Conflicts Forum Weekly Comment 28 June – 5 July 2013

Conflicts Forum

  • Egypt:
  • Why did the army do it?  It is a complex story (see here), but essentially the Brotherhood ideologues had come to believe that the AKP’s success in Turkey was rooted in wooing the businessmen, and in pursuing a liberal-market economic policy (many Islamists have come to believe that pursuit of a neo-liberal platform somehow can inoculate them from western interference).  Such economic success, they hoped, would allow them to implement social Islam à la Turque.  The Brotherhood could not have been less fortunate in the economic circumstances that faced them however, as they took power in Egypt.  Economically matters were set to go from bad to worse, and any government would face extreme difficulties and possible failure. In any event, this economic programme was called the ‘Turkish model’ by such Brotherhood ideologues, such as Esam al-Arian.  But it was a misnomer, since the Brotherhood ‘model’ was really Ataturk-esque in one important respect: It accorded the Egyptian military a privileged position, both in terms of protection from political oversight – as well as allowing it to maintain its huge economic interests too.  It entrenched the ‘deep state’, rather than undermined it as happened in Turkey. This was the essence of the "Al-Selmi" pact struck between the Brotherhood and the Army in November 2011. This self-interest pact between the Army and the Brotherhood, to preserve the status quo, worked well for a time, but the Egyptian ‘deep state’ still smarted from the ousting of Mubarak, and plotted its comeback.  Certain Gulf states (notably the UAE, Kuwait and Saudi Arabia) were only too happy to fund and encourage the new secular/liberal revolt against Morsi and the Brotherhood – spurred by their growing anger at Qatar’s pro-Brotherhood sponsorship.  This aggravating and bitter Gulf rift has been central to how matters subsequently developed.  In May, a delegation of Gulf leaders lobbied President Obama to rein in the Amir of Doha and his promotion of the Brotherhood, which they feared held aspirations to power in the Gulf states too.  The US had already begun to wonder whether the Qatari leadership was ‘two-timing’ the US in its support for radical Islamist movements, whilst ostensibly pursuing US interests in the region, but Obama was cautious. Internally in Egypt, the growing brouhaha being mounted by the secular-liberal, urban opposition, (funded by the anti-Qatari faction) both frightened an Army concerned that popular mobilization might threaten the status quo through metamorphosis into a genuinely revolutionary movement; and as Prof Frisch has noted, gave the opportunity for the deep state to bring themselves back into power. Paradoxically, the same upper-middle class youth, who just a year ago, shouted “down with the military” and were then used by Morsi in his confrontation with the army, now have been used again by the military and others in the “deep state” to bring themselves back to power. The military lost power to Morsi after ruling Egypt ineptly for eighteen months in the aftermath of Mubarak’s ouster.  Just one year later they find themselves back on top.  Of course, this is presented as the transition to democracy; but three key factors may suggest a different course:  Firstly, the drive behind the coup came from Saudi Arabia, which additionally has promised, reportedly, to indemnify the Egyptian Army against any loss of US aid (which legally must be halted in the event of a coup); the appointment of a Mubarak henchman to the ‘transitional’ Presidency; and the striking absence of any timetable for the transition. 
  • Geo-strategic implications:  The most obvious is the reversal of fortunes of Qatar, which has led with its financial and political support for the Brotherhood.  It has been politically crushed by Saudi Arabia.  First, we had the Emir’s (ostensibly, timely) abdication, the PM’s unexpected departure for comfortable exile in London; its Brotherhood protégé deposed from power; its Egyptian leadership arrested; and the new Emir obliged to have to congratulate the Egyptian Army for safeguarding Egypt’s national security.  The Gulf states are feeling their fragility.  They would never have reacted so assertively in Egypt unless deeply concerned at their own domestic situation.  This shift of  Qatar’s fortunes, plus the western-sanctioned overthrowing of an elected Islamist administration will undoubtedly adversely impact on the Syrian opposition’s already fading fortunes.  There may be the possibility of a renewed Saudi-Egyptian axis, but whether this ever will materialize will depend wholly on how Egypt unfolds in the coming months. What is far more significant and impossible to predict, however, are the consequences and impact of this weekend’s events on the already fractured and increasingly adversarial identities – now perceived in polar opposition to one another – that comprise the Sunni sphere.  Across the region, the break-up of overarching identities (such as Arabism) into polarized factional identities, historically has almost invariably ended with civil conflict and war.  Although there are some fragile intimations of a new Arabic identity arising, in opposition to the present polarization, it is doubtful this will emerge sufficiently quickly or strongly to mitigate the wider dynamics toward civil conflict.