My enemy’s enemy, my friend

It is a sorry sight to see demonstrators carry the photos of the army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Tahrir Square, degrading the very site that became an icon of liberation from despotic rule and the harbinger of democracy in the Arab world.

(Daily Times, 31 July 2013) 

A political development in a land far removed, but full of significance for the Arab and Muslim world, merits my comments for whatever they are worth. My travelogue can wait. I am referring to the military coup in Egypt, which the Obama administration is still refusing to call a coup. It may be a coup with broad public support, but it still is a coup.

Washintgton’s semantic confusion has a reason. Under American law, the US must immediately suspend all aid to Egypt if the coup is a coup.  And military aid to Egypt especially matters for the US, for it keeps the Egyptian military happy and obliging in relation to the peace treaty with Israel.

And while the US equivocates and dithers, the secular forces of Egypt categorically support this military takeover.  They, who not so long ago toppled the quasi-military regime of Hosni Mubarak and then the military junta which succeeded him, even go so far as to welcome the army as liberators from the oppressive regime of the Muslim Brotherhood.

It is true that the government of President Mohammed Morsi was a terrible disappointment for most Egyptians, indeed for all but the members of the Brotherhood itself.  Nevertheless, for those who care about the long-term interests of their country, no matter which country, there should be no two opinions about keeping the army out of politics and allowing the political processes, however slow and tedious, to proceed at their own pace.

It has to be said that the entrenched political, judicial and military elements hostile to the Muslim Brotherhood did not make it easy for Morsi.  But whatever the impediments, surely Morsi antagonized many by pursuing a narrow Islamist agenda rather than an inclusive one, taking recourse to his sweeping presidential powers rather than the course of political negotiation and compromise.

Despite their experience with military despots for over half a century, the fear and loathing which the Egyptian secular forces have for the Islamists far exceeds their dislike of military rule. Hence, on the principle that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, they have welcomed the military’s overthrow of an elected president and his imprisonment. 

For the Muslim Brotherhood, the Arab Spring has been very short-lived.  How much longer it will last for the secular forces remains to be seen.  Not much longer, I am afraid.  Events there have an alarming similarity to Pakistan in 1977!

Public memory is proverbially short.  Sadly, the collective memory of secularists in Egypt seems to be even shorter.  It is less than two years since they celebrated the toppling of over half a century of uninterrupted military or quasi-military rule in their country.

The sacking of the democratically elected Islamist regime in Egypt is the third in a series.  The first happened in Algeria in 1991, when parliamentary elections, which the Islamists were winning, were annulled before the second round.  Next, in Palestine, after the legislative elections gave a victory to Islamists in 2006, some elected representatives were jailed and others given the short shrift. Some have been in Israeli jails ever since. Now, the third Islamist party has been toppled, just after one year in power, and the elected head of state imprisoned.

Whatever the blemishes of the Morsi government, and there were many, it is now obvious that the shortages of gasoline and other necessities as well as the massive demonstrations against the regime, were orchestrated by the military to provide them with a pretext to overthrow the government. 

It seems strange that people tend to remember the failings of civilian governments but are too generous in forgiving – or forgetting – the many failures and blunders of the military, both in war and peace.

Egypt suffered a humiliating military defeat in 1967 in a war with Israel under Gamal Nasser, a military officer turned president through a coup.  In six days, Egypt lost its entire air force, much of its army and the entire Sinai Peninsula, which is three times bigger than Israel itself.

In the next war in 1973 under his successor Anwar Sadat, another military officer, Egyptian armed forces did much better but failed to recover any land. Not until he signed a peace treaty with Israel in 1979 did Egypt get back the Sinai. In the over half century of military rule, Egypt became economically dependent on foreign aid, much of it from the United States.

Pakistan barely escaped in one piece under “Field Marshall” Ayub Khan in the war with India in 1965.  It was left to his successor, General Yahya Khan, to suffer a most humiliating defeat against India in 1971, losing an entire province with a majority of the country’s population.  Seventy thousand Pakistani soldiers, including a few generals, became Indian prisoners of war.

General-turned-President Pervez Musharraf was hardly the resounding success some think he was. His Kargil fiasco landed the country in grave danger. And he left the country in deep political crisis when he left it for safer shores.

On another continent, we have the case of the Argentinian military junta, which launched a war to conquer the Falklands, only to lose it in the most humiliating manner.

What all these military dictators succeeded in doing was to scuttle the political process with grave long-term political, military and economic consequences, leaving it to their successor political governments to clean up the mess they created.

In light of what we know about military coups and military regimes, it is a sorry sight to see demonstrators carry the photos of the army chief General Abdel Fattah al-Sisi in Tahrir Square, degrading the very site that became an icon of liberation from despotic rule and the harbinger of democracy in the Arab world, much admired by the rest of the world.

Egypt is back to square one.  However, we live in the age of the Internet, in the 21st century, and Egyptian civil society feels empowered.  This fact, I hope, will prevent the repetition of history and Egypt’s slide into yet another long night of military despotism. 

By Razi Azmi

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6 Responses to My enemy’s enemy, my friend

  1. Suhaib says:

    Excellent and informative article. It’s sad to see history repeat itself time and time again. “The enemy of my enemy, my friend” also holds true in Syria where the rebel forces fighting against the Assad regime are treated as friends and given aid by the Obama administration. However this is a dangerous concept, as many of them also belong to groups affiliated with Al-Qaeda.

    • Razi Azmi says:

      Suhaib, I think it is a very different situation in Syria. It has been the worst kind of dictatorship in Syria for nearly half a century, one that favours the minority Alawites and discriminates against the majority Sunnis. As we know, despite a very repressive state machinery, the uprising initially was spontaneous and then gathered force and wide support from large sections of the people and elements of the armed forces. In fact, America has been very reluctant to get into the Syrian situation. Now that Islamists have infiltrated and divided the opposition, there is even less support in the West for the insurgency.

  2. Mir Mohammad Ali Talpur says:

    A timely reminder from Razi Sahib to those anxious to support the military rule. A finely written and well presented piece.
    Best Regards

  3. Javed Agha says:

    Egypt heading towards disaster. You have reminded well in time that Military should stay away if the democratic process is to succeed. Thanks Razi for a nice thoughtful article.

  4. Fasih Khan says:

    Excellent article Razi Bhai.

  5. PK says:

    What is wrong giving Muslim Brotherhood a chance to run the country for a while with their ideas of superiority of Islamic governance, Sharia Laws etc.? Let people decide what the next govt. is going to be. It is better to have changes through evolution and not revolution.

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