose Morsi.  Their massive demonstrations, vows of further resistance and the violence that followed Morsi’s removal make it clear that the situation in Egypt is far from resolved.

However while Morsi’s die hard supporters took to the streets in a fit of rage, some even fired on the police, many millions more cheered his removal by the army.  They cheered, and sang, and even set off fireworks while chanting “God is great!”  This is what distinguished the action of the military in this instance from a traditional coup, although some American politicians, like Senator John McCain, argue that it is.

The truth is that the military was carrying out the popular will, many on the scene observers who were there during the demonstrations that brought the authoritarian Mubarak regime down, say the demonstrations demanding the ouster of Morsi were larger.  This is because many Egyptians, who hoped the new government would bring a wider arena of freedom and democratic practice, felt that the actions of the Morsi government were a betrayal.  Before the army intervened the country was on the verge of anarchy and religious conflict, hence I think Dr. Ziebneiw Brzezinsky is right when he calls the military’s actions “a coup against anarchy.”

The People Return to the Streets in outrage

Egyptian Revolution 2013

Demanding an end to the Islamist Government!
Then the Army Stepped In
_Egypt_2013
And Restores Order

The fundamental problem with the new Egyptian “democracy” is that it was in reality a “tyranny of the majority,” a term coined by the French social theorist Alex de Tocqueville in his two volume masterwork “Democracy in America,” the pioneering study on the American style of governance published in 1830, in order to distinguish a true democracy in which the opposition and unpopular minorities are protected in the law, and a system in which the majority simply imposes it’s will without regard for dissenting opinions.

The latter approach is how the Morsi government went about its business as they cobbled together a constitution that was laying the groundwork for the establishment of an Islamic state; which has been a longtime objective of the Muslim Brotherhood.  Furthermore the constitution had no mechanism such as impeachment or recall procedures for the lawful removal of a president who misused his office.

It was clear that, like all Islamic parties when they come to power, these people believed their actions were ordained by God, so who cares about the wishes of men.  This kind of thinking leads to a system where you have one person one vote once!  Hence the Egyptian people, who sought a true democracy where political decisions are based on the will of the electorate, not the word of God whispered into the ears of some Islamic zealot, wouldn’t stand for it and took to the streets en mass.

Only the intervention of the army could prevent chaos.  That’s why in the eyes of the majority of Egyptians the soldiers are heroes who rescued the nation from catastrophe; and those Americans who oppose the wisdom of the Egyptian people – like the Arizona bully John McCain – remind me of the suspicious characters an old Ibo proverb warns us about:” Beware of the stranger who comes to the funeral and cries louder than the bereaved family! “

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NOTE: This is the first of a multi-part series on the Egyptian crisis.

Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 11, 2013

On The Perils of Arab Democracy

Posted in On Foreign Affairs, On War and Peace in the Mid East! with tags , , on July 3, 2013 by playthell
_Egypt_2013
Police and Protesters Clash

 The Troubling Case of Egypt

 The brief reign of the Muhammad Morsi’s government in Egypt confirms verifies some critical points that I have argued for some time about the pitfalls of democracy in the Arab world.  Two things in particular: If allowed to express their will the masses in most Islamic countries will elect Islamic parties to power – they even did this in Turkey, a country founded as a secular state by Kamal Ataturk.  The only force in the Muslim world that prevents the Mullahs from taking over is the secular military strong men.

This is precisely the reason why modern Egypt has been ruled by a succession of military for over half a century.  They went from Colonel Abdel Nasser, to Colonel Anwar Sadat, to Colonel Honsi Mubarik, and they ruled under a constant state of emergency.  Their greatest fear was that that the Muslim brotherhood would take over the country if given the opportunity.  Rule by marshal law allowed the Egyptian government to outlaw the activities of the Muslim Brotherhood and keep track of all radical religious trends.

Although it was not always the subject of news coverage, the struggle between the Islamic and the secularist forces in the Muslim world has been ongoing since the last century.  I first made this point in my essay opposing the decision of the Bush administration to invade Iraq on the premise that Sadam Hussein was secretly in league with Osama Bin Laden see: The Prophetic Commentary on Iraq.  I pointed out that Sadam and Osama were direct opposites and there was no way they were collaborating in a plot complex enough the massive attack of 9/11.

The other point that I have argued is that there is no institutional or ideological foundation on which to build a functional democratic government in most Islamic countries.  Hence when a popular vote is finally held what will emerge is a tyranny of the majority, not a liberal democracy in which the rights of unpopular minorities and opposing political parties are protected by law.  Such a system is a perversion of the ideal of democracy which is incapable of transferring power from one party to another, we often get one man one vote one time.

This is clearly at the root of the present uprising that has resulted in the military overthrow of the first elected government in modern Egyptian history after only a year in office.  What is most fascinating about this sudden turn in the political fate of Egypt is the military removed the recently elected President by popular demand.  The mass demonstrations that brought down the 30 year reign of Honsi Mubarik a year ago are out in the streets raising hell again, and by several estimates they are even bigger than before.

The ouster of the Egyptian President in order to restore law and order has set a bad precedent.  If a democratically elected president can be overthrown by the military acting on the demands of the mob in the largest and most advanced Arab country, what does that portend for the future of democratic governance in the Arab world?  Although President Obama stood aside and let the Egyptian people work their will – even while taking severe criticism from the Republican right, who felt we should have supported Honsi Mubarik a reliable supporter of US policy – some of the protesters are unfurling banners blaming President Obama for his support for what they are now calling Islamic “Fascist!”

It is a totally unfair charge: President Obama supported the government they elected.  In fact, he persuaded Honsi Mubarik to step aside and allow the people to express themselves at the ballot box.  The attempt to blame him for the government they chose demonstrates how little these people understands about the working of the democratic process.

This banner announces the high level of confusion among the Egyptian opposition.  From the beginning of the first uprising I pointed out that the opposition didn’t have a coherent ideology, or commonly agreed upon principles about governance, and thus anything could happen.  Early on I predicted that the Muslim brotherhood would emerge as the ruling faction when the smoke cleared, because of their superior and coherent world view compared to the other factions.  I also said that no matter what kind of smiley faces the Muslim Brothers adopted, nor how much lip service they paid to “democracy,” once they took power religious tyranny will be the inevitable result.

 The Revolt is fueled by Hatred for the President
Egyptian President Mohamed Mursi speaks during a news conference with Turkish President Abdullah Gul after their meeting at Presidential Palace "Qasr Al Quba" in Cairo
The Odd Man Out: The hated face of the Islamist

This is exactly what happened.  The reason for the mass uprising today is that the opposition saw the Brotherhood dominated government rapidly taking steps to Islamize the country and felt they must be stopped now, before they could put their ideas into law.  They were not reassured that this would not happen even after President Morisi publicly resigned from the Muslim Brotherhood, whose party had  elected him President  with great fanfare.  Hence they are calling the role played by the military a “democratic” coup.”  The army has announced that it is acting in defense of the people, declaring itself an instrument of the popular will.

What is clear about the first uprising is that the various factions that came together to overthrow Honsi Mubarik were sleeping in the same bed but dreaming different dreams.  Now the country has been thrown into a world of confusion that could result in Civil War unless the army swiftly cracks down on any resistance by militant Islamists.  The US has no role in this, it is a purely Egyptian affair and they must resolve it.  And it could take a civil war to decide who shall rule Egypt.  It is a sad end to Egypt’s first democratically elected government…and we may yet see the same fate befall the democratically elected Islamist government in Turkey if the military is forced to step in.

There is a strong cautionary tale in all this regarding US policy in Syria, under no circumstance should Barack allow the Republican and Democratic hawks to force him into getting militarily involved…even to the extent of arming rebel factions, who are more mysterious than the various forces that comprise the Egyptian opposition.  We will be watching the situation closely: Stay tuned!

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Playthell G. Benjamin

Harlem, New York

July 3, 2013

For further reading: Look under the section titled War and Peace in the Middle East

Does Democracy Guarantee Freedom?

Posted in Playthell on politics with tags , , on June 25, 2012 by playthell

    Thomas Jefferson: Founding Father and Slave Master

 Notes on a Persistent American Myth

As thousands of Jubilant Egyptians pour into Taquir square screaming “Allah u Akbar” upon the news that Muhamed Morsi, the Muslim Brotherhood’s candidate, has won the presidential election, many of the original occupants of this square during the upheavals of the so-called “Arab Spring” are lapsing into fear, doubt and even despair.  They look at the election results and wonder what happened to the liberal democratic revolution they thought they were building.  Only the most naïve dreamers among them can continue to believe that their dream will be realized.

It is a tale of two countries; those who prefer a secular democracy and those who long for a theocratic Islamic state under Sharia law.  Although Morsi, an American trained engineer with a PhD, appears to be trying to distance himself from the pious theocrats who swept him into power by announcing that he is quitting the Muslim Brotherhood, talk is cheap and we shall see if he is willing to oppose his Islamist brothers in favor of secular policies, or this is just a ploy to keep American foriegn aid flowing into their crumbling economy.

It is hoped in some quarters that President Morsi’s American education will serve as a moderating influence, but they forget that Sayyid Gutb also earned a graduate degree from an American university.  However the time he spent among us so turned him off that he returned to Egypt and became the leading theologian of the modern Islamic Jihad; a global movement of Muslim fanatics with a dagger aimed straight at the heart of American civilization.

               Sayyid Gutb: Briliant Islamic Theologian

Egyptian Father of the Global Jihad

The truth is, once people get the right to choose their leaders anything can happen; it’s a matter of what their hopes and dreams are.  As I have said before: the secular democrats and the Muslim Brotherhood who joined forces to overthrow the Mubarak regime might have been sleeping in the same bed but they were dreaming different dreams.

The results produced by the first popular democratic elections in Egyptian history, which put a Muslim fundamentalist in the President’s office, illustrates why military strong men all over the Muslim world have consistently refused to permit the development of a popular democracy.  Alas, if Egyptian democracy becomes an enemy of freedom it will be just the latest addition to an age old phenomenon.

The world’s first democracy was in ancient Greece, in fact the term is of Greek origin; yet Greece was a slave society.  The Roman Republic was the world’s second democracy.  But it was a Patrician democracy where only the upper classes had the right to vote and slavery was widespread.  The Early American Republic Resembled the Roman Republic with its property requirements for voters and the widespread practice of slavery.

All of the Founding Fathers had slave interests accept John Adams.  Thomas Jefferson, the author of the Declaration of Independence, kept over 200 slaves and bore seven children by his slave concubine Sally Hemmings and kept them all as his slave property.

Furthermore, new scholarship by the law professors Alfred and Ruth Blumrosen’s published in “Slave Nation: How Slavery United the Colonies and Sparked the American Revolution, and Dr. Gerald Horne’s new book “Negro Comrades of the Crown” make an impressive case that the motivation for the American Revolution was not to expand human freedom but to preserve slavery.

Yet even under the best of circumstances, as Alexis de Tocqueville wrote in his famous 1831 treatise “Democracy in America,” without legal protection of the rights of unpopular minorities popular democracy can quickly degenerate into a mere tyranny of the majority.

Non-white Americans have always lived under the tyranny of the white majority, mitigated only by Civil Rights legislation, and minorities who are non-Muslim and non-males in Egypt – i.e. Coptic Christians, women and secular democrats – will soon find themselves living under the tyranny of an Islamist majority without continued military mediation of the constitutional process.

                The Egyptian Military Stands Aside…for now  

 But they shall decide what the new Egypt becomes

 

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Playthell George Benjamin

Harlem. New York

June 25, 2012

 

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